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On a rickety porch in the residential outskirts of Washington, D.C., battered puppets representing Bill Clinton, James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, and Jiang Zemin, president of China, are holding an unlikely meeting. But these giant papier-mâché men, with their distorted smiles and comically extended giant hands, weren't built for porch chat — they're just taking a break after acting as stand-ins for the real thing in protest after protest against infringements of human, labor, and environmental rights. And it's no surprise to find them outside Nadine Bloch's house, where hundreds of puppets are built every year and many protests on the nation's capital are planned. Direct action trainer, environmental maven, community organizer and educator, Bloch has mastered the art of mocking the powerful.

Bloch's main work these days is training activists in the tenets of nonviolent civil disobedience using the models of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and teaching the techniques of creative resistance in the tradition of Agitprop (the early 1900s movement that used art as a political education tool for the Communist party). She's a trainer with the Berkeley-based Ruckus Society, which advocates direct action-conscious disobedience, often involving breaking the law in order to bring attention to an issue. At Ruckus' direct action camps, which were launched in 1995, Bloch and others teach the nitty-gritty physical techniques of protest (how to create human blockades, how to practice jail solidarity) and provide legal information and media skills — like using puppets to make political points. "We try to come up with a symbol that's perfect to convey the message of sweatshop labor or the complicated issues of trade," says Bloch. "When you look at an environmental crisis you can just say, oh too bad, they're cutting the forests down. But if you go one step behind it, you might find out that there's a multinational entity — and behind that, maybe there's a lending institution. Maybe it's the reason for the massive flooding in Mozambique last year. It's about more than just saving the little animals in the forest."

Bloch first became interested in environmental and social justice issues through her mother, a nurse and teacher who strongly believed in the importance of giving back to their Connecticut community. But Bloch really got mobilized as an activist while studying the ecological effects of nuclear war at Cornell University. When President Carter started talking about reinstating the draft, Bloch began to question Cold War armament strategies. In the early eighties, she participated in a series of Women's Pentagon Actions against U.S. militarization, in which hundreds of women used performance protest outside the Pentagon and were arrested.

In college, Bloch also learned to sail during an educational semester at sea, and loved it so much that she got her captain's license. Later, as a mate on the Hudson River Clearwater sloop, where volunteers run on-board educational and advocacy programs, Bloch became hooked into the political sailing community. In the early nineties, she took a staff position with Greenpeace and coordinated fleets of ships, campaigned against toxic pollution, and led some dangerous and innovative land-based actions, such as scaling New York's Time-Life Building. Bloch and two others climbed about 20 stories without ropes, clamping to the side of the building with window washer's bumpers to hang a banner from the building in protest of Time magazine, which was one of the biggest purchasers of chlorine-bleached paper in the world. Her bravery is legendary: J.R. Roof, the former worldwide director of Greenpeace and Bloch's former boss, says, "If I ever wanted to go to war, Nadine would be first on my list to call. She's tough as nails." Indeed, some of Bloch's actions look a lot like war. When Bloch and three other Greenpeace campaigners sailed inflatable rafts across 18 miles of the Pacific Ocean to Moruroa, a nuclear test site in French Polynesia, French commandos immediately came after them, hacking at their boats with machetes strapped onto poles. The Greenpeacers were deported to Tahiti, but they didn't have any identifying information on them-a staple tactic of direct activists, making it harder to process them — and were eventually let go. The testing didn't happen in Moruroa that day, and shortly after, the French stopped testing nuclear weapons altogether.

In addition to her commitments to Greenpeace and Ruckus, Bloch has worked as a training consultant, traveling all over the world teaching groups about inventive political action. Her clients have included leaders of the Zimbabwean resistance movement against President Robert Mugabe, the National Organization for Women, and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, a group whose goal is to cut the defense budget by 15 percent. "One of my cardinal principles is belief in change," she says. "Cultural resistance empowers people to act out the future we want to see: we can tear down the prison walls, we can revolutionize the corporation into an institution that cares about people." Athletic and compact, with a long thatch of unkempt curly hair, Bloch effuses energy that's as contagious as her giddy, almost manic laugh. She has a clarity and commitment about her that makes you believe that it is possible to transform society.

Take Seattle. Not many thought it was possible that people in the streets could overwhelm the power of big money, but that's exactly what happened at the World Trade Organization summit in 1999, where protestors brought the meetings to a halt. But Bloch believed it could be done. She was one of the leaders of activist training sessions for Seattle, where a couple of thousand people learned the skills of nonviolent direct action from the Ruckus Society and other groups. When she hit the streets with those trained activists — plus nearly 50,000 others — Bloch marched alongside the 15-foot-tall papier-mâché female "Liberation" puppet that she had constructed. On the second day of the protests, Bloch was locked in what activists mockingly dubbed a "first amendment-free zone" and was pepper sprayed, tear-gassed, and arrested, along with several hundred others. Those who weren't hauled off the streets that day gagged the mouth of the puppet to show how their free speech had been restricted.

But thanks to sensationalist media coverage, the abiding memories of Seattle are not of elaborate puppets or peaceful demonstrators, but of rioting and looting by about 20 people who had little or nothing to do with the protests that Bloch and others had been planning for months. Since Seattle, protestors have thronged to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings in Washington, D.C. held last spring; the Republican and Democratic National Conventions last summer; and the presidential Inauguration Day parade. "We get a lot of commentary in the media that the left is fragmented, and in fact that's the game of the corporate media, to deny that we are working as a whole while we are each taking on different issues," says Bloch. She does not see the left as fragmented; activism against global debt, corporate welfare, the "selection" of the Republican president are all related to fighting "the overarching infiltration of the corporate agenda into our daily lives," she says. Bloch also believes that the economic policies of George W. Bush, the World Bank, and the IMF increase the rights of corporations at the expense of individuals and the environment. Free trade agreements encourage companies to move their operations wherever labor is cheap and wherever they can buy their way out of environmental regulations. "Free trade is the catch phrase for corporate trading in a way that doesn't take into account people," says Bloch. "And that trickles down, to the level of them smashing our puppets." Her hand-painted shirt reads PUPPETRY IS NOT A CRIME, and it's not a joke. Before recent demonstrations in D.C. and Philadelphia, the police raided warehouses where puppets were being made, destroyed the protest materials, and arrested many of the "puppetistas" inside.

But what's another arrest to Bloch? Even her year-old daughter was arrested three times in utero. "At seven-months pregnant, Nadine was one of the key coordinators of the IMF protests in D.C.," says Ruckus Society director John Sellers, who also credits Bloch with saving his life when, in 1992, they climbed the Sears Tower in Chicago on the fiftieth anniversary of the first sustained nuclear reaction. Sellers got tangled in the lines as they were unfurling a banner, and Bloch, hanging 300 feet above the ground with him, calmly talked him free. "As much as you can be a leader in a consensus-led movement, Nadine is a leader," Sellers says. Fierce communitarian that she is, Bloch believes everyone can lead in some way. "Sometimes you get someone who never really thought about the nuclear arms race or who doesn't care or whatever, and they will bake a covered dish and bring it to a potluck. And then they are drawn into the whole process from a place where they feel comfortable." Bloch hopes that as the movement grows, it will become more inclusive, so it will bring the issues, not personalities, to the forefront. "The police officer on the street can change and so can you. There's lots of ways to go, lots of work to do."

- Miranda Kennedy is research editor at Ms.