Milwaukee's Messmer Preparatory Catholic School is private. It stands to profit from the erosion of Wisconsin's public school system and huge expansion of school vouchers, including the elimination of income limits for vouchers, so wealthy parents can send their kids to private school on the taxpayer's dime. It was reported through Facebook that Scott Walker was to be there at noon today on a secretive gloating tour. Someone on the inside leaked the time of his arrival, and we wanted to be sure he felt our welcome. Several hundred of us arrived to greet him. Here is a brief account of the action on the streets of Riverwest, Milwaukee: a great place to raise your voice!
Right at noon I pulled up in my old Honda Odyssey van, unloaded our Sidewalk Soapbox Cart and unfurled our huge "Total Recall" banner. Media trucks were all over the place, and I couldn't help but notice that the school had parked the street up with a cordon of yellow buses, creating a tunnel between the sidewalk and the school's front. The place bristled with cops. They were everywhere, at least thirty or forty of them. Squad cars blocked the alley and the streets, and they were very particular about not letting anyone step on "private property," allowing us passage on only the narrow sidewalk next to the phalanx of buses.
The chanting was very energetic. I haven't heard this much energy since the early days of State Capitol occupation inside the rotunda. We owned the streets with rhythmic chants, "RE-call Walk-er" singsong and other chestnuts from the book of the streets. The police were fairly surly, reminding me that this is Milwaukee, not Madison. No smiles, no solidarity: instead there was a palpable sense of invisible lines drawn, with arrest immanent.
The group was very diverse: young, old, black, white, brown… There were people from various labor groups, but mostly just citizens like me: people sick of being pushed around, and sick of being told that we don't matter, that we are "the loud minority" with no voice worth hearing. I met a couple of Kossacks who recognized the Sidewalk Soapbox cart, which was another great reminder of the amplification effect that happens between online and local communities.
The police had cordoned off the alley on the backside of the school, yet many protesters (invited by residents) packed the backyards that were contiguous. Things turned quite tense when a dozen policemen entered one of the yards, and handcuffed a man who wouldn't leave. He had been very vocal, and (I was told) lived there. The police roughed him up and perpwalked him down the alley into their crook-van to cries of "Let him go! Let him GO!"
We continued to chant and sing, waiting for Walker to leave out the back way. His handlers rushed him to his awaiting limo, and they zoomed away, amid a very tense climate of dissent. I was relieved and surprised that the tensions didn't escalate. One man, a union worker, had been using a microphone to inform people about the early arrest. Call the precinct, he suggested. Ask about this man. Bear witness that he was unjustly arrested. This is what this man was doing on the street corner when the police arrested him as well!
It feels to me that we are now in a third phase of the movement. The first was centered in Madison and Capitol Square. The second was the recall campaign and elections. Our current phase is unfolding. It is more tense, and more intense. It feels less patient, it feels more fed up. It also has a feeling of confidence. We have learned a lot in the last six months. We know how to create media events, how to protect each other, and how to work together. Our songs are louder, our chants more rhythmic. We are mixing the streets, the social networks and the few institutions of power that we have access to.
It is hard to predict long term outcomes, but judging by what I experienced this afternoon, I put my money on the power of the people. We've got the feets and we've got the streets.
Join up! Get out to the dance. There is one in your neighborhood!
Here is a link to Milwaukee Journal Sentinal's coverage of the event. Unfortunately, someone superglued some doorlocks last evening. It is assumed (without evidence) that this vandalism was done by a protester.
The arrest documented in the video above was for "battery." I was there (along with 50 or so witnesses) and there was no "battery." A fellow activist put a Facebook call to contact the newspaper about their "very poor inflammatory journalism" and suggested they should "check facts before publishing." The writer responded with this email:
Dear Mr. XXX
Thank you for your email commenting on the article about Governor Walker's visit to Messmer Preparatory Catholic School and the protest outside. I received the information about the arrest in a news release from Milwaukee Police spokeswoman Anne Schwartz.
I checked the NewsWatch item, and see that you are correct about the missing information about the arrest. I've contacted my editor so that he can refresh the article.
Thank you again,
Breann Schossow | Reporter
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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Walker is being all open faced and big eyed on the news... "Jeez," he says "I'm so disappointed... People have the right to protest, but they don't have the right to vandalize!"
This is, of course, the problem with "crossing the line." We lose aspects of the narrative. On the other hand, if we were Republicans, we'd immediately put out a media barrage that the vandalism was "a set up job."