How a Bus Full of Hippies at a Columbus Protest Landed in the National Spotlight

Joel Oliphint
A group of protesters on a bus were briefly detained by police in Downtown Columbus on Sunday, May 31.

Several years ago, Stephen Palmer went to see Ohio jam band the Werks with a friend who liked to spin mini hula hoops. While hanging out after the concert, his friend taught him a few things with the hoops, and ever since, Palmer has been hooked on the Flow Arts.

Think of a circus act without the aerobatics or the animals, and you’re pretty close to Flow Arts, an umbrella term for a type of street performance that usually involves juggling and spinning flaming objects. “I like juggling rings, juggling balls, spinning plates. I like the more whimsical stuff that not a lot of people like to play with. It makes you more unique,” said Palmer, who moved to Columbus from Richmond, Indiana, in 2017. “All of those props you can make yourself or buy online, and you use a little fuel and some Kevlar wicking to make the wicks. Then you can light your props on fire and it looks really cool.”

In 2012, Palmer attended a Flow Arts retreat called Kinetic Fire, which used to be held in southwest Ohio. At these events, he didn’t just learn how to juggle. He found a community.

One year at Kinetic Fire he met Marisa “Reese” Digati and her partner, Jonathan “Bearpaw” Crane. The couple has a school bus they converted into their home, like a DIY RV. These modified buses are known as “skoolies,” and there are forum-filled websites devoted to bus conversion plans. Skoolies are often registered with license plates from Vermont, since it’s the easiest state in which to title a converted bus. Pinterest is full of skoolies. Digati and Crane named theirs Buttercup.

It’s a crazy-looking bus, with drawings of trees and animals and fantastical creatures in an acid-trip color scheme of green, blue and pink. An exhaust pipe from a wood-burning stove pokes out from one of the front windows. Words written next to the bus door express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement: “Stop ‘legal’ Murder”; ”#BLM #ACAB”; “All we want is peace.”

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