Today we had a huge Enfranchisement Party in a lovely little pocket park - a neighborhood park with no name - in north Milwaukee. This was the park where The Playground Legends was formed, on the freezing day in early April when we convinced Jesse Jackson to show up and talk to the neighbors in one of the most "seat of the pants" escapades I've ever been involved in. But it worked, and we've since been back five times for gotv activities. Our party today was a collective action: organized collaboratively with Wisconsin Jobs Now and a group of terrific volunteers (props below). One of our central insights is that we can't win the revolution through "vote harvesting" in disenfranchised neighborhoods. We need to build lasting relationships. We need to offer deeper conversations. We need to help the voiceless find a voice. Hell, we're all voiceless now, and we need to find our voices together.
This is how to build our movement: food, dancing and fun, in parallel with activism, education and conversation... or, The Seriousness of Purposeful Play.
And today was a beautiful day to play. Tents, food, kids running around, a DJ, loudspeakers, open mic, a dance contest, a voter information and registration booth, a port-a-john, The Voter Van, our Sidewalk Activism Machine (SAM), a Tug of War between children in the community and corporate fatcats, t-shirts, flags, posters, balls, frisbees, balloons... What a show! And though the gods of summer as tracked by local weathermen suggested a rain-out, the weather was glorious: blue sky, warm, huge fluffy clouds, and greenest of early greens from our cool and wet spring.
Orlando the DJ
Radio celebrity Earl Ingram spoke to us about community and the need to be engaged. He's been a terrific supporter of our upstart group, and we march side by side. He handed the mic over to Reverend Brisco, a pillar of the African American activist and religious community, who noted that our movement began in the shadow of oppression, but that oppressive intention is helping us build a historically significant movement - significant in the clear display of inter-gender, intergenerational, interracial participants both represented in the park and with us in spirit. This was powerful stuff: to look around and see the expressions of faith and dignity and honor and need and desire and determination on the faces in the park. He got it correct: the unintended consequences of Walker's inhumane agenda have brought people to the peoples' tables.
Back at the mic, two Spoken Word poets read some amazing work, and then State Senator Lena Taylor, one of the "Fab14", talked about her struggle in Madison. Think about it: she has to work with the lizard brained Republican lapdogs every single day. Can you imagine that? However, if all Democratic politicians, on both state and federal levels, were more like her, there would be a lot less distance between the rhetoric of representation, and representation. She talked in detail about the budget that was just passed last Thursday, the fight to salvage any sensible solutions and the intense compromises imposed when the other side has a sweeping majority. Yet some victories were evident, such as transportation workers not being subject to the stripping of collective bargaining, and WiscNet (high speed broadband) not being dissolved at the behest of the telecoms. She is a powerful and forceful speaker, and it was cool that she hung out the whole day talking with constituents, dancing with the kids, and enjoying the party.
The Tug of War was great: neighborhood kids represented "the people" on one side, and on the other side a "fatcat banker", a "guy named Scott Walker", and a drag-blond wigged "Alberta Darling" all represented corporate power. There were a lot of kids on the side of "the people", and they won hands down. However, in the third round, the rope snapped, sending people sprawling. No one was hurt, but the very cords of democracy were severed in the struggle between the forces of good and evil.
Back at the tables, the food was being served up. The line was long, and the food worth the wait: brats, hotdogs, ribs, b-b-que chicken wings, and amazing baked beans were in abundance. I walked around and heard groups having great conversations. Senator Taylor was engaging some refreshing "old school politics" with earnest debate among a group of folks, discussing the "conceal and carry" gun law, voter disenfranchisement, and giving kind endorsement to the necessary social politics of events like today's party. This is Alberta Darling's district; everybody was hungry to speak with their elected official but she'll never come and sit down and talk issues with this community like Lena Taylor did.
Long line to get lunch!
Meanwhile, in the tents, volunteers and deputized registrars were registering new voters and talking with people about the issues. It was so heartening to be a part of really intense and intelligent debate, not framed by intellectuals in my university, but by concerned citizens in No Name Park. It was a beautiful thing.
Voter registration and volunteer sign up.
We've come a long way since the ruckus in the rotunda that began last February. We've rallied, we've written, we've made videos, we've networked socially and social networked. We've organized and we've been organized. The Playground Legends has been going through some growing pains as we try to learn the grammar of activism... PACs vs 501C4s, navigating the delicate terrain between organic anarchistic creativity and necessary structures of hierarchy, legal dictates of permissibility regarding partisan expressions, needs and desires of individuals, organizing volunteers and working with other activist groups with their own structures and struggles. It has been quite a strange adventure, and my biggest pleasure gleaned from it all is the richness of these expanded communities.
Everyone wanted a picture with Lena!
This is what our democracy looks like, and sometimes when you are not invited to the table, you merely need to bring your own, set it up and begin the conversations!
Volunteers and supporting groups include: UFCW Local 1473, AFSCME Local 82, AFT (TAUWP, MGAA), NAB Vets, Our Lady of Good Hope, 1290-WMCS, MICAH, The Playground Legends, and Wisconsin Jobs Now.