Interview With a Pie Thrower

Fed up with electoral politics? Unable to get your voice heard? Try pie throwing -- the newest protest tactic among political activists on the West Coast and Europe -- and you, too, may find your message on the front page."It's delicious instead of malicious," says Al Decker, 27, a "reformed computer geek" and two-time college drop out who is now a full time crusader for environmental social justice.A year ago, Decker was sitting in an office in Humboldt County, ground zero for the save-the-Headwaters Forest movement, when he learned that Charles Hurwitz, head of Maxxam Corp, which owns the forest, was in the area for a top level meeting on how to deal with the resistance campaign."I suddenly thought," Decker recalls, "Mr. Hurwitz needed to eat some humbolt pie."Decker says he first learned about pie throwing from a series of Earth First! "pie-attacks" in the 1980s He took care to coordinate the flavor with the issue, choosing an apple pie to fling at Mr. Hurwitz "to symbolize the all American Apple pie values Maxxam is violating."More interested in insult than injury, Decker was also careful to avoid Hurwitz's glasses. "I was running full tilt, and I didn't want to break his glasses so I delivered the pie to the top of his head."The act of hurling a pie is "very empowering," Decker says. "We do everything we can without resorting to violence to affect change. We've written letters, gone to hearings, been arrested for criminal conspiracy to serve food without a permit -- and then we hurl a pie and all of a sudden the secret meeting is national news."Decker, who has studied the history of pie throwing, says it has always been a last resort -- a form of class warfare where the underdog outwits the oppressor through mischief. "It's as old as the court jesters of the Italian Renaissance's commedia del arte who wanted to take down the royals, yet it's also classically American. Think of the Three Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Soupy Sales -- and the Yippies, who pied dozens of the rich and powerful back in the 60s and 70s."The idea is to get publicity -- but more for the targets than for the pie throwers themselves, Decker says."We're facing a global economic and ecological crisis, and we're identifying the destroyers -- we're saying they have names and addresses and have to be held accountable."Judging from the upsurge in pie throwing since Decker's face-off with Hurwitz, activists clearly think the tactic works. Today in San Francisco, members of an informal network calling itself the Biotic Baking Brigade (BBB) are baking, buying and flinging pies at targets that include Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, Robert Shapiro, CEO of Monsanto, and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (three pies at one time). Whispers News Service sends press releases announcing these events via e-mail and fax.Elsewhere, Oscar de la Renta was pied by members of the animal liberation group PETA and Bill Gates was pied by members of the International Patisserie Brigade, based in Brussels. Last month, the London-based branch of the BBB pied Renato Ruggiero, director general of the World Trade Organization. The French even have a word for it -- entartement.Decker says pie throwers are not drawn by the celebrity of public figures but by their unaccountability. Mayor Brown was pied in retaliation for the city's Matrix program which sweeps homeless people off the streets despite Brown's campaign promise to end the operation. Homeless advocates have been trying to publicize this fact for three years. The day after the pie throw, notes Decker pointedly, Matrix was on the front page of the New York Times.Decker dismisses critics' charges that pie throwing is disrespectful, uncivil, even violent. "Pie throwing has never hurt anyone," he counters.He does acknowledge that pie throwing is inappropriate in certain contexts -- a funeral, for example, or an execution. Nor would he personally countenance pieing a woman given the prevalence of male violence against women in this society. As for a woman pieing a woman, "I would have no problem."

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