Waking up the (politically) dead

Cleo Wolfus is almost 6 feet tall. But in her street clothes, red hair pulled away from her pale, bespectacled face, she looks like just another nice Seattle woman trying not to drown on a typical windy, rainy January day in the urban Northwest.

But the 30-year-old performance artist currently living in the Fremont area does have the ability to embrace a "look" that is bound to attract attention.

Wolfus is the driving force behind Dead Awake, a protest organization struggling to be born.

Wolfus said she is seeking help to "Stop the Zombiefication of Americans!"

Wolfus posted a call for fellow marchers, on the Internet and via flyers, to turn out for the Jan. 16 Martin Luther King March in the Central District.

The march is slated to begin at noon at Garfield High School (400 23rd Ave.) and terminate at the downtown Federal Building.

"From Civil Rights to Anti-War efforts, help build and unify Seattle's activist community. Join us in representing the masses as zombie. Confront the apathy in yourself to give others the courage to do the same," Wolfus wrote in her marching orders on the Web and on paper.

The catch is that Wolfus and her followers dress up like zombies (the undead) in full makeup, which includes fake bruises and fake blood. Sort of a horror-movie style.

Last week, though, when this reporter caught up with Wolfus, she was considering abandoning her plans for the debut of the Dead Awake zombies at the annual MLK Day celebration of the slain civil rights leader, murdered in Memphis, Tenn., 38 years ago this coming April.

But her initial call for marchers on the Internet garnered an overwhelmingly negative response.

Wolfus said she received almost 70 e-mail responses in a mere 48 hours. Words like "disrespect" and phrases like "children of privilege" were tossed about like hand grenades.

Wolfus, a novice in the politics of protest, seemed shaken.

"I really won't do it without permission; for this one, I need an invitation," the L.A. native who has lived in Seattle for the past six years said last week.

"I will go as an individual, with regular clothes, and maybe hand out flyers for a future event," she added.

Wolfus said she had planned to use local stilters (folks on stilts) to attack other people dressed as "pig-faced imperialists."

"It's a social experiment," she explained.

When asked if the Zombies might frighten youngsters along the parade route, she laughed. "Kids love it," Wolfus said. "They feign fear but come up to us. Children love this kind of thing."

Children are not the main focus of her hopes, though. "I want to wake up young people between 14 and 25," Wolfus explained. "I think they are overwhelmed and that it makes them apathetic. They feel they can't change anything or do anything about the ways things are. But they can." She spoke with the fervor of any convert to a new philosophy.

Wolfus said she had hoped that if the protest worked at the MLK parade, she would be able to move it around to other events.

"But it has to be a situation where it is OK to do what we planned," she said. "If not here, I can find some other time and event to do it."

Wolfus said the Dead Awakes have already had a couple of parades "just for fun" in Ballard and Fremont. She noted that more than 100 folks showed up for the Fremont event, and that a similar Halloween parade in Ballard drew more than 75 people, most in full makeup. Wolfus said she expected a smaller turnout for the King march-"maybe 10 to 15 people."

Wolfus said she had always been more interested in art than politics, but that a labor organizer who attended one of the zombies' fun events turned her on to "Rules for Radicals," a handbook for fighting the system penned by union leader Saul Alinsky in 1971. (The book is still in print and available for $12 from Amazon in a Vintage paperback 1989 reissue edition.)

Wolfus said the book changed her way of thinking and made her want to try to effect social change in a way that might also be fun for her fellow protestors: "I am hoping that people will take this opportunity to exercise their democratic freedoms by writing their political sentiments on white fabric and pinning it to their clothes [at the Dr. King march]."

After the Internet uproar, Wolfus by last weekend had all but thrown in the towel for the King march. Yet lo and behold, her persistence-she e-mailed and called MLK march organizers-was successful. Sunday night she excitedly called this reporter and said the Dead Awakes would be part of the MLK march after all.

"We got express permission from Larry Gossett [one of the march officials, according to Wolfus]. He e-mailed me and said, 'Your Awake performance will not be out of place... We don't think you will offend anyone."

Wolfus said Gossett also had reassured her that the Dead Awakes would not be the first anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-racist contingent to march in the parade.

Anyone wishing for more information about the movement Wolfus is spearheading may go to the Dead Awake discussion board: www.tribes.tribe.net/deadawake-"It's free and great for networking," Wolfus observed.

Anyone already convinced and wishing to be a Zombie is advised to e-mail Wolfus at cleowolfus@hotmail.com.[[In-content Ad]]