We got a lot of flak from passing motorists last March when gathering signatures in Mequon. It was pretty abusive: threats shouted from windows, epithets, middle fingers too numerous to count, so many that we began to categorize "single-out the window," "double-barrel drivebys," and "single with a shout chaser." This time around, Dave, an athletically built, six foot tall blond man in his early 30s, wanted to be as visible as possible, but also wanted to go alone. Call him courageous or crazy, he had an image of himself as "the Lone Guy," holding a sign, vulnerable to abuse and hence even stronger in stance. It was his social experiment. Oh, and he also cut a small hole in his protest placard and hid his iPhone behind it. Like Homer Simpson spying on Apu's Quickie Mart, Dave was undercover. He recorded a fascinating video.
Surprisingly to us, he wasn't confronted with the aggressive violence that we had experienced earlier. I'm not sure why this is. Could be random. Could be that it was a gloriously beautiful day - blue sky, hot sun, cool breeze off the lake. Could be that even diehard conservatives have had to confront the unease that Walker's policies have fomented throughout the state, and are feeling dug in but more conciliatory.
Dave engaged people in conversation when they stopped at the intersection. He returns conservative talking points with a reiteration of their leading assertions, thus eliciting more response. The talk is quite candid and generally civil. Crazy, but at least civil... School teachers are causing our budgetary woes. Obama is the "architect of world poverty" and has put the nation in dire debt. We should end ethanol and oil subsidies (is this that sweet spot where Libertarians and Progressives meet for a brief dance?) My favorite is the woman who asserts "You people don't want anybody to be rich; that means you don't want anybody to have a job..." (The DNC should think of adopting that as a slogan... "We hate all jobs and the wealth that jobs create!")
He got hours of similar footage.
These are Walker's people: surrounded by affluence, but still feeling that others are taking away what is rightfully theirs. Their ghetto of the rich is paradoxically perceived as under threat, and all claims towards a broader public weal are deeply resented and bitterly contested.
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee...
The Woodlands is a large condo complex on 55 acres. We've been kicked out twice by an over aggressive security squad, but got it all settled the third time back: clarifying to security that voter registration is a protected act and not akin to solicitation. In the ensuing weeks, many of us have become deputized voter registrars for the City of Milwaukee. Yesterday was our fifth visit. We're planning a big block party (free food, music, open mic, local dignitaries) on July 2nd in order to get the word out for the July 12 special elections. We wanted to advertise the event and we're also registering people to vote whenever and wherever we can.
I was excited to be rolling out our prototype TPL-SAM (The Playground Legends' Sidewalk Activism Machine). It is a bright yellow pushcart on bicycle wheels, a portable voter registration module, complete with a PA, cordless microphone, battery and power inverter, clipboards, registration forms and literature. The idea is to have a mobile unit that gives visibility to our political message. Get engaged, get a voice, get involved.
Having put a lot of time, craft and effort into its development, I was worried taking it out. Would it work? Would the wheels stay on? Would the microphone be loud enough?
I'm happy to report that it worked beautifully! We pushed it along and were able to project our presence and purpose. A lot of kids were playing outside, and once we invited a couple of them to speak into the mic, the day unfolded with beautiful anarchy. They started rapping, starting talking about voting, started giving their own opinions, without any prompting, about Scott Walker. We have come to understand that Walker is notorious in these neighborhoods. People know how damaging his policies are: the destruction of schools, elimination of breakfast and lunch programs, elimination of Badgercare (Medicare), the drastic reduction of public transit, the closing of neighborhood parks and pools. These are the people most affected by America's upward redistribution of wealth.
Make no mistake: life is tough in these neighborhoods. Crime is bad, and Walker's newly proposed "conceal and carry" gun policies will make things worse. There are few jobs. Amenities are scarce. People don't have much. This is the strangest paradox of all: the rich white folk are much more resentful of the poor black folk than the poor black folk are of the rich white folk. This is a crazy inversion and is somehow tied to normative discourse and the "invisibility of whiteness." The claim, of course, is that we "work for a living," while they leech off the system. One of Walker's serious tactical mistakes was to shift the bracketing of "the other" to include non-racial groups. Public workers, teachers, cops, firefighters, university staffers, bus drivers, et al., were magically (and tragically) moved into a "problematized" and hence, racialized, category. I think that a lot of people were surprised to wake up and find themselves firmly on the other side of normative social status. Walker and his lapdog legislators shifted a lot of citizens from the "we" category to the "they" category. It was a new experience for a lot of us. We're still trying to figure out just who we really are.
While the creative chaos was echoing through the Woodlands, our registrars were at work. We had some great conversations, and we had fun. We got the word out about the upcoming street party. We got the word out about the July 12 elections, and most importantly, we registered 29 new voters. A couple of the kids now claim themselves to be "Playground Legends" and we welcome them with open arms and an open mic. If the kids in the video below could vote, we'd for sure win this special election.