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The whole 2008 election cycle played out in just under two hours at Clark Park on Saturday afternoon.

Enormous puppets of elephants, donkeys, oil wells and ballot boxes wheeled and danced around the park's main lawn, as about 200 spectators alternately cheered and hissed.

The occasion was "Peoplehood," an annual parade and pageant organized by the Philadelphia-based Spiral Q Puppet Theater and performed by volunteers and community groups from across the city.

"It's a visual representation of themes that we already know about," said Christina Cantrill, chairwoman of Spiral Q's board. "We always give a twist on those themes."

After parading through 16 Philadelphia blocks, a colorful menagerie of papier-mache puppets converged on Clark Park, at Chester Avenue and 43rd Street. Spiral Q volunteers and children from various Philadelphia schools acted out several election moments, as a nearby band accompanied them with drums and other instruments.

In an act called "Campaign Trail," a fleet of bicyclists with oversized cardboard neckties zoomed onto the field, jumped off their bikes and ran through the audience shaking hands.

Rapid drumbeats accompanied "Registration," in which a black-robed elephant and donkey appeared in a group of people dressed as houses, birds, grasshoppers and fish, and began herding them into two groups, making each of them don a donkey or elephant mask.

When the actors first tried to vote, however, a horde of people dressed as demons and oil-well towers bellowed at them and scared them away from the ballot box.

In a cape of blue feathers, 12-year-old Clarise Carroll played the part of a bird discouraged from voting.

Carroll thinks voter-intimidation is a real problem in this country.

"Bush tried to cut off all the African-American vote so that only Republicans could vote," she said.

Other notable moments in the pageant included a "Wall Street/Main Street" act, in which a group of actors wearing business suits sped past cutouts of green Monopoly houses, shouting into enormous cardboard cell phones and wielding briefcases and oversized coffee cups.

Suddenly, the group of corporate-looking actors panicked, simulating the recent economic crisis. But they soon ran off under an enormous golden parachute borne on poles by other actors, while the cardboard houses were flipped around to read: "Where's our bailout?"

"It's nice to laugh at these serious issues sometimes," said Brett Sweitzer, a resident of Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia who came to the pageant with his son.

Katherine Hamilton, who lives on Regent Street and brought her daughter to the pageant, said it presented complex topics clearly, so every member of the audience could catch the joke.

"These issues are usually only for grown-ups who watch CNN and listen to national public radio," she said.

College senior and former Daily Pennsylvanian writer Jesse Harding, who played trombone in the pageant band, has been working at Spiral Q for the past year and a half and also performed at the last "Peoplehood" parade.

Harding especially liked playing the song that accompanied the last act of the pageant, he said.

In that act, the community successfully fought off the demons and oil towers, began planting trees in their neighborhood and ultimately gathered in a house they built together.

"It was very welcoming, very unifying, very emotional," Harding said.

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