Tag Archives: Indigenous Rights

Overpass Light Brigade: 2014 in Review

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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.


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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.orgFossil 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 WisconsinNot 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!

Indigenous Groups in Wisconsin Respond to Washington’s Team Trademark Cancelation

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This poster was put together and shared courtesy of Joe Brusky Photography.

This poster was put together and shared courtesy of Joe Brusky Photography.

“When the status of a Native American is demoted to that of a caricature, we are objectified and diminished as a people. We become entertainment, not fellow citizens. How are you supposed to take me seriously if all you see is the stereotypical image of the Hollywood or sports mascot Indian?”

- Simon Moya-Smith

Wauwatosa, WI - In response to yesterday’s positive Trademark Ruling, canceling Washington’s trademark to the NFL team name R*dskins, representatives from different tribes around the state of Wisconsin showed up at Hart Park in the city of Wauwatosa. They met to celebrate the decision as well as to message brightly that their culture matters.

Their message: “We are #ProudToBe Menominee, Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Anishinaabe, Stockbridge-Munsee-Mohican, Oneida, Potawatomi, Bad River, mother, father, sister, brother, veterans, and Wisconsinites, but one thing we are not, is your mascot.”



Iron Mine Resistors March On Site in Penokee Hills

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Penokee Hills, Northern WI - On Sunday, two separate marches crossed the pristine, snow-laden landscape of northern Wisconsin, and converged at the proposed site of the Gogebic Taconite (GTAC) iron mine. Participants walked miles down wintry roads before uniting in opposition to the proposed mine, to the ecological damage it threatens, and to the company’s unsavory collusion with state lawmakers to rewrite Wisconsin’s mining laws in their favor.

The site of the proposed mine stands at the headwaters of the Bad River, where toxic runoff would threaten both the people of the Bad River Tribe and the waters of Lake Superior. The company has recently begun core sampling (video), increasing the urgency of the fight against the project.

The company has claimed an off-limits perimeter around the mine site, and has succeeded in formalizing it via state legislation. However, the gates demarcating this “forbidden zone” were not enough to stop the marchers on Sunday.

The marchers announced their arrival at the gates through music, as young and old alike raised their voices in defense of the Penokee Hills. A group of musicians and Solidarity Sing Along participants led those assembled in several songs, pairing popular melodies with lyrics about the mine. As the songs unfolded, the banners that had led each march were tied to the gates.

Several marchers asserted their right to the land by continuing past the company’s “no trespassing” signs and down the path to the mine’s site. They made clear that they will continue their resistance and will not go away quietly.

Marching to Stop the Penokee Hills from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.

The evening before the marchers gathered at the GTAC site, members of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe held their annual Mid-Winter Social and Pow-wow in nearby Hayward. A major focus of the gathering was how to organize against the mine and its life altering, treaty breaking presence in the Penokees. Near the end of the event tribal youth took the stage, holding four different illuminated messages in their native Ojibwe language while the words below were spoken aloud.

Poster courtesy of the Overpass Light Brigade.

Poster courtesy of the Overpass Light Brigade.

Gego moonakeg!
Don’t go digging!

Gego googiibike!

Don’t dive into the metal!


“don’t” when others “do”


How is your path?

Groups in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin Collectively Shining Against Wolf Hunting and Trapping

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Idle No More – Wisconsin and the Overpass Light Brigade hold lighted letters spelling messages against the Wisconsin wolf hunt for oncoming traffic to see (photo credit: Light Brigading on Flickr).

The Upper Midwest - One thing we learn from history, is that we never learn from history. The treatment of indigenous groups by Americans over the course of our country’s history has been an abomination to all mankind. Sadly, the trampling of indigenous rights continues today. In Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan indigenous groups are rising up and shining Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) illuminated messages against recent senseless wolf hunting and trapping seasons started in those states. The MA’IINGAN (the wolf) are part of the Anishinaabe (original man) People creation story and considered sacred:

We see the wolf as a predictor of our future. And what happens to wolf happens to Anishinaabe…whether other people see it or not, the same will happen to them…”

-Joe Rose, Bad River Ojibwe Elder


To help fight back, the Anishinaabeg Akkiing people near Duluth, Minnesota established the “Northwoods Revolution Ogichidaag (Warrior) Light Brigade” shining messages on several cold nights against the wolf hunting and trapping seasons started in their state.





