Last night we had an amazing evening in Madison connecting with Kossacks, the Raging Grannies and The Solidarity Singers. Giles Goat Boy will write that one up sometime soon. It was nothing short of spiritual. Tonight however, Milwaukee's Overpass Light Brigade met at a pedestrian bridge over I-94, the main north/south artery that bisects Cream City. Our intentions were simple: to occupy the highway with the message of R-E-C-A-L-L hovering over the evening traffic. Things went pretty well, except for the biting of a young Republican when he tried to steal our camera.
The fact is, folks, we really do need whistles. We need extra people out on the streets. We need our cameras on all the time, and we need the cops on speed dial. We had done some pretty good impromptu planning: googlemapped the place to show up at dusk (ah, that crepuscular light!), predetermined a good spot below for an amazing photographer to get pictures, brought the newly fabricated LED signs, all in order to entertain the bumper to bumper rush hour traffic as they forged home for the weekend.
It was cold. It was loud, and we really couldn't tell whether the honks were in support or anger. Either way, it was all music to us. That is until some young man went out of his way to confront us high on the pedestrian walkway. The concept of our presence bothered the concept of his control. Seeing him approach, I instantly went up and said hello. I'm always friendly.
He held an iPhone that was on, and while looking at it, he informed me that he had "Googled the Law, and The Law Said" that we "Cannot Affix Anything to Government Property." "Yes," said I. "While these are bungied to the fence, I don't think that counts as 'affixing' as 'affixing' connotes permanence." "I disagree" said he. "These are affixed, and this is in violation of the law..."
Deciding not to argue semantics high over the highway, I said, "Yes, and you are???" "I am a concerned private citizen," he said somewhat sanctimoniously, "and I care about the law." I was still quite polite, and suggested that we appreciated his concern, and that we would be happy to talk to the police when they came. He told me he had called the police, and they were indeed coming. "Great," I said, and that should have been the end of it.
Here's where the story gets weird. He then went over to my signs, which were indeed bungied to the fence, and began to somewhat violently wrest them down. I grabbed him, and pulled him away, and said "You cannot mess with my property! These signs are mine. This is my property!" He declared that "Your signs are on Government property, so I can protect Government property!"
I was holding the two signs which he had grabbed, and one of our Interventionists, a small 50 year old woman, camera in hand, took his picture. He freaked. Even though he was recording us with his iPhone, he said "I have not given you permission to take my picture! You MAY NOT take.. my... picture!!!"
I was concerned with the falling signs, so was not paying full attention. One of our other brothers, looking over at our Sister With The Camera, yelled "Hey, HEY!". I turned around. The young Republican was in a lock hold with our dear Lady of the Walkway. They were on this freaking pedestrian bridge to nowhere, in serious WWF mode. A 5' 11" twenty-something guy wrestling with a 5' 3" woman old enough to be his mother. He was forcefully trying to wrestle her camera (a nice new video camera) which was strapped around her wrist, and she was kicking him to fend off his attack. She bit down hard on his knuckle. He yelled. I ran over and got him in an arm lock. She was hurt, but my presence cooled down Wingie McNut. He quickly left.
"You bit that guy!" I exclaimed, really and truly amazed. She picked up some of her stuff that had fallen on the walkway, put it in her pocket, checked out her camera, straightened her coat, muttered "asshole" and went back, without another word, to holding the signs. I mean, that is some kind of cool activist!
We continued with our action, holding the signs by hand. I learned later that while I was taking our big sign back to the car, since we could no longer 'affix' it, the young man came back. It seems that in the scuffle, he had lost his wedding ring. It seems also that our Good Sister of the Overpass had picked it up when she picked up the glove that he ripped off her now badly bruised and bleeding hand. Sheepish, he asked about his ring. Our Generous Lady of the Walkway said, "I am a nice person. Here is your ring. I could easily have thrown it down onto the fucking freeway, and I probably should have!" She gave him the ring. He turned around and left.
I couldn't believe that she didn't keep the ring. "Why did you give it back?" I chastised. "We could have sold it on eBay or pawned it! These LED signs aren't cheap to make; we could have afforded a whole new series!"
The cop that later came was really nice. He was a good guy. He told us not to use the bungies or to even lean them against the fencing so no one could misconstrue 'affixing.' That is indeed how we will do it from now on. We will need at least eight people to go out. Six to hold, one with a camera for the event, and one with a camera for the nut jobs who take issue with our brand of Lite Brite Activism. The policeman acknowledged our right to be there, as long as we obeyed the laws. I agree: people in Wisconsin should obey the laws. I'd be happy to spend cocktail time indoors on a bone freezing Friday in late November with the wind whistling off the lake. I'd be happy to be by the fire, a log cracking, a couple of cubes of ice jingling in the Scotch. I intend to do just that when our laws matter again in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, look for us on a freeway overpass near you.