The Overpass Light Brigade, Wisconsin's "lite brite" political messengers, were in Madison on Saturday night, and the Madison area community of activists showed up by the dozens to hold letters, wave flags, eat rice krispie treats, take pictures, meet new people and catch up with old friends.
The total I heard was 65 people, including lots of Kossacks, a bunch of folks from the Solidarity Sing Along, one videographer from Occupy Riverwest in Milwaukee, and the Dane County franchise of the Overpass Light Brigade.
We set up on a pedestrian overpass over the freeway that skirts Madison's south and west sides, commonly known as the Beltline. We had permission to park at a nearby restaurant/bar. The owner of that establishment also has permission to use the adjacent parking area of a car dealer as overflow, so most of us parked there to avoid taking up spaces next to the restaurant.
The area where we set up is in the town of Madison (which is its own municipal unit) as opposed to the city of Madison proper. Right on cue, before we even started walking to the bridge, a town of Madison police cruiser showed up wanting to know why we were parked on private property. Noise of Rain, who is now quite experienced in these tense, high pressure negotiations, helped explain the situation. The officer said he's never heard of the restaurant being able to use the overflow parking, and that he was going to check with the owners of the car dealership and come back if they said we had to leave. (The dealership was closed, so I'm not sure who he was going to talk to.) He never came back.
I was told later by one of the locals that this particular officer is known for hassling anybody who displays anything on their car showing support for the recall effort against Governor Scott Walker. Political profiling, you might call it.
After that slight delay, it was time to light up the signs and march to the footbridge. It was quite the parade, as you can imagine, and as soon as we set up the letters on the bridge, we immediately started getting lots of honks and democra-beeps from the traffic below.
One of the main messages for the night was a reference to recently released video showing Scott Walker telling a billionaire donor that step one in the plan for turning Wisconsin into a red, right-to-work state was to "Divide and Conquer" the labor movement.
It was like a cocktail party on the bridge, minus the cocktails. People took turns holding letters. We had plenty of extra participants, so people would mingle, visit, and make new connections. Lots of people brought cameras and wandered down to the sidewalks and fields on either side to get some photographs.
Motorists travelling east were reminded to vote out Scott Walker on June 5th.
After a peaceful and fun 90 minutes, we gathered once more in the parking lot for a final photo.
And just like that, the brigade scattered, but some of us thanked the owner of the restaurant by stopping in for a drink and some snacks before heading home.
The conventional wisdom among political consultants is that our time might have been better spent sitting at a phone bank calling likely Democratic voters, or knocking on their doors to remind them to vote on June 5th. While those activities might be important, I think our high visibility reminders of the same information is just as effective. Calling people on the telephone is fine, but it's clear that when likely Democratic voters driving the Beltline reach the crest of a hill and see the Overpass Light Brigade overhead, they get the message and they are delighted by it. We can't see the fist pumps from where we are, but we can sense them. It's a giant morale booster for the holders of the lights and the viewers driving by. Maybe it will even make them a little more receptive to those phone calls.
Be sure to visit and like the Overpass Light Brigade page on facebook. For your viewing pleasure, here are two nicely edited videos of our bridge party: