Microphone. Loudspeakers. Music. Video... Please! Women, children, families, elders, people who are stil looking for good jobs--the people most vulnerable in our society who haven't given up and are looking for a voice. We want to help amplify voices. And we want to get people to the polls. Please, get on up to vote, get in the van if you need a ride. Vote, Vote, Vote!
This was our mission as we met in the park in a predominantly African American community in north central Milwaukee. This was the same park where we pulled off a serendipitous miracle last Saturday when we invited Jesse Jackson to speak with the neighbors and he showed up and gave a heartfelt paean to the power of voting and the soul-depths of the struggle for justice. Our group of self-organizing activists now has a PAC, so we consider ourselves a thoroughly legitimate guerilla neighborhood media-savvy economically sanctioned activist splinter group.
Other Legend members had prepped literature for lit drops, bought hotdogs for a cookout, gathered information about voting within the targeted wards, and cleared their busy schedules for the cause. I had prepared for the event by printing graphics on peel-and-stick vinyl: "VOTE," "Know Your Rights," "Stop Walker" and "Vote Kloppenburg/Abele." We spent a bit of time gussying up the shell of the old gas-guzzler, lashing flags to the front end, bungee cording our PA to the front grill, generally converting the Playground Legend to the Amazing Voter Van.
At around 1:00 we began trolling the streets, driving like a demented ice-cream truck from some back-lot Frank Capra meets John Singleton movie, blasting out MLK speeches intercut with music, with the voice of Lee over the top, chastising, berating, pleading, pressing, exhorting, inspiring passersby and homebounds to get out and vote. We had phone numbers to call if information or rides were needed, we dropped literature at houses, and we set up the little kids in the park (our wonderful hosts in the neighborhood) with paint and large paper for their own creative expressions as well as soccer balls and frisbees for self-organized fun.
We worked the streets hard all afternoon: Walter at the helm of our Romulan Cruiser, moving in slowmo cacophony through the quiet streets, loudspeakers blaring, stopping at any signs of life while Lee on the microphone told people why this vote was so important, where to vote, and how to vote and I would jump out and talk one-on-one with anyone who expressed interest. We had white boards available at the polling place to encourage participation in the creation of video messages after the vote. And using funds from our PAC, we invited all voters (and of course, neighborhood kids) to the unnamed park (which we now call "Jesse Jackson Park") for a hotdog cookout in the evening. It was a terrific coordinated effort to make voting important but also celebratory.
As dusk approached, we amped up our strategies. Joe, Lee and Tammy decided to hit the apartments again and get more direct about getting people to the polls. They would ring all the buzzers at once and tell the folks inside, "I'm here to drive you to vote!" At one place, a woman in PJs came to the door and Tammy told her, "Get dressed, it's easy. I'm driving you to vote!" The woman ended up calling a friend and they both loaded in the van.
Our resolve was high and eight o'clock was approaching. The polls shut at eight o'clock. We adopted the line, "a non-vote is a vote for Walker," which seemed to inspire some reluctant people to get in their cars, or our cars, to go to the polls. In the van on the way one woman asked, "How is voting going to stop Walker?". Tammy responded, "If you don't vote, you let his candidates win; you vote, you have power and you earn the right to complain." She also explained how Walker's cuts hurt us all: cutting education but spending more on prisons; cutting bus service but building more roads, creating an invisible wall around neighborhoods like hers, a wall between them and jobs. Another woman in the van added, "Walker wants to take away kindergarten.... that is wrong!" They all agreed as they reached the polling place.
After hotdogs, picture taking, frisbee throwing, and talking, I headed home. On the way I passed Growing Power, the nationally recognized urban farm project of the brilliant Will Allen. Rows of funky greenhouses glowed acid-green in the dark spring night. They were stunningly beautiful, an image of economic hope and the transformative power of creativity. For once, I had chills that weren't caused by the weather.
I promised myself that I would not watch the returns when I got home.
Of course, I lied.
So, what now? We won Milwaukee County big. Epic. And we just won the State Supreme Court race that should have been a shoo-in for Walker's proxy, David Prosser. Statewide turnout was huge: we are definitely awake, but so is the cash-drunk right wing, sitting safe in their metaphorically gated communities of Waukesha and Mequon, holding fast onto scaffoldings of privilege, dancing to the Privatize Waltz, fearing the little kids in Jesse Jackson Park because they have never met the little kids in Jesse Jackson Park.
We guerilla neighborhood media-savvy economically sanctioned activist splinter groups have a lot of work to do. The recalls loom. Our wins give us more energy, while our dead-heat ties give us ever stronger resolve.
Rock on, Playground Legends: every little bit matters. Two hundred votes matter!
Rock on, Amazing Voter Van: you're the Romulan Cruiser, the Little Engine that Could, the Demented Ice Cream Truck. You are stuck in forward, because there is no going back.
UPDATED WITH A FEW LINKS
and a heartfelt thanks to the Rescue Rangers, who breathed new life into this diary!
From quiet is the new loud in the comments, a beautiful video of the Playground Legends at work.