Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, is in the lovely and developing Menomonee Valley which was historically the industrial heart of Milwaukee. Overlooking the park and up on a modest bluff is the historic Veteran's Cemetery, home of buildings built during the Civil War and rich with historical significance. Immediately west of the Brewer's parking lot is a little-used road that crosses 1-94. The merge lane for vast amount of ball field parking is directly under the bridge. The Overpass Light Brigade set sights on that space for occupancy at the end of a home game. But there were some unexpected complications. By the end of the night, we had dealt with three different jurisdictions of law enforcement set on evicting us, two broken lights, one CNN reporter, a "lantern tour" of the cemetery and a lot of conversation about first amendment rights. It was a civics lesson in real time writ as large as the bridge.
Since there is no street parking during games within a large radius of the ball field, we were hosted by Paul, an OLB stalwart who lives a hardball's throw from the Miller Park. We gathered and marched the half mile to the bridge, and got set up with our BARRETT & MITCHELL JUNE 5. I had spent the day making the new ampersand, so was pretty happy to see it shine forth.
We had been vaguely aware that there was a historical reenactment event at the cemetery this weekend, and were worried to learn of their "Lantern Tour." About every thirty minutes, a tram brought people to different stations for readings. The Gettysburg Address station was a bit close to the bridge - probably 50 yards away, and we didn't want the incessant honking from the highway to disturb their event. We set up a spotter who would caution us to "stand down" upon seeing the tram. We would then set our signs down, against the cement half-wall, and stand in silent respect for the short duration of their reading. This seemed to work well, and a man dressed in Civil War regalia from head to foot came over and thanked us for the cooperation. He was a high school teacher, and loved our message, and appreciated our sensitivity about the highway noise.
The first round of police to arrive included County Sheriffs and a very nice Federal Policeman. It was fascinating to hear them discuss the jurisdiction. The County would have jurisdiction over most overpasses and bridges, but Veteran's Cemetery is federal land. Is the bridge federal or state? Deference was made to the feds, so the Veteran's Park Policeman asked us to leave. We had a great talk with him about our rights and federal land. Paul brought up a pdf of the federal statutes on his iPhone, and went over it with him (see video). The officer witnessed us during our "stand down" for the Lantern Tour and was impressed that we were being so respectful. We won him over.
Things were going smoothly when the "B" of BARRETT mysteriously went blank. OLB has now been out over 40 times, and these signs have taken a lot of abuse. None have crapped out before this. Maybe a battery contact. Joe, where's the screwdriver? … In the car, 5 blocks away. While Joe ran to get it, we took the ARRETT of ARRETT & MITCHELL down, and reordered the signs so they read "RECALL WALKER MITCHELL JUNE 5." Joe arrived huffing and sweating. We took the back off, realigned the batteries. No luck. Shit. I ran back to Paul's house to grab another sign, do a quick battery-pack splice with kitchen utensils and duct tape, and run back to the bridge, all the while saying to myself "Man, I really need to get in shape!" (along with "I'm too old to be doing this!").
Finally, back in business! We got re-arranged yet again when not one, not two, but six squad cars and a motorcycle cop showed up, lights ablaze like a P-Funk stage show. We were immediately asked to leave. Now, one thing I didn't mention is that rightwing talk radio in Milwaukee has been going after OLB. Mark Belling put out a challenge to Walker supporters to "take to the bridges" (even after decrying our tactics as irresponsible and obnoxious). Mimicry is a sincere form of flattery, and on Friday a bunch of tea baggers occupied a nearby pedestrian bridge with cardboard signs and lame pre-printed "Support Walker" placards. They had a good turnout and for reasons unknown to us got kicked off the bridge by the police. They claimed we ratted them out, which we of course did not. Through various Facebook threads, I assured them that I found little agreement with their political views, but very much agree with their - and our - first amendment rights.
We went into last night assuming that this event would have repercussions. Indeed, one of the first reasons this gaggle of policemen gave us was that they "kicked off a bridge full of people 'on the other side' just yesterday." OLB members are impressive. Who knew that among us was Lisa, an attorney who used to work on first amendment cases, often with the police department! She took over, and it was a thing of beauty. Very calmly and reasonably she argued each point they made: understanding their position and point of view, but always bringing it back the First Amendment. The CNN photographer who was doing a story on us was having a field day, though this didn't help us with his aggressive photographing of the police during their confab. Still, Lisa was a model of respectful reasonableness. She later told me that police officers rarely know much about First Amendment law, taking just enough during academy to pass the class, so the key is to walk through the concerns and discuss them one by one, and let them weigh the thorny zone between constitutional freedom and public safety. One-by-one. People on the other side of the issue were kicked off the bridge just yesterday, and this will make us look bad. (Perhaps they should have been allowed to stay, or perhaps the situation was different). The lights are a distraction to drivers, so we will let you be here, but you must turn them off. (These lights are still and less distracting than commercial signage and the blinking billboards over at Miller Park… the lights are a significant part of our protected speech….). You might block the access for others.. (As you can see, we are all on the sidewalk and will cooperate fully with any pedestrian who comes by.) Their take on jurisdiction was that 1/2 of the bridge was county, and 1/2 federal. Who knew that a bridge could be so confusing?
The police conferred with each other for quite some time. There was wealth of body-language along with head scratching. We waited patiently. They came back with their decision: You can stay. (Yay!) You have to meet the conditions discussed (nothing affixed to the fencing, no hands over railings, no overt distracting movements, no blocking access) and we will remain here with you monitoring the situation until you leave.
Thirty minutes later, at 10:45, we left. I was the last one to go. It was creepy to be tailed by a police car going at walking pace 15 feet behind me as I marched the end of the line with my tripod and camera on my shoulder like an old civil war rifle. We set up in a large park, the full full moon behind us, and took some beautiful pictures. The many and wonderful volunteers (there were 54 that came out) had learned that it was badscience and my 22 anniversary. Someone had an OLB cake made, and these wonderful OLB cookies. We set up a field office in Paul's kitchen where Joe and Jenna uploaded photos, drank wine until 1:30, and talked of the year, the night, the hopes for next week, the news and the neighborhood.
We're going out again tonight, but last evening will be one of those definitive moments of life, where anxiety, stress, adventure, ambition and purpose come together through the clarifying lens of friendship and camaraderie. Honestly, I want to win like hell next Tuesday. I want a 5% lead, a definitive victory. I want proof that 16 months of pure struggle can make a difference, can rectify a very bad situation. But there are other victories at play, and we are living them each day.