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