Category Archives: News

Activists Hold “THERE IS NO PLANET B” Earth Day Message Over Freeway Traffic

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Photo credit: Joe Brusky of the Overpass Light Brigade

Photo credit: Joe Brusky of the Overpass Light Brigade

Milwaukee, WI - The Overpass Light Brigade Holders of the Light and 350 Milwaukee occupied a pedestrian overpass bridge for Earth Day over I-43 on Wednesday night to remind drivers that there are no do overs when it comes to our planet.

 

There is No Planet B from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.

View more photo from the action here.

UW Milwaukee Students Fighting Back Against Scott Walker’s Budget Cuts

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Students held an Overpass Light Brigade message at a night time rally on the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee campus, Wednesday night.

Students held an Overpass Light Brigade message at a night time rally on the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee campus, Wednesday night.

Apparently the students at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM) have had a chance to read Scott Walker’s 2015-2017 biennial budget. It includes major cuts to many of Wisconsin’s vital public institutions. Two major actions against Walker’s proposed budget cuts took place on Wednesday at UWM that clearly demonstrated the students are not ready to just accept the cuts.

 

 

The first gathering took place at noon in the heart of UWM’s campus, the Ernest Spaights plaza, where around a hundred students showed up in the cold weather with signs and banners.

Several students spoke about how Walker’s massive cuts to public education and the UW System will compromise their future education opportunities.

UWM English professors Lane Hall and Annie McClanahan spoke about their concern for what kind of an education the university will be able to provide when the cuts will force the school to have to cut staff and programs. Hall stated that a 300 milion (150 over two years) cut equates (if formula used in the past are once again used) to 40 million (20 over two years) for UWM. That is equivalent to the budget of the Lubar School of Business. In 1970, nearly 60% of the system budget came from taxes. In 2005, 48%… at this point, UWM is down to 19%. After these cuts, if they happen, it will be 15%. The tuition costs have gone up almost exactly equivalent to the state base-budget going down.

After the speakers finished, the group marched through the busy student union chanting and picking up other supportive students along the way to the union main entrance lobby, where for about twenty minutes the group walked in a circle chanting, “No ifs. No buts. No education cuts!” and ” Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!”.

 

 

 

 

Students dropped a banner over the third floor’s bannister above where the demonstration was taking place.

 

 

 

Later in the evening around 4:30 students started gathering in the Wisconsin Room on the third floor of the student union to make signs and posters for a 5:30 campus march and rally.

 

 

Once a fairly large group had arrived, students marched to Mitchell Hall.

Several politicians spoke against Walker’s cuts including Rep Mandela Barnes, Sen Jonathan Brostoff, Alderman Tony Zielinski, and County Supervisor Jason Haas. Most Wisconsinites have been shocked as details of the nearly 2,000 page budget have come to light. These include:

 

-       $300 million dollar cut to the University of Wisconsin system

-       $135 dollar/per pupil cut in public school K12 funding

-       Lifts voucher school cap around the state

-       Defunding Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television

-       A 40% cut to SeniorCare, which accounts for roughly 40 percent of the budget for the prescription drug program for low-income seniors.

-       Ending Chapter 220 busing program in Milwaukee created to end segregation in city schools

As Rep Mandela Barnes was speaking students holding the message “FIGHT THE CUTS” slid behind the rally speakers creating a great lighted backdrop for the large rally.

 

 

Students and faculty vowed to continue their fight by announcing another planning meeting on Thursday to keep the pressure on Walker and legislators around the state to make sure the budget as it is written does not pass.

Photo album from the day can be found here.

What Did Rep. Vos Whisper to Rep. Thiesfeldt During the School Takeover Hearing?

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During yesterday’s public hearing for the AB1 Public School Takeover bill, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Robin Vos pulled the education committee chair Republican Rep. Thiesfeldt aside to whisper who knows what. Based on the two hours Thiesfeldt spent in the hot seat testifying over his ill conceived bill, probably nothing nice.

Thiesfeldt had just testified that profiting on schools was ok and that he wasn’t really sure why his bill created a separate sanctioning board in Madison for public schools that would usurp locally elected school boards.

