Recently, the Indianapolis blogosphere has been ablaze about the identity of the Indy Chicken, who has dogged Mayor Peterson and City-County Council President Monroe Gray at meetings and press conferences ever since the merger between the Indianapolis Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.
The idea of sitting down with the person underneath the 6-foot-2 chicken suit was too good to pass up.
The surprise came when four people showed up at the Northside restaurant we’d chosen as our meeting place. Not only were there at least four people claiming to be the chicken, but they were a pretty unexpected group. They included both genders and a variety of races that ranged in age from their late 20s to some nearing retirement age. They were a group of diverse opinions and political stripes that are bound together by a chicken suit and a shared desire to draw attention to the city’s growing crime problem.
NUVO: How did the Indy Chicken get started?
IC: Originally, it had nothing to do with any political agenda. We thought it’d be a little moneymaker to do appearances in character, kids’ parties — stuff like that. We had no intention of it taking on this whole other life.
NUVO: What happened?
IC: The murder rate. Crime was on the upswing and the city just seemed to be doing nothing about it. The police merger was on the horizon and that’s when we decided that the chicken would be a good way to get attention at the police protest [during the merger swearing-in ceremony] at the Convention Center.
NUVO: So you were opposed to the merger?
IC: I actually think the merger was a good idea, but it was poorly executed. The timing could not have been worse.
NUVO: How so?
IC: You have officers that have spent years together in the same unit, in the same neighborhoods, establishing contacts and knowing the ins and outs of that neighborhood. Then you bust those units up into a thousand pieces and ship them out to the suburbs. The morale [of the law enforcement officers] is so low right now because they’re trying to rebuild an effective police force in the midst of the worst crime wave in years.
NUVO: What are you hoping to accomplish?
IC: Honestly? We’d like the Indy Chicken to retire. We’d like to see the crime situation get turned around and then the Indy Chicken could just go away. But now we’re getting calls and e-mails, a lot of people are encouraging us to turn our attention towards [alleged] corruption in Center Township politics.
NUVO: What can you hope to achieve through this kind of activism that you can’t accomplish through traditional activism?
IC: We’ve all been politically active for a while. It was hard to go to a City-County Council meeting and get noticed. Now instead of being one of several dozen people that were there holding signs, people go home and say “the Chicken” was there. It’s hard to overlook a 6-foot-2 chicken.
NUVO: So media attention is the ultimate goal?
IC: The goal is to bring light to the crime issue.
NUVO: Media theorist Stephen Duncombe wrote that one should use ‘Spectacular Culture’ to push political agendas. What do you think about that?
IC: I’ve never heard of him, but it sounds like he’s a guy that would understand what we’re trying to achieve. When you take an abstract political idea and you wrap it around a mascot or an icon it becomes real in the eyes of the general public.
NUVO: So where has the Indy Chicken appeared so far?
IC: The protest at the Convention Center, Bart’s [Peterson] speech about his crime initiative, the City-County Council meetings. We also did a man-on-the-street poll downtown on the Circle and spent about four hours in the chicken suit ringing bells for the Salvation Army.
NUVO: Did the powers that be attempt to keep you out of any of the events?
IC: At Peterson’s press conference they took me down the hall and made me get out of the chicken suit to be searched for weapons, but that was it. The officers were real professional about it. They were just doing their job and couldn’t have been nicer. They kept the search brief and then ushered us back down the hall and right up front. It was pretty obvious that they were supportive of what we were doing.
NUVO: Crime is hardly a partisan issue. Why do you think they have an axe to grind with you?
IC: It’s not about the crime issue for them. They see us as a threat to their power base because we take issue with Mayor Peterson and the City-County Council, but it shouldn’t be a partisan issue. If this were a Republican administration we’d still be out there saying, “Put more officers on the street.”
NUVO: Do you see this as strictly a Bart Peterson issue?
IC: Well, certainly there’s plenty of blame to go around but in the end when it comes to public safety the buck stops with Mayor Peterson.
NUVO: A lot of people refer to this kind of activism as “Culture Jamming.” The Democrats have a rich tradition of using this going back to the Yippie movement in the 1960s to the “Billionaires for Bush” during the 2004 election but it’s seldom been a tool of the GOP. Why do you think that is?
IC: You don’t get it. Some of us are Democrats. Many of us have certainly voted Democrat and will continue to do so. The only people that feel this is a partisan issue are those that are in a position of power and they feel that being threatened. This is a bi-partisan issue. Everyone wants safe streets, everyone wants a safe neighborhood. If Gov. Daniels does something that we feel this strongly about you can bet the Chicken will be showing up to hold his feet to the fire.
Anyone can be the chicken. You could be the chicken if you want. There are four of us here now but there will be other people wearing the suit as well.