Milwaukee, WI: Anarchists Light Up the City with Anti-ICE and Anti-Prison Messages

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The following report from Milwaukee was anonymously sent to It’s Going Down.

Last night some anarchists got on top of a parking garage with a spotlight and a generator. We flashed “ABOLISH ICE” and “CLOSE MSDF” as well as fun circle As on various buildings over traffic departing the final day of Summerfest, Milwaukee’s annual week-long music festival shindig.

We cut gobos (lighting tech word for metal stencil) out of empty La Croix cans and trumptted tiny war cries with a conch shell borrowed from a non-profit. The generator and spotlight were also borrowed from nice people who got them from a non-profit back in the days of Move to Amend and Occupy. These nice people tend to vote with the democrats, but shared tea and cookies with us after blasting Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility with their spotlight in subzero temperatures last January. They are a delight. We let our ideological and tactical differences go aside and work together for common goals.

When a motorcycle cop parked down below, we regretted not having an ACAB gobo, so we quick guzzled the last of a can of pampelmouse and laid down on the dirty concrete to cut one with our pocket knife. It was rough but worked well enough. There are no laws against projecting light onto buildings. That particular cop was too busy scrolling through his phone to notice what was happening above him, but even if he had, there wasn’t anything he could do about it unless the parking garage complained. Then we would have just had to move down to the public sidewalk.

Milwaukee is an exceptionally racist place. Our police saturate the black community, driving incarceration rates in the 53206 zipcode higher than anywhere else in the world. Being on Lake Michigan makes us technically part of the border, and ICE operates aggressively here. Wisconsin’s prison system has the highest racial disparity for black people, and second highest for native people (after Oklahoma). We are one of the most segregated cities in the US.

Summerfest is a space for celebrating Milwaukee, which means for celebrating racism. It is a strictly controlled and heavily policed space, where everyone is welcome, so long as they behave according to pervasive norms of drunken, misogynist, covertly racist frivolity. By covering buildings near the freeway with huge glowing counter-hegemonic symbols and ideas, we hope to disrupt the false idea that Milwaukee’s deep-seated, institutionally reinforced and violently maintained racist social order can be healed or unified by a big dumb party on the lake.

Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSDF) is a torture chamber in downtown Milwaukee that a coalition of over 40 groups, with various priorities, ideas, backgrounds and approaches are working together to shut down. It’s primarily used to disrupt the lives of people on probation and parole. It facilitates the police and prison systems’ efforts to target and terrorize the working class, and particularly black and brown community by taking people from their families, jobs, property and tormenting them in horrible conditions, then releasing them with a re-started sentence that maintains their compromised legal status. Learn more about the many efforts to close this place at CLOSEmsdf.org.

There is a lot for anarchists to stand up to in a city like this, an ingrained and pervasive culture that tends to push radical ideas out as well as walls of segregation and rigid ideological silos that are built on decades of distrust. We hope to build an increasingly robust culture of defiance and cooperation here, one that can break through the limiting assumptions of what is possible in mid-size, midwestern cities.

We look forward to what comes next.


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