A little mad at the Mad City

When I moved to Madison to go to school several years ago, all I knew about the city was that people often referred to it as the "Berkeley of the Midwest" because of its history of radical politics. And while – like Berkeley itself – that intense thread of resistance is not nearly as palpable as it must've been back then, the vibe of the city is still very progressive. As one example, I don't know of any other city in the United States with as many worker collectives/cooperatives. There's a radical bookstore cooperative, a bakery cooperative, a community pharmacy cooperative, a print cooperative, a cab cooperative. You get the picture. And though the University of Wisonsin-Madison campus is another of those behemoth, all-engulfuing schools, it has a strong history of radical student activism, particularly around anti-war and union/labor organizing.

While it was definitely a place that nurtured my ever-growing sense of radical poliitcs, I also found it a frustrating place to live for a number of reasons, some of which I was reminded of on my visit.

Most notably is this: Back when I lived there, as I've mentioned before, I was involved in a collectively-run radical community newspaper called the Madison Insurgent. We were an all-volunteer group committed to covering issues – local and global – ignored/distorted in the mainstream media. We covered things like the gentrification of State Street (one of the main streets near campus), racial profiling, anti-war protests, labor struggles, immigration issues...

People used to tell us all the time how much they valued our work, how grateful they were for this radical voice speaking out. Yet whenever we tried organizing fundraisers for our work, we had a virtually impossible time turning people out.

In contrast, during that same time, which I've also mentioned before, I was involved in a union organizing effort against Whole Foods Market. We had a number of protests and demonstrations over the two-year battle, and a solid crowd of people consistently showed up to them. Of course I was extremely grateful (especially because in all my years of political activism/organizing, nothing wore me down as much as organizing a union, and the show of support was desperately needed by all of us), but in my head, I didn't understand why people were willing to show up for protests but not willing to support the media projects that were critical to giving voice to such struggles.

Back to this trip. I would've thought that having our fundraiser get a mention in both local papers (the front page of one, actually), the newsweekly, and the Onion would've made for a huge turnout.

Well there was a great turnout for the discussion, and for that I'm grateful. But there was not a huge turnout for the music benefit/fundraiser. Not even close. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. But I'd also be lying if I said I was surprised. I realize it was graduation week, and I should've been better about timing. But after living there for a few years and experiencing that sense of being among masses of people who vocalize their support of radical/progressive politics but who don't take action on that support, I'm left wondering what it takes?

I know this is part of a much larger discussion. It's something I've been thinking about and talking with various folks involved in movement-based publishing: How do we get people to value and support our work in action, not just words?


I don't mean to detract from the folks who did come and the folks who organized and performed.

Huge thanks to Stephanie Rearick and Jon Hain of Mother Fools for opening their space to Bitch. Back when the Madison Insurgent was running, they always supported our work financially. Sincere thanks to Steph for organizing the event, and for performing. She's incredibly fun to watch, especially when she plays the trumpet and keyboard at the same time. As an added bonus, her music reflects her own commitment to radical politics.

stephanie rearick

Huge thanks, too, to Nicole Gruter, who told a fabulous story about hoarding. She dimmed the lights and even brought tiny s'mores. Brilliant!

tiny s'mores!

Thanks, too, to Jentri Colello, who opened up the night.

And huge thanks to everyone who did come out for the event! We're all very grateful for your support.


Sorry I'm behind on posting again. I have things to say about the Feminism In/Action discussions in Minneapolis and Madison. Today is the discussion in Milwaukee.

More soon...



by Debbie Rasmussen
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6 Comments Have Been Posted

so wait...

are these fundraisers or discussion events? or...both? you know, i've been following this whole race discussion as best i can on the internet and i'm pretty interested. i feel like it's challenging my perspective, but i probably wouldn't pay $20 to talk with a bunch of other white people about it.

just as someone observing via updates on the site, this seems really half-baked and kind of, i don't know, exploitative? why does this need to be $10-20? if it is to pay for the transport/speaking fee, why are you all not going through indie bookstores or local orgs to offset attendance fees?

if it is a fundraiser primarily, i really think it ought to be detatched from the in/action/race discussion theme... that just seems kind of shady, you know?

i think this seems like a really cool idea, it's just the execution is kind of off to me. that being said, if you all are interested in dropping by lexington, ky, for one of the in/action things, i would love to organize it, find people to host, etc... maybe some more details on the site of how to help bring this sort of event or host one in one's own area would be good?

specifically fundraising, not the discussion

sorry for not clarifying. i'm talking specifically about the fundraiser, which was entirely different from the discussion.

uh, yeah, that would be pretty shady; guess that's why i didn't think to clarify.

the discussions have all had fantastic turnouts and have all been amazing (i'll post something soon; i just need to get caught up and wrap my mind around it all).

i'm planning a trip to kentucky in the fall. thanks for the offer of assistance -- that'd be awesome.

reading...gets me every time.

ahh, i see.... i did, in fact, check again before i posted, but i think i had gotten into skimming-stuff-on-the-interwebs mode and still didn't catch that they would be distinct events.

i didn't notice that they were listed together on some of the flyers not as one event but as part of a bigger, bitch-stravaganza style thing, with the actual discussions being thier own thing and free. my bad... i rescind my meaner words of criticism, as they were obviously not based in fact!

Mad at the Mad city

It does suck that there was little turn out for the fundraiser. However, I don't think you mentioned the fundraiser at the discussion. I may have missed it, but I don't recall it being mentioned. My hubby let me know about the talk, he must not have heard about the fundraiser. As you said, probably lack of publicity.

My kids kick ass!

Whole Foods

I know this is somewhat off the subject but I am very new to whole foods and just now becoming aware of the tricks put into this cooperate organic monopoly. Its huge and untouchable. I have worked there for three months and it is the scariest place I have ever worked at, its like high school. Maybe its not that bad....but I have to say that all the natural food stores that were the communities food is now whole food's food.
I would be all over a union.

So thank you, for working towards a better environment...socially. I am now motivated to do a little more research in this company. Keep in mind I live in the Midwest so getting a job at whole foods is like striking gold here.

Thanks again, and getting people motivated is a possibility if its just cut throat knowledge.

whole foods versus community's foods

I empathize with you. The Whole Foods empire endlessly infuriates me -- it's such an obvious example of why capitalism is evil: commodifying progressive values for profit. Destroying local economies and farms, wiping out small grocers and co-ops, brainwashing workers into thinking the company really has their best interests at heart. Good luck on your research, and wading through the greenwashing -- I'm always happy to help strategize about union organizing and/or food/community politics. Let me know if I can help in any way!

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