Sights and Sounds from November 2, 2005

Madison, Wisconsin

Revolution #023, November 20, 2005, posted at

Revolution talked with Alice, a youth who organized students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison for World Can't Wait.

Revolution: What was the initial response you got to taking out the Call for World Can't Wait?

Alice: The Call would connect with people because it's so sharply posing the truth right now. There weren't a lot of people saying, "Why?" You know? Like "Why, do you want to drive out Bush, and why are you doing this?" Some people would say, like, "Oh well, I like Bush," or, "We can't pull out of Iraq now, we can't stop the war now." There was some polarization where people disagreed with the Call, or wouldn’t want to take it, but mostly people were saying, "I think this is great that you’re doing this." But then people had questions on the point that we’re in this moment, and we have to build resistance right now. That this is like Nazi Germany in 1939, where things are going in this whole direction and we have to actually stop that. People would have questions with that.

R: You and some students dressed up like the prisoners who were tortured at Abu Ghraib and told students on campus to "take the leash." Talk about the impact of that.

A: The second time we did it, it was this sunny fall Friday afternoon. They were giving campus tours, where all these high school seniors are coming through campus. The tour guides would have them in circles, all over on the lawn around campus. And, so we would walk right up to the middle of the circle, and I would tell the person--the tour guide--to take the leash. People would get really quiet, and they would try to say something like, "Well, this campus has been known for political activism, and there’s a history of that." This one guy especially got very uncomfortable and hostile when I was saying, "Take the leash--your government is doing this," and he tried to take my hood off. I grabbed the hood so he couldn’t take it off and then he pushed me out of the circle. This other guy with me was getting out the call to people who were in the circle. I think we had the right approach, because we’d watched the training video for this street theater on the World Can't Wait web site. You’re not doing it to shock people, you’re not doing it in this gimmicky way, trying to guilt trip people, but it’s actually the right thing to do. To not just go about your daily life, or to just get out fliers, but to actually be challenging people, demanding that we not be complicit. Like "this is going on, what are you going to do about it?"

There were experiences where I would approach students and ask, "How does it make you feel?" ... I stayed in character the whole time, and I said, "Every day when you’re just going to class or going to meetings, or organizing as usual, I’m here and I’m being tortured by your government, and this is happening, and what are you doing to do about it?" One guy was appealing to me, like, "I don’t think this is the right way to do this," and he got frustrated and walked away. But it was actually very positive. I don’t think it was a bad thing that people were reacting, or being uncomfortable. One guy went back to his anti-war group and talked about it, and not very positively, because he didn’t agree with it, but actually, people on campus were talking about it.

R: So this created a stir.

A: Yeah, the next day I was in a cafeteria in the evening where people were studying, and we were reading the Call. We’d get up on a chair and read the Call, and then pass them out and go around and talk to people and get their contact info. I sat down with this one guy and talked to him for about an hour, because he said one of his friends had seen us doing this, and him and his friends had had a whole discussion about it, and they were like, "Well, that’s really kind of different and out there," and they actually decided that it is a good way to snap people out of their paralysis and to to challenge them to take responsibility.

R: Going back to when you first got to Madison, talk a little bit about the process of bringing forward organizers around this.

A: The first couple days I was there, I was going through campus and up State Street, tirelessly taking out the flyer and talking to people. Sometimes I would talk to people and tell them, "You know, I quit my job and moved up here, because I think we need to build this resistance movement on this campus, and we need to shake up this campus, and I’m looking for student organizers, students who are going to step up and lead this."

There's this one woman I met on State Street the second day that I was there, and she got the Call, and then the next day, she made a donation and got us some stickers and stuff, and we had a conversation. I said, look, I'm going to challenge you to get involved, if you see that this needs to happen. After she came to Sunsara Taylor's talk on campus, she did a lot of thinking about this point of comparing Bush to Hitler, and comparing now to Nazi Germany, because she was Jewish, and some of her family was murdered by the Nazis. So she did a lot of thinking about that on a personal way too. So, she was like, really taking out that point of the Call to people.

R: Which point, the point about Hitler?

A: Yeah, and really taking out the point that we have to take on the whole Bush regime, she was going to these different organizations, some of them that she'd worked with, and saying, "Look, this is saying we need to bring people together in these different organizations, together, to unite around driving out Bush right now, that's what we need to actually be doing. And, you know, you can have your organization, and that’s good, and your different things that you do, but we also have to have a movement to drive out the Bush regime, and you need to be part of that." She got her friends discussing the Call and taking the call out to different neighborhoods on the weekend, and even some people who were unsure about the Call to begin with would go to these different neighborhoods and take it out, and they were so surprised that people were really interested and really supportive and they would take a stack of flyers and they would hang one up in their window.

R: Talk a little about your impressions of the day itself at Madison.

A: I think one thing that was really successful and impressive and surprising was the wide spectrum of people. There was really this breadth and diversity, there was a lot of that. People came from all over Wisconsin. There was a family there, there were kids, maybe 10 and 12 years old, little kids, and they had signs that said "Rural kids against Bush." There were also a lot of students who came individually. The student group, Stop the War, brought people. The newspaper said 400 people came, I think it was 500. There were a lot of people that came from the city. And there were a lot of people that came from these surrounding areas. There was one student who had never been to a protest before and he came because he felt like nothing was being done to change things--things were intolerable, things had to be changed, no one was doing anything, and we needed to do something. We got a lot of media coverage. We were in the two main Madison newspapers as well student newspapers, and we were the top story on two of the news stations in Madison.

The former mayor of Madison was there, and he was interviewed in the Madison newspaper. He said that there was a broad section of the mainstream that weren't out yet in large numbers still on the 2nd. I think there's some truth to what he was saying. I don't think he was totally seeing that we had this breadth and diversity and there were a lot of people there who had not been to protests before. But there's also some truth to what he was saying, that there still are the middle class mainstream people who hate what's going on, but they haven't been organized yet and are not in the streets yet. He said that when that happens that's when Bush will really be in trouble.

I've been thinking about how Howard Zinn was saying students can be a spark that can ignite a movement, something to that effect. There were people who came up to us and said, "where are the students?" In terms of the students in the university, they were really hoping for massive numbers of students, and seeing the need for that. There was also this one professor who was really excited, who’s been for years working with the students and who has been in the midst of the paralysis and people not seeing themselves in relation to the world but thinking more about their classes, their tests, their careers and things like that. He was really energized by the turnout of the students and the tone of the day and the students that were there. He made a point to me of saying, what you did on this campus had a huge effect and what we were able to do in this short period of time really did change the dynamic and change things.

But there is still a need to have students in their mass numbers, and to have students having that moral righteousness and saying: I’m going to lead this, and this needs to happen, I don’t care about this test or my class, this is making history. That’s not there yet to the extent that it needs to be and could be. To do that we have to turn a corner where those who got involved on November 2 continue to step up and go forward and, as events unfold quickly, we proceed grounded in the World Can't Wait Call, keeping in mind that famous Mario Savio quote about throwing our bodies, hearts and minds into this. Remembering Rosa Parks. And seeing our own lives in this context because the future depends on it.

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