Last week, it was reported by Wisconsin media that an art exhibit planned for Madison at the end of March had been indefinitely postponed. The exhibit, entitled "Art in Protest", was to have been organized with assistance from the Wisconsin School for Workers, which is part of the University of Wisconsin Extension. The school dropped the project after being pressured by Republican State Representative Steve Nass, who apparently did not approve of the subject matter.
As reported by The Progressive, Nass's chief of staff Mike Mikalsen pressured officials at the school to cancel the exhibit:
“...the consequences of that kind of activity would fall on the extension. They would have to own it.”It sounds like dialogue from a bad, 1930s mobster movie. "My boss sent me to tell you that it would would be a real shame if something were to happen to your nice little art shop here. What do you sell here? Paintings? Are those oil paints? Gee, I'll bet those oil paints could catch fire real fast. I'm sure my boss could arrange to make sure nothing bad happens, if you understand what I'm sayin'..."
Mikalsen denies that he out-and-out threatened to defund the School of Workers, though he says he told Olson that this is a “very tense time,” and that an exhibit likes this “makes it very difficult” to cooperate with the university.
“If something were to occur that would anger the Republican side or conservatives around the state, it would make it hard to continue to work cooperatively...”
In John Nichols' new book about the Wisconsin uprising (called "Uprising"), he makes the observation that one thing Wisconsin has shown is that fighting back aggressively works against bullies. Really fighting back. Not with violence, not with a few meek objections, but by doubling down any time the forces of oppression attempt to crack down on perceived voices of dissent.
I have seen this strategy used successfully dozens of times in Wisconsin in the last year. It can be something silly like showing up with inflatable palm trees after Fox News uses footage from California to document "violent" protesting in Madison, or it can be as serious as non-violently blocking access to the Wisconsin Assembly to prevent lawmakers from hacking apart 50 years of labor law.
The palm trees didn't stop Fox News from lying, and the sit-in didn't stop the Assembly from temporarily dismantling collective bargaining, but both actions were successful. The video of peaceful citizens being carried out of their Capitol by state troopers helped alert the world to what was happening in the middle of America. The palm trees...well the palm trees provided some needed comic relief at a tense time, but they also established an easy visual representation for what many of us have known for years - Fox lies. That meme has stuck real good in Wisconsin.
I'll never forget the first Solidarity Sing Along in the capitol after new rules said we needed a permit for any group larger than 3 people. We didn't get a permit that day, because we wanted to peaceably assemble and petition our government. No permit needed for that according to the Wisconsin Constitution, Article I, section 4. We usually have between fifty and a hundred singers. On "permit day", over five hundred singers showed up at noon. We didn't double down that day. We octupled down.
In that spirit, check out this poster for the newly rescheduled art exhibit!
That's right. The badgers are doubling down again. From the Capital Times:
Michael Duffy, a local graphic artist who was involved with putting together the original event, said plans were finalized Monday afternoon to hold the “Censored Art Show” March 9-10 at the Goodman Community Center, 149 Waubesa St. Space at the center is being rented out by artists who are determined to keep the festival alive.News of the rescheduled event just broke late this afternoon. The facebook page for the event already has over 160 people accepting the invitation to attend. If Nass had kept his mouth shut, the exhibit would have attracted a respectable crowd and a few lines in the local paper, but now it is guaranteed to attract a raucous mix of art critics, hippies, local TV reporters, labor union members, and mobs of palm-tree-totin' troublemakers chanting "Artists rights under attack! What do we do? Stand up! Fight back!"
“It’s just going to be a grassroots, down-and-dirty exhibit at the Goodman Center,” says Duffy. “We’ve invited people to show up Friday morning (March 9) and then we’ll just figure out how to display it on the fly.”
A poster for the arts event asks people to bring their “signs, songs, music, personal expression and outrage!”