The new stage light projector is packed, it feels like a howitzer or bazooka to handle. I've got its power source, a brand new deep cycle marine battery that I bought this afternoon, set down in an old apple crate, heavy as a lead brick. The sine-wave inverter is also in the crate, along with a pair of gloves, the metal biscuit "GOBO" stencils ready for projection, and a heavy-duty extension cord coiled like a yellow snake and sitting on the battery terminals. The crate is bungie corded to an old luggage rack, and I feel like Ahab dragging an anchor as I trudge up the sidewalk to the state capitol. This is a first for us, this use of powerful stage lighting to project words onto buildings. I'm nervous that the light rain will ruin this stuff. We're used to a lot of field conditions, but this is all new for our group. I'm also thinking how suspicious this looks: a crate full of cords, a barrel light that looks like artillery, a man trudging alone up the access ramp in order to get close to the building. I'm glad no one seems to notice.
There is limited time on the fully charged battery; between 15 and 20 minutes, so we get photographers in place, and all of our friends, Madison activists, Solidarity Sing Along singers, Move to Amend members, OLB family, radical fringe dwellers, are getting the light panels out, marching up the hill to meet me, ready to set up our message for the night. I turn on the projector. It is so bright, so visible. A friend holds an umbrella over the battery box. The last thing I want to do is short anything out, ruin this gift from the Backbone Campaign that is designated to help us increase spectacle, link various groups together in this Rolling Rebellion.
The Holders of the Lights get lined up. The stage lights go on. This is what you would have seen, had you been passing by on the Capitol Square or nearby State Street:
END PAY TO PLAY. That seems especially applicable to the Walker regime. Everything here boils down to access to power via the campaign donation game that we quaintly still call democratic process. It is all about elections, and only about winning, about sitting in the seats of power in order to maintain access to power, fulfill ideological daydreams once deemed too extreme to even utter, now a constant onslaught of ALEC derived laws, proposals, policies.
I'm messing with the focus on the barrel zoom. Can't quite get it right, have to stop and figure it out. Uh, oh: here come the Capitol Police. A young cop comes right up to me, says hello. He gestures at the Light Brigade, and says, "That is okay. You can do that…" and then he waves in a grand sweeping gesture above it to the huge phrase on the building cornice, GET MONEY OUT OF POLITICS, "But that," he proclaims, "is not, and you have to turn it off!" I ask him why, and he responds, "It is actually a federal felony to project anything onto this building!" He says it with great conviction. I stall for time since the photographers are in crouch position, shooting away. A Solidarity Singer comes over. They deal with these very police all the time. The Singer asks the officer to cite the relevant law. He can't, but just knows it is a felony, just because, just because, when pressed, his dispatcher told him. The Singer suggests that if he is asking us to desist, he should at least know the statutes. He responds that she can call his office in the morning to find the appropriate citations. She suggests that it is really his job to know them, not our job to do the research after their application.
He begins to take my picture, which makes me pretty uncomfortable standing there with the hot end of the projector, trying to stabilize it and keep it aimed at the cornice and still stalling for time with the photographers click click clicking away. I tell him that we will comply, and turn off the light at the inverter. He walks away. I turn the light back on, changing the message to MONEY ≠ SPEECH. The police continued to lurk in the background, chatting and taking photographs. The consensus, among the activists at least, is that these particular police have a history of making shit up, citing non-existing codes and laws, and little of it ever holds up in court. These folks know. They've been there, done that, and all judgments so far in cases against the Solidarity Sing Along have fallen against the police and DOA. The rain has stopped. Our inverter whines, signaling the upcoming end of battery power. Our action ends with a fine rendition of "Keep Your Eyes On The Prize." We pack up and head to a local bar for wi-fi, Photoshop, social media uploads, and beer.
From our vantage point in the Light Brigade Network, we are eager to work with groups who are trying to stitch together loose networks which understand the power of collaboration yet respect local autonomies, and last night's action with the new projector is a great example of this fruitful movement building via the Backbone Campaign and their Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy:
From corporations claiming unalienable rights as “corporate persons” to billionaires manipulating elections with their wealth – our federal democracy is corrupt to the core. It is time to tap into the United States’ revolutionary roots and in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence instigate a second American Revolution against oligarchic rule.So join us. If not now, later. If not us, some related group. Or start something. Find a community and get out to make some noise, dance in the streets, sing songs, talk policy and politics, save a turtle or tree, read a book to a kid who can't read, serve up soup somewhere, shine a light on something you care about and tap into your revolutionary roots.
From July 5th – July 12th the Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy is coordinating a series of non-violent, artfully rebellious events around the country to get money out of politics, showcase the emergent US Democracy Movement, and spur on its escalating fight for real democracy.