The Overpass Light Brigade went out in Milwaukee last night in celebration of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. We hadn't planned anything, and needed to create some new letters for the event. We usually give our "Holders of the Lights" a number of days notice for a bridge action, so didn't know if people would even show up. A couple of friends came over to help me with letters - they get a bit tedious to create, though by now I have the process down pretty well. We felt that HEALTH CARE FOR ALL pretty well said it - indicating the great political gain of yesterday's determination, but also making clear that there is still a long way to go to reach full national inclusion. So we put out a call to our list of volunteers and figured that we'd simply go to a bar if not enough people showed up. Thirty-six people showed up!
I sent out the following email to our list of volunteers:
Dear Holders of the Lights:
We have reason to celebrate. As you know the SCOTUS upheld The Affordable Care Act. Help us on this short notice meet at the Ring Street Overpass to hold the message HEALTH CARE FOR ALL. We need you, and realize this is very last minute. This is a major national event, and even though we won this important victory, we still have a long way to go for a Single Payer System. Let's say it in lights, Milwaukee style!
Hope to see you on the bridge!
We've built an amazing community of activists, and now it is cool to see neighbors beginning to get involved. One woman who lives in one of these houses came out on the bridge with us. She talked to me about having OLB do some messages for a community-building event in her neighborhood, which we will be happy to help with.
There is something powerful about standing over traffic and holding your sign next to someone you have never met before. It is kind of like camping - how around the campfire you can open up in ways that would be very difficult elsewhere, or how you can talk earnestly and deeply with your teenage son while driving in a car, yet only get existential grunts and sighs while trying to have the same conversation around the house. Fishing is like that. So is this.
We also had the Youth Brigade out last night. Kossack minvis has often joined us with his son (who we Kossacks delight in called "mini-minvis"). Now his son's friends join us as well. The parents are delighted that their children can have a living lesson in civic engagement. It is hard for me to understand how all of this will be processed in the future, but I think it is safe to say that they will be memorable events for these kids.
There was a lot of response from the freeway. Lots of honking. We also had a lot of people yell profanities at us. Funny that suggesting Americans deserve adequate access to healthcare should get such rebuttal. "I am against health care!" "People should not have access to doctors!" "In the Land of the Free, we should be free to not be able to see a dentist!"
One African American man walked by and spoke with me for a while. He complained about not being able to afford dentistry, that we was laid off from a good job and couldn't find work. He was educated, articulate and well-spoken. His teeth looked awful, even painful. He was in his mid-fifties - my age. Bad teeth will age you quickly beyond your years. He loved our message, but left me with this cynical observation: "Healthcare for all would be great," he said, "but some jobs back here in the hood would be even better!"
So with our strange mix of improvisation and ritualized action, we ended our evening with our march off the bridge and our final photo op. It was a great celebration to a political decision worth celebrating. We had a beautiful Bridge Party with a half day's notice and continue this crazy project that forges community through conversation and the power of physical presence.