Documentary illuminates OLB's efforts
When Lane Hall and Lisa Moline, artists and professors at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, set up a rally near their home in Wauwatosa a few years ago with a simple illuminated "Recall Walker" sign, they had no idea it would ignite a world-wide movement called The Overpass Light Brigade (OLB).
Overpass Light Brigade is a network of volunteers who stand in a line on bridges over busy roads and freeways, each holding a letter made from LED lights to spell out a political message. Messages have ranged from "Boycott Palermos" to "We Are Boston."
"The Overpass Light Brigade has grown beyond any of our wildest expectations," says Hall. OLB is the subject of a documentary short movie called "Overpass Light Brigade" created by filmmakers Matt Mullins and Dusan Harminc, from Madison and St. Paul respectively. The project features time-lapse photography of the lighted letters spelling out different messages.
"Overpass Light Brigade" and "Forward" – a feature film about the Wisconsin uprising – will premier in Milwaukee on Thursday, May 2 at 7 p.m. at the Oriental Theater. There will be an after-film party at Art Bar, 722 E. Burleigh St.
Tickets to the event are $10. The screening is a fundraiser for the film so that the filmmakers can enter it into festivals around the world, as well as a "battery fund" to help pay for the sign lights since OLB is entirely self-funded.
"The Overpass Light Brigade continues to be a joyful and fulfilling creative project that finds common ground and bridges different activist communities – bringing people together around common causes and concerns," says Hall.
"We stand for peaceful and determined resistance to reactionary forces that feed on fear, violence and avarice and we are dedicated to messages of peace, justice and environmental sanity. It is pretty simple all-in-all, and our growth is a hopeful sign for many people around the country."
Last year, OLB "open sourced" the instructions for making the lighted letters for a couple of groups in Wisconsin that emulated their methods. Today, there are about 22 groups scattered throughout the country, from the West to the East Coasts.
"We are currently talking with interested people in Portugal, Germany, Canada and Ghana," says Hall. "This gives us the opportunity to collaborate on organized and synchronized messaging campaigns."
Prior to the Boston tragedies, the groups collaborated on a week-long "Tax Evaders" project which received a lot of visibility and broke through into the mainstream media.
"The message – that we must directly challenge the corporations who are corrupting our democracy and economy, and empower everyday people to rise up and resist austerity – was a light that shined 'round the world," says Hall.
OLB's Facebook page is viewed by just under 500,000 people worldwide and 12,000 tweets were sent using #taxevaders with 700 sent directly at the corporations in question.
"These statistics are important only as offering somewhat objective proof about the movement that began here on the streets of Milwaukee. Most importantly, we continue to bring diverse people together around progressive issues," says Hall.
Plus, there were 50 news articles and blog posts written about the project. OLB has been featured in the Huffington Post, Time magazine and "The Rachel Maddow Show" among many others.
"This all happened with just a little over two weeks of work, because of the amazing network we have loosely built," says Hall.
The OLB volunteers are an extremely dedicated group. There have been 130 outings, some of which took place during extremely cold weather, and only one time were they forced to cancel because not enough people showed.
"Our volunteers continue to amaze me: they come out and stand in the cold and the wind and the darkness, and they keep coming back. It is really quite remarkable," says Hall. "Of course, we look forward to the nice weather as we continue to shine our messaging into the night."
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