Lisa and I were at the Waukesha Democratic Party’s monthly meeting at the Labor Temple last night. I usually go for the coffee and treats and the occasional tidbit I can pick up about what’s happening with the state or even national party. The people are nice and the coffee is hot. But last night I heard about something that, in hindsight, needs to be captured for posterity.
Several people in the audience shared their experiences gathering signatures. They talked about the hate and occasional violence they endured in Waukesha county. These stories, many funny, some occasionally harrowing, deserve to be preserved for future generations. The Recall is history in the making and the way people behaved should not be forgotten.
I’d like to propose a model for this effort: The Shoah Project.
In 1994, one year after Schindler’s List won the Academy Award for best picture, Stephen Spielberg founded the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. The goal of the project was to capture stories of the Holocaust in as much detail as possible from the people who survived.
The Foundation conducted nearly 52,000 interviews between 1994 and 1999. Interviewees included Jewish survivors, homosexual survivors, Jehovah’s Witness survivors, liberators and liberation witnesses, political prisoners, rescuers and aid providers, Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) survivors, survivors of Eugenics policies, and war crimes trials participants.
The work of the Shoah project is to record the truth of the history of the holocaust*. I think it would be valuable to apply the same principles to the recall signature effort in Wisconsin.
Whipped up to a frenzy of crazy by hate-talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling, the Republicans / Tea Party swarmed the recall petition teams around the county (and the state). Some of the stories I heard just last nigh were (paraphrased):
- A woman stopped her car to give me the finger. I wagged my index finger back, scolding her and then pointed to her kids in the back seat silently reminding her of the impression she was making on her own children. She rolled up the window and drove quickly away.
- The owner of Albanese’s Roadhouse (next to Menards in Waukesha) threatened to push me into the traffic for collecting signatures. He later lied to the police about the incident.
- A guy offered to fight me, I told him he was acting like a school yard bully and he shut up
- One day I counted over 100 people who gave me the finger
- People would yell at me as they drove by. It was funny because I couldn’t understand them at all.
- When I started to film someone who was verbally abusive, she hit me.
WATCWCTC, an agitated student who objected to our presence said, “You can’t collect signatures on my public property!”
Now I know that Waukesha breeds a peculiarly virulent strain of loopy wingnut, but I’ve heard stories very much like this from across the state.
I’d like to find a documentary filmmaker who’d be willing to capture these terrific stories from the people who braved not just the winter weather, but the vitriol and violence of crazy rightwing nutjobs who, like lice, plague Wisconsin’s body politic. It will take the sunshine of exposure to eradicate this ugly and brutal infestation.
*No, I am not suggesting that giving someone the finger is the same as the Holocaust. No, I’m not comparing the Republic Party to Nazis. No, I’m not calling Scott Walker “Hitler.” I did not say that and it’s clearly not what I intend. What I’m suggesting that the methodology Spielberg developed for capturing an oral history of the holocaust can serve as a model for capturing the oral history of the signature gathering effort, perhaps as a larger documentary exercise on the whole of the Recall Walker effort.