Janesville, WI, is a town beset by massive joblessness through decades of downsizings, closings, offshoring and general rustbelt erosion. Recent economic reports on job growth have put Wisconsin last in the nation. The cause and effect relationship with Scott Walker's policies are pretty clear to anyone who isn't tribally predetermined to ignore evidence. Janesville's stats are even grim within a grim statewide forecast. Grim and grimmer. In short, Janesville is suffering, and from the vibe I experienced, it is a suppressed and seething suffering.
OLB had selected WALKER=NO JOBS to display on the busy main drag of town, the cruising strip for bored teens behind the wheels of muscle cars and old beaters, Romulan cruisers and curiously brand-new oversized pickup trucks that circle the small city in ritual displays of ennui and expectation, idles set to rumble, sipping the drip of gas into carburetors, yelling media-channeled rebellion out of cranked windows while belching acrid carbon smoke from automatic chokes.
Standing on the corner with a group of volunteers has a very different feel than being up on a bridge or overpass. You are right in the street, and very vulnerable to the shouts and threats of angry citizens. I was somewhat taken aback when walking across the road with camera and tripod, and a man pulled right next to me in his pickup truck, stopped, rolled down the window, gave me the finger and said, "Fuck you, you motherfucking asshole!" I was in traffic so couldn't get it on camera. His face was contorted in a rictus of hate. I looked at our self-organizing group of peace activists behind him, laughing in the seriously cold weather, moving this way and that to get the letter spacing right, joking with each other and enjoying the moment. A rush of anger like poison surged through my body, but then I smiled and merely waved at the guy. I didn't even show him the band-aid on my finger. I merely waved.
I went across the busy street, set up the tripod, and began taking pictures. I was surprised at the level of hostility directed towards the holders. We were right at an intersection, so people would come up and blast their horns, roll down windows and shout similar sentiments to Mr. Hate's. When the red light turned green, the guys in their double-wide Dodge Rams would peel out, trying to leave us in a fug of black diesel smoke, yelling "Scott Walker for President!" and "Go home, hippies!" Funny how this works. I wondered whether the highschool and college-aged kids yelling insults through their Mr. Microphones jacked into their truck speakers had any clue what was going on with their immediate future due to Walker's policies: the dismantling of their schools (I fucking hate school), the defunding of their public universities (I can't afford to go anyway), the undercutting of the trade and technical colleges (There ain't no jobs, so what is the point?) and the dismal outlook for future employment (Who cares, it all sucks!). I felt like a field anthropologist witnessing an angry and barbaric culture locked in expressions of masculine ritualized rage, all the more virulent for its impotence and futility.
But it wasn't all grim. We still had a great time. There was one point where an impromptu democrabeep symphony spontaneously erupted among supporters. One car started it and soon there were 8 or 9 horns hitting the morse code of automobile utterance. It was an amazing sonic experience - really loud, and it infected the intersection for a memorable moment. It was viral and fleeting, bracketed between the red-and-green light-logic of the intersection. We also had people stop to take pictures, as well as give shouts and gestures of support. This morning, we received this nice entry posted on our Facebook page today:
Clearly, Janesville is polarized like the state, perhaps even more so since hate breeds on fear, and this is a community that has lost a lot. We live divided, and that is the legacy of Scott Walker. It wasn't like this before. There is a simple and brutal cause-and-effect, and our divisions will not be healed for generations. I'm not sure it can even be dialed back in the short term. There is no discussion, only position. There is no investigation, only reiteration. There is no compromise, only winning. Regardless of the outcome of this recall election, it will take a lot to fix what has been so recklessly destroyed.
A photographer from the Janesville Gazette come out to cover the action. He complained to badscience that our signs should be bigger and that they all burned at different intensity. He chastised her about our technical shortcomings. She is wicked smart, and someone you don't want to mess with. Sensing the steam beginning to blow from her ears, I gently suggested that she go take some pictures from another angle. Mr. Photographer went on to give free advice, but on the other hand, he really knew what he was doing, took some great pictures, and gave us some good press.
Here is the article that was in the paper this morning. I'm certain that they'll get a lot of hate mail for it. Notice the headline: Overpass Light Brigade Makes Janesville Appearance. Notice the headline below that: Local Women Save 11 Ducklings Trapped In Sewer.
Overpass Light Brigade visits Janesville and Baby Ducks are Saved! Coincidence? I Think Not! There is no such thing as coincidence. It is merely unrevealed causality. We went to Janesville to protest Scott Walker's dismal job record and eleven lucky ducks escaped the grim fate of being washed down the sewer.
Will Wisconsin be so lucky in seven weeks? I'm not sure, but I sure as hell hope so.