Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mad City

A shining city on the hill. But, with more snow this time of year.
I'd like to talk briefly about the geography of protest.

I've been seeing a lot more press about the Wisconsin protests, as the behemoth of the media realizes that there is something going on here, and the numbers have kept growing, giving them a chance to catch up.

But I haven't seen anything on how Madison itself is the perfect place for such a protest as you've been seeing.

Downtown Madison Wisconsin is squished between two lakes (Mendota and Menona). Drawn a line from the SW to the NE. That is the isthmus, which also name of the student newspaper at the UW. It is also probably the only place you're going to use the word "isthmus" north of Panama.

Now at the SW end of the line is the University of Wisconsin. That's a great place to gather a protest group - large amount of open space, good parking, lot of students. Then we move Northeast, up State Street. State Street itself is closed to street traffic (they have buses), but it a general path that leads uphill gently and directly from the UW in a straight line. So we can LFG in the UW and proceed directly to the capitol building, which is perched on the highest point of land on the Isthmus. And they can see us coming. Oh, and its a short walk as well.

State Street's nature changes as we move uphill to the the shining citadel on the hill. Close to the university, we have a lot of college-supporting stores (bookstores, souvenirs, bars), which give way to more boutiques and specialized shops, such as The Sacred Feather (a hat store) and the legendary Pegasus Games. Then things fall away dramatically when we reach the square the capital in on itself.  By time we get here (and I'm reporting from the 80s and 90s), there are a lot of empty storefronts and former stores repurposed to other activities. How depressed is the real estate around the capital? Capital City Comics great comic book shop was situated for many years a block NW of the capitol. And as we know, comic book shops don't necessarily thrive in high-rent districts (but that is a rant for another day).

I was surprised to hear about Ian's Pizza feeding the protesters, not because a place was supporting the Unions (most of the businesses along State are festooned with signs supporting the protesters, who as stopping in and BUYING stuff) but because we had a functioning pizza place so close to the capital. So things may be perking up in the area. 

A view of the dome you aren't getting.
Then there's the building itself. It is beautiful structure, and it is clear that the protesters, despite their passion and numbers, love it as well (That 7.5 million in damage from occupation? Yet one more lie. Pile it on the others over there). Its central cupola is brilliant, and its cross galleries (perfect places to show signs) ring the central well. It is probably the best state capital building in the US, and one of the most beautiful public spaces in the country outside of Washington DC.

I should mention the cops. Despite often comical attempts to portray the protesters as violent union goons, the local cops have been both present and supportive of the protests. These are guys, though, that are used to students burning couches in the street after the big game. When UW wins. So in comparison, 100K average Joes is not such a problem.

So to recap: I can form a march at UW, go uphill to the Capitol Building without screwing up too much traffic, catch a bite on the way up and protest in a wide square surrounding the building (which normally on weekends is used for a Farmer's Market). And the building itself is very conducive to holding the people (Protip: also has nice public bathrooms). Short of National Mall, it is the ideal place to protest the actions of a government out of touch with its constituents.

Wonder if they though about that before they started this whole mess? Me, I would have authorized massive repairs on State Street and throw up some barricades.

More later,