 

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!

Rally At Red Arrow: What Is Being Done?

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It was an unusually warm Sunday afternoon for a December day in Milwaukee. A few hundred concerned citizens gathered in Red Arrow Park, a nice downtown pocket park with a skating rink and coffee shop. Outside this coffee shop is where, last spring, Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer.

The sizable crowd converged to show solidarity with members of the African American community, to join in the chorus now heard ‘round the country: Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter... People listened attentively while members of the faith community spoke eloquently of the pain and hardship and beauty of being Black in America; the challenges of joblessness, the humiliations of systemic racism, the fear of the police. It seemed a bit odd that Milwaukee Mayor, Tom Barrett, and Milwaukee Chief of Police, Ed Flynn, also took the microphone to remind us of the need to work together, to collaborate, to listen to each other. On the surface, these exhortations seemed fine, but they left some of us a bit uneasy. Words at a high-visibility event are easy, but what are our city officials’ responses in proposals, actions, deeds? What is the role of our mayor and police chief regarding police brutality?

It is widely known and backed up with compelling data that Milwaukee is the worst place in America to raise a black or brown child. That’s why so many people are coming out to these events and marching in the streets. But it also begs the question: “What is being done over time about this? Why the sudden attention at a mediagenic event like this, when this creeping cancer of systemic racism has been affecting our city for so long?” It is a good thing to see our two top city officials come out on a damp Sunday to speak and to listen, but we must ask, “What are you doing about this?”

Early in the event, Mayor Barrett took the microphone and spoke of the need for mutual trust within the city, and said something a bit strange about the “…need to stand together even when there are upcoming decisions we won’t like…” so that “…we don’t tear our city apart.” What did this mean? Was this a candid statement of premonition or policy caught up in the moment, or merely a generic sense of foreboding that all mayors of big cities might be feeling right now? It isn’t clear how many people noticed this, but it was an odd statement to make.

Chief Flynn went on to say that “I make no excuses for my department regarding what has happened.” But no one is asking for excuses. People are asking for responses based on fairness, transparency, and justice which create consequences for murderous violence at the hands of the police. He also suggested that “trust is a two way street.” Yes, that is true, but nothing breaks down trust like random violence against people in the communities you are serving and protecting. After all, we were all there because they, the Police, have broken the bond of trust due to their actions and subsequent responses to those actions. Can those bonds of trust be rebuilt, and if so, how?

Everyone noticed that both the Mayor and Police Chief left the area shortly after they spoke. It is no doubt that they are busy men, though not too busy to go off to the side and talk to some police officers while speakers from the faith community took the mic. There were some eloquent and heartfelt words shared. Sadly, these were lost on the Mayor and Police Chief. It takes discipline and patience to really listen to what people are trying to tell you. If you speak, and leave, you foreclose that opportunity. That is a loss for everyone.

So we circle back to the questions: “What is being done? What is the role of our Mayor and Police Chief regarding police brutality?” These are the questions we need to be asking. And we need the Mayor and Chief of Police to acknowledge root causes, not merely engage vague homilies about reciprocation and trust. We need to break the prison pipeline for African American young men, which truly is a shameful statistic for the state of Wisconsin. We need to reinvest in urban jobs and economic districts, looking beyond the fancy condo projects that sit in already healthy city circles. We need to put real and long-term focus on the gutted corridors that were once thriving homes of a robust Black middle class. We need to significantly change the way that policing is done. We need to de-invest in the corrupt policies of militarization that are the outcome of the grim mindset that places the police as an occupying force in American cities with increasingly faceless and violent responses to even misdemeanors and disobedience. We need to invest in community relationships through building those very relationships, beyond predictable cycles of reactive responses to brutal incidents such as the murder of Dontre Hamilton, a man gunned down in Red Arrow Park for the crime of sleeping on a bench on the wrong afternoon where the wrong cop with a history of wrong decisions set a chain of actions in motion that ended with fourteen shots, a shattered family, and a community once again frustrated and angry at a story too often told.

Words and photos by Lane Hall & Joe Brusky of the Overpass Light Brigade