Object title
Frederick Douglass Built and performed by
Papel Machete Description
Obama Express 1 & 2 is a table-top puppet show created in 2009 and 2015 by the radical Puerto Rican puppet collective Papel Machete.

The story begins in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected as the first black president of the United States, and people started talking about a post-racial America. Meanwhile, poor communities in the U.S.A., especially Native, Latino, and African American, live in a more precarious situation than decades before. On January 17, 2009 Barack Obama was on his way to the White House riding the Obama Express, celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s 200th anniversary, his great victory, and the beginning of a presidency of hope. On the way to D.C., Earl, the train conductor, realizes there is someone on the tracks and orders an emergency stop.

Earl finds a large, old, serious man: Frederick Douglass sitting on a chair in the middle of the train tracks. After a verbal exchange between them about the precarious condition of black people in the U.S.A., Douglass tells the story of how in Lynn, Massachusetts, he was taken off the train with his chair for sitting in the white people’s car with William White. In that very same chair he is now protesting on the train tracks.

In 2015, Papel Machete decided to make a sequel to Obama Express. It starts with Douglass taking the Obama Express with Earl as conductor to rescue Mumia Abu-Jamal. Their plans to visit Assata Shakur get sidetracked by the increasing state violence against people of color as Obama’s presidency becomes a fuel for white supremacists and their reactionary political movement. Our revolutionary heroes, Frederick and Mumia, go down to Ferguson aboard the Obama Express, expressing their solidarity with that struggle. In the middle of the protest, and in the heat of the mobilizations, Frederick and Mumia are put in jail. The U.S. government declares Frederick and Mumia terrorists and threats to national security. They are transported to the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to be interrogated and tortured in the detention center. During their time in Guantánamo Bay, Mumia manages to contact Assata Shakur, who comes to rescue them. As she lands in a parachute, she tells her story of struggle and resistance to Earl.

At the end the puppeteers leave the story open so the audience can decide how it ends. They give three options:
1. Lock up all the soldiers in the Obama Express to return them to Washington DC. Our heroes ride in their red convertible and depart towards the horizon.
2. Assata and the guerrillas execute the gringo soldiers, occupy, and dismantle the Guantánamo base. Our heroes take the Obama Express and return to the U.S. to release all political prisoners.
3. Obama reaches an agreement with Raúl Castro to exonerate our heroes, lift the blockade and return the Guantánamo base. In exchange for?!!! WISHFUL THINKING!
Living Objects theme
Puppetry in Community

Production title
Obama Express 1 & 2 Years created and used
2009 and 2015 Medium
Pat wood, fabric, rod, string, wool hair, cardboard, papier-mâché, screws Dimensions
Height: With controls: 21” ; without controls: 12”
Width: 5”
Depth: 5.5”