Lite-Brite activism: Plugging in with the Overpass Light Brigade
More Local Newswire
- Watch Mark Borchardt sub for Ryan Gosling in Drive
- Milwaukee’s Special Entertainment unveils ridiculous On Cinema app, featuring Tim Heidecker and Gregg Turkington
- Love The Noble? Help it stay in business by contributing to “Save The Noble”
- Enjoy one last taste of winter with the Packard brothers and their “meat cannon”
- Who’s a good city? Who’s a good city? Milwaukee is a great place to own a dog, apparently
There’s no need to remind Wisconsinites of the political turmoil that has engulfed their state ever since the last gubernatorial election. From prime-time commercial spots to not-so-casual conversations shouted from barstools, the fervent opinions spewed forth statewide have set neighbors at odds and have prompted an unprecedented recall effort. As the June 5 election quickly approaches, extreme anxiety can be felt from supporters of both candidates.
Nowhere can this divide be more powerfully felt than within a group that calls itself the Overpass Light Brigade. Holding lighted anti-Walker signs from pedestrian bridges overlooking busy interstates, the group inspires split-second reaction times from drivers below, whether it’s a happy “toot toot” from an approving motorist, or a booming “Fuck you!” from a giant SUV thundering under the bridge.
The Overpass Light Brigade was formed after the 2011 Recall Kickoff Rally held in Scott Walker’s Wauwatosa neighborhood. Two University Of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professors, Lane Hall and Lisa Moline, created a battery-powered “RECALL” sign from LED Christmas lights for the march. “As the sun set, the sign glowed more brightly, and by the time the march began, the sign became a rallying point,” explains Moline. “A really important thing happened on the march. We handed the sign to strangers so they could march with it too. Everyone was excited to march with it, even for half a block. Once we involved the community of recall activists in that little action, it became clear that the lighted signs needed to be a part of a community action, not a solo project. That’s when the Overpass Light Brigade was born.”
The project soon evolved from one recall sign created solely for the march, to constructing individual letters that could be held by volunteers on pedestrian bridges overlooking interstates. During the group’s first time out on a bridge over Holt Avenue, a Walker supporter attacked the members. The Overpass Light Brigade began to increase its numbers—not only for security purposes, but also because of the community of activists it began to attract. “This was a profound shift—from our first idea of ‘signage’ to the testimonial of the community of holders,” says Hall. “The signs are powerful at night, but it’s more powerful to see all the people just standing above the highway, on the bridge, for everyone to see.”
When The A.V. Club was invited to a bridge overlooking I-894, we couldn’t resist accepting the invitation. A group of more than 30 “Holders Of Lights” convened not far from a pedestrian bridge in a very suburban area of Greenfield. Letters were organized and assigned, and the processional headed up the bridge to hold letters that spelled out “RECALL WALKER” and “WALKER = NO JOBS.” For the next 90 minutes, the Overpass Light Brigade displayed its message for the thousands of motorists who passed below. The bridge itself hovered just out of the reach of traffic, and standing on it created a connection to the cars below more profound than was expected. When drivers yelled, “Fuck you,” you could really hear it.
With the brief messages held by the OLB combined with the fast pace of traffic, it was apparent that this group of activists wasn’t changing any minds—but perhaps that isn’t the point. “We are dedicated, as artists and activists, to the spirit of purposeful play, to building relationships across multiple communities, and in this case, to putting out our terse anti-Walker messages in order to try to counter his vast amounts of money that can literally buy the media for his right-wing lies,” explains Hall. “At first, it was hard to get people to come out. But last week over the Beltline in Madison, 65 people showed up. The community of Holders has become the message—OLB is merely a vector or focus tool for visibility.”
For the OLB, the stakes have always been high. Its plans for the days leading up to the June 5 election include rallying on bridges statewide multiple times a week. The overall sentiment of these activists is clear: “We are here. We resist this current legislature. We are not going away.”