2014 proved to be another busy year for OLB. There was no shortage of issues to engage, with the ongoing consolidation of power into the hands of the few. We completed well over 50 different actions throughout the year, averaging more than one per week. It was our pleasure to work with a wide array of different groups and movements that helped to organize each of these actions. Collaborations with both new and established grassroots efforts help make OLB a powerful megaphone, as witnessed by our solid presence within the social media landscape. Our Facebook site continues to have a lot of traffic and reach, and we frequently create original content for both Daily Kos and Occupy Riverwest blogs. We’ve developed a strong Twitter following, and our Flickr account that hosts all OLB images saw its total views soar past 5 million, illustrating the powerful reach and continued potential of the medium.
As always, our actions are not possible without the dedication of the Holders of the Lights, who never cease to amaze us with their commitment to this group. No matter the weather or challenge, we always seem to have enough people to realize a powerful action. We started with just six lighted letters in November of 2011, and never could have imagined what OLB would become. The network of Light Brigades continues to proliferate. We saw chapters emerge in the U.S. and around the globe with new brigades popping up in Germany and England. We’re approaching close to 50 different Light Brigades worldwide, which allows coordinated messaging and collaborative campaigns. We spend more and more time helping to foster the network, and hope to see it continue to grow throughout the year 2015 and beyond.
The concept of Light Brigades has entered the lexicon of street protest, and we were delighted when it was included in the “Beautiful Trouble” website, a deep and well-researched compilation of tactics and tools for social change. This inclusion, along with our Wikipedia entry, web presence and increasing number of articles about Light Brigades, will help us secure a place in the history of social movements, street protest, and art+activism. The Light Brigade Network has been recognized by other activist groups and causes as a powerful resource, and we hope to encourage and increase the “movement building” capacity inherent in the medium.
Thank you for making 2014 a memorable year. Below are some of the categories that represent the issues that drew our attention last year, and will likely have us holding the lights in 2015. We hope that our collective efforts have brought a bit of visibility to these worthy issues of environmental sanity, social equity, racial justice and access to education. Shine on, 2015. See you in the streets and on the bridges!
This year was marred by multiple tragedies involving police and white vigilante violence against young African American men. We stood in solidarity with the impacted communities.
The year began as it ended, with us calling attention to the case of a young African American, whose life was taken early because of a discriminatory system that disproportionately targets black and brown men. These actions resonate strongly with us, and we consider them some of the most serious and important coalitions that we are part of. The Black Lives Matter movement commanded a major part of our organizing efforts and, in retrospect, seems to be the issue of the year. 2015 is shaping up to be no different and we fully intend to continue to bring greater visibility to the injustice of the current system, as we collaborate with groups such as the Coalition for Justice, Wisconsin Jobs Now, and the ACLU.
The urgency of climate disruption continues to increase, as our planet moves closer and closer to 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels. Climatologists have identified this number as the tipping point for the earth’s climate. We have organized many actions with 350.org, Fossil Free UW Coalition, and the Global Climate Convergence in order to cast light upon the need for serious change regarding our relationship with the planet.
We took our lights on the road to Washington D.C. where we held an XL DISSENT message in front of the White House. We also were involved in behind the scenes planning for some aspects of the powerful People’s Climate March in NYC, and many light brigade volunteers and organizers took to the streets in October in a strong show of support.
Water = Life is a reminder that we are mostly water, interconnected with this magical substance that is often taken for granted. The public’s right to fresh water is being eroded as corporations seek to privatize and profiteer. Beyond this specific struggle, we hope to bring awareness to the power and beauty of water, especially in context to our geographical position regarding the Great Lakes.
2014 saw OLB engaged in some powerful ceremonies, collaborating with the Milwaukee Water Commons and the Lac Courte Orielles Ojibwe, among others. We fully expect to continue with these campaigns, with both topical messaging and esthetic response.
We teamed up with Idle No More Wisconsin, Not Your Mascot, Lac Courte Orielles Mid Winter Social, and other indigenous groups this year to bring more attention to issues of water, representation, wolf hunts, treaty rights and language. We worked with Ojibwe scholars on three different events that foregrounded the Ojibwe “language in lights” and wish to continue to explore the power of language performances for both esthetic and educational outcomes.
The growing influence of money in politics continues to dominate and control our electoral process. Indeed, the vast asymmetry of unregulated money within our governing system is an overwhelming corrupting presence, and we went out with many messages working to enlighten others about this growing problem for our democracy.
We introduced a high powered projection lamp to our messages in 2014 thanks to a generous donation from the Backbone Campaign. It was also great to join organizations like South Central Wisconsin Move to Amend and Southeast Wisconsin Move to Amend to call more attention to the cancer within our political system, which we did in Madison at the Capitol and the Milwaukee County Courthouse.
Who would have thought that in 2014, Americans would still be litigating and legislating a woman’s access to birth control? Appalled by the legislative overreach of Wisconsin’s rightwing government, we spent a lot of time at our capitol in Madison to make sure that others were aware about Scott Walker’s efforts to limit the ability of women to control their own bodies. We worked with Planned Parenthood, Ultra-Violet, and other women’s rights groups to make the issues visible.
Public education in Milwaukee and around the country has been under attack for years. We proudly stood with the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association at several school board actions to call out those who continue to attempt to privatize our public schools.
We also held messages outside of MPS School Board member’s houses, inviting them to come out and talk with teachers in the hopes of fostering better communications, and have ongoing actions and concerns about accountability of private voucher schools and for-profit educational institutions.
Due to rapid technological shifts and the overreach of governmental agencies, we live under increasing surveillance, data-tracking and diminution of First and Fourth Amendment rights. Whistleblowers have revealed our dwindling privacy, and the NSA seems to mysteriously work as a governmental shadow cabinet, operating with little transparency or accountability.
In 2014, we held numerous messages related to issues of privacy, and also collaborated with the DIY Drone Brigade to create video aerial flyovers of related OLB messages. Indeed, OLB’s at times uneasy relationship with the limits of the allowable within so-called public space is intrinsically linked to these freedoms.
OLB was born out of the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising, and we don’t ever want to forget our roots in the recall. With that in mind, we continue to work hard to bring more attention to the damage Governor Scott Walker has been inflicting upon the people of Wisconsin, included the denial of healthcare, the dismantling of public education, the gutting of the DNR, and the abysmal economic outlook due to misguided economic polices that only bolster the wealthy donors of a corrupt political system. In the lead-up to the November elections we spent a good deal of time calling out these policies and legislation that threaten the health and wellbeing of Wisconsinites. Although Walker was reelected to serve as governor, we are committed to make sure that he is held accountable for legislative choices that work against everyday people. With this goal in mind, we will continue to struggle side by side with concerned citizens, friends, and grassroots activists who understand that the changes that rack our state are neither positive nor sustainable, but dismantling and divisive.
Though it wasn’t created in 2014, Dusan Harminc’s short documentary about the OLB garnered multiple screenings and awards throughout the year, culminating in being selected by PBS for its online video festival.
Shine on, People’s Bandwidth. Engage! Resist! Disrupt!