It was a busy week for The Playground Legends, an ever-widening talent pool of citizens dedicated to pragmatic activism and creative intervention. On Monday night we met with the local chapter of Organizing for America to share information about our work in the African American communities on Milwaukee's northwest side. On Friday night, we presented our work at a fundraiser in a wonderful new coop bar in Milwaukee's Riverwest area. Music, beer and enthusiasm flowed as we paused to celebrate the overwhelming success of local recall efforts. State Senator, Fab14 member, and local hero Chris Larson reminded us that we were about one half way through a marathon run, but Wisconsin's New Labor Left is not afraid of hard work or long runs; as long as there is a beer tap at the end of it!
On Saturday, we went back out to the The Woodlands, a huge condo development with a troubled history comprising a whole ward (260) that is home to over 1,000 voters. The weekend before last, we were chased off by armed security guards (read about it here) so this time we returned without the van, without fanfare, and with three African American OFA activists, Michael, Trenna and Marilyn. Michael has been deputized as a voter registrar, which I see as a vital function in our new politics of organized voter suppression.
Our goal was to talk with people in the area about the BBQ we are planning for next Saturday, April 30th; hoping to find residents who wanted to help us and host the event. We had, through OFA, a list of contacts who have been active in past elections. After arriving, we called a few people and handed out information cards regarding some of Walker's policies and our planned upcoming events. Michael registered voters and the rest of us talked with people one on one. Any mention of Scott Walker was a great ice-breaker. Things were off to a good start.
We were talking with a woman at her apartment when security arrived. There were no guns this time (Mr. NRA seemed to not be on duty) but there weren't friendly smiles either. They claimed that they were coming to issue a ticket to the woman we were speaking with regarding a complaint about her dog. What a coincidence! They saw us, and told us we were not allowed to be there. It didn't matter that we were registering people to vote. It didn't matter that we were invited guests on this woman's rented property. We were banned from the entire complex.
They recognized Joe from last weekend, and threatened him with detainment and arrest because he had allegedly been previously warned. For the record, there were neither warnings issued, nor names taken last weekend. The security guard, just following his orders, said, "Rules are rules..." though we have yet to be supplied with any of The Association's rules, even upon request. We left peacefully with a tight security escort.
The residents we spoke with frequently mentioned "The Association" directly or indirectly. "The Association" is made up of condo owners, with only one African American member. They hire Twin Cities Security, out of Minneapolis, to guard the compound. Twin Cities Security regularly gives tickets out to the residents for various infractions, allowable through a tenant contract that everyone has to sign.
I want to make this perfectly clear. We have no problem with security policing an area that has a history of crime and decay. We are always respectful and friendly. We have now been invited, by tenants, to visit and talk. We understand that we must respect the dictates of private property, but these don't override tenants' rights. Twin Cities Security, according to lawyers with whom I have spoken, is socially and legally overstepping their boundaries when they don't allow for voter registration, and don't respect that the tenants have rights to invite guests on to their rented property. However, we don't want to see any tenants get in trouble with landlords, so it is a complex tactical conundrum.
But we're also committed to having a big party there this next weekend. It will be fun. There will be food, frisbees, music, football, sidewalk chalk, poster paints. And there will be voter registration. As the woman says at the end of the video, "we'll be back!"
We'll be back even if we have to rent a condo in order to be a part of The Woodlands Condo Association.