Building Community and Solidarity

Photo by Kelsey Rosencrance

Both the Riverwest 24-Hour Bike Race (RW24) and Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) are working to build a sense of solidarity, whether that be nationally through OLB, or locally through RW24.

Both are successful in different ways, and for different reasons. RW24 builds its temporary community through a common passion for biking. While OLB builds its temporary community through activism and social mediums.

A discussion on the effect solidarity has on temporary communities was held at UWM’s Fireside Lounge this past week. The topics were explored through Milwaukee’s Riverwest 24-Hour Bike Race (RW24) and an activist organization called the Overpass Light Brigade (OLB).

Chris Fons explained, “That idea of temporary community, to see you can actually build things in your own community and that you don’t need those other structures is very, very powerful because people DO feel atomized and powerless.”

The discussion was called, “Bridges and Bikes: Spectacles of Solidarity Milwaukee’s Overpass Light Brigade and Riverwest 24 Hour Bike Race in global context.” The speakers at the discussion were Chris Fons, MPS teacher and co-founder of RW24, and Lane Hall, UWM English Professor and co-founder of OLB. The event was put on by the Center for International Education.

The event started with Fons explaining the details and finer points of the RW24, mainly done through a video called “Riverwest 24 Voices (Part 3).” The video asked many of the participants what the RW24 meant to them and their community. Many of them compared the event to a holiday, or a block party. All of them mention what the race means to the community and how it brings everyone together in an artistic way.

One unidentified man in the video says, “Riverwest 24 is one of our visible manifestations of transformation as a community, of building awareness, of people coming together in an inter-connected way.” It is used as a way to create a sense of pride and solidarity within the members of the community.

The main goal of both of these groups is to build things in their respective communities without corporations being involved. Yet, the growth and popularity of OLB is completely dependent on corporate social media sites. They post their pictures on Twitter, Facebook, Imgur, Youtube, etc.

Overpass Light Brigade is an activist organization that was founded in 2011 by Lane Hall and Lisa Moline. They used lit-up boards that were placed on over-passes to raise awareness for the Recall Walker Campaign. Since the campaign, the organization has grown to 36 national chapters. The organization protests a number of different issues including the environment, LGBT equality, and other political issues.

Patrice Petro, Professor of Global Studies, said “It is a way to energize people into feeling involved.”

“We are always trapped in the same systems we are fighting against. They are linked to this unrootedness of corporate culture and extraction culture,” Hall said. “This is a way to offer a new bandwidth in how you get your message across.” The use of these social media sites allow for another type of temporary community to open up on a more national level.

“It creates a fluid space in which to have discussions about the issues being presented,” said visual artist Paul Kjelland.

RW24 and OLB were both designed to change the way people think, whether that be through reliance on technology or trying to distance people from it. When a group of people come together for one cause, others are bound to notice. The Recall Walker Campaign and the protests in Madison are all examples of this.

“Putting bodies in public space is the most politicized, effective, movement there is,” said Lane Hall.

They may be completely different entities but RW24 and OLB follow one simple goal, solidarity.