This stunning wolf LED lighted icon was designed by Anishinaabe artist, Ken Andrews and certainly catches the attention of any passersby.

Ken Andrews wolf icon is turned into an LED light (photo credit: Susan Oswood).

Ken Andrews wolf icon is turned into an LED light (photo credit: Susan Oswood).

Northwoods Revolution: Minnesota Ogichidaag Light Brigade shine their message over oncoming traffic in Minnesota.

Northwoods Revolution: Minnesota Ogichidaag Light Brigade shine their message over oncoming traffic in Minnesota.

Idle No More Michigan also reproduced the wolf LED icon out of different colored LED lights to take out to places of high visibility as well.




The original Overpass Light Brigade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin took to their local pedestrian overpass bridge to message against the Wisconsin wolf hunt and trapping season that recently opened in the state, collaborating with Idle No More Wisconsin on an action facing Interstate-43 traffic leaving downtown Milwaukee.


Members of the OLB and Idle No More – Wisconsin collaborate on this message for busy I-43 rush hour traffic leaving downtown Milwaukee (photo credit: Light Brigading on Flickr).

As long as tribes are not being consulted on issues affecting wolf management, as clearly stipulated in existing treaties with Wisconsin State Government, all Americans will be complicit in continuing a long tradition of quashing indigenous peoples’ rights in this country. It’s time we break the chain and end the reign of sportsmen special interest groups that have invested and lobbied to make certain they can continue to have their cruel “trapping” and trophy slaughter of the wolf for fun. Thanks to the Light Brigade Network for shining and organizing to bring more attention to these blatant attacks against indigenous rights in this country by powerful and entrenched interests.

Overpass Light Brigade Lights up Lakefront Before Indian Summer Festival Fireworks

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Holders of the Light

The Overpass Light Brigade Holders of the Light brought a different kind of fireworks to the Indian Summer Festival Fireworks.

Milwaukee, WI - The pre-fireworks show at this year’s Indian Summer Festival may have upstaged the incredible Saturday night show at the Indigenous Festival on Milwaukee’s Lakefront Summerfest grounds. That’s because the Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) brought their collectively held illuminated Idle No More inspired messages out to the Island, in front of the Indian Summer shoreline, where thousands were gathered for fireworks. For a half-hour before the fireworks, the brigade held a series of messages with Lake Michigan water reflecting in the foreground and although the optics were stunning the messages were poignant, and challenged those in attendance to think about the importance of protecting Lake Michigan and other remaining sources of fresh water on the planet from forces who seek to control them.

Just after 9:30 in the evening, several white vans pulled out onto the island, where the OLB Holders of the Light exited from the vehicles and unloaded and brought a message overlooking the rippling waters of Lake Michigan.The Overpass Light Brigade Arrives Water is Life Message 4

After a few minutes, the brigade switched out their message for a new message.

Here Comes a New Message

Indian Summer Festival organizers asked OLB to bring their light boards to this year’s festival. They worked with OLB to develop the series of water-related messages in response mostly to this past year’s direct attack on the watershed of the Bad River Tribe in the pristine Penokee Hills, the site of a future massive mountain-top removal iron-ore mine recently passed by the GOP controlled Wisconsin Legislature.Pray for Water 4

The group’s final message for the evening was only held for a few moments, as the ten-o’clock firework time slot approached quickly, but festival-goers seem to very much enjoy the extra light show before the fireworks began. Making a New Message

Water We Love You 1

As the light brigade zoomed off the island with their lights, canoes came paddling in with torches blazing, past the tipi and assembled crowd, and as the fireworks began, spectators were again reminded of the importance of preserving the beautiful freshwater lake that provides Milwaukee and Wisconsin with so much. Light Brigades Leave and Canoes with Torches Enter Watching Indian Summer Fireworks 2

View more photos from the OLB and Indian Summer Festival collaboration here.

View OLB action with indigenous members from around the state of Wisconsin in support of the Bad River tribe here.

Poster created by the Overpass Light Brigade.

Poster created by the Overpass Light Brigade (created with photos from Michael Pecosky).