Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Police Visit and a Christmas Tree

"On the 36th day of recall, Scott Walker gave to me..."

Yesterday I had my first visit from a police officer while I was out collecting signatures. At about 2:00 I'd set up my ironing board signing station on the sidewalk between Walgreens and the Christmas tree sales location, and so far only two people had stopped to sign, though I'd had quite a few friendly beeps and waves, and only a few negative responses. I got a thumbs up from a car with Marine Corps plates and democrabeep from a Dodge, plus a couple of disagreements by muffler, one of those also from a Dodge.

My first signer came up from behind me and was either using understatement well or seemed a little underinformed for my tastes in an ideal petition-signer, so I made sure that she understood exactly what the document was and why I was collecting signatures before I let her sign it. (Am I the only circulator who has stopped someone from signing her petition?) Shortly after, a car parked behind me, and a woman yelled from the passenger seat, "I signed in Appleton, but my mom needs to sign!" I hollered back, "Come on down, Mom, you're the next contestant on 'The Governor Isn't Right!'" Mom's response? "Great! What do I win? A recall?"

It was a bit after the second signer that Officer C.A. showed up to check on me. He said someone'd phoned in a complaint that traffic was slowing down because I was there. He asked if I'd noticed any cars slowing down on the road in front of me wanting to sign. Since both of the other vehicles had approached from behind, and since I keep an eye out for how drivers respond in the interest of being aware of my surroundings, I could honestly say that wasn't the case. The officer was very nice about it, said it was probably just a Walker supporter that was upset I was out there at all, and mentioned that they get calls like that all the time. "I understand--I hear you get called out to visit Bob B. all the time, don't you?" He laughed in response, gave me a light parting pat on the shoulder, and told me to have a good day.

After he'd left, I was able to put it all together and see why someone would think that I'd been the cause of traffic slowing. When you approach the roundabout from the south, unlike other local roundabouts, you can only go straight in the right-hand lane. My location was pretty close to the place that people figure out that they have to change lanes if they don't want to turn left, and I watched several cars slow down to merge into the other lane. My guess is that someone observed this and assumed I was the cause rather than an unrelated circumstance. After his visit when I'd made the connection, I'd remembered that a vehicle had seemed to be changing lanes in a hurry right around where I was, but I'd discovered the driver wasn't paying any attention to me and was just in the wrong lane, so I'd dismissed if from mind. I'd had the same thing happen to me at least twice while I was driving this road recently, the second time because I forget at which of the two roundabouts on Koehler you can't go straight from both lanes. I suspect it was an honest mistake and concern for public safety on the part of the caller, not realizing that the traffic that slowed wasn't related to my presence. The caller and myself are both concerned with the wellbeing of the public, the officer was nice, so it's all good.

While things started out overcast, the sun came out for a while and I almost felt too warm collecting signatures in my multitude of layers. My third signer was like a slightly cuddlier version of Archie Bunker, and he focused on WWII imagery and suggested that it wouldn't be long before Walker and crew lined up the old folks around a hole, shot them, and covered them with lye. I was a little uncomfortable with the level of his intensity, but he presented himself humorously, so I wasn't overly alarmed. As he was signing, someone drove by and yelled "Walker's the best!" out their window. My signer stopped writing, looked incredulously at the passing vehicle, then flipped them off with his thick working-man's finger before returning to his task. While I wouldn't have done that or encouraged him, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't humorous to watch. Two other people pulled up to sign as well during this time. While they waited, a fourth person approached - someone from the Christmas tree sales lot. If he wasn't a supporter of the recall, the man is a marketing genius. One of my signers almost bought a real tree to replace his fake one.

Someone went by and yelled something indiscernible out the window, and I must once again remind you, gentle readers, if you yell from a car window, your argument must be both short and loud if I'm to understand you. A young man with absolutely gorgeous hair pulled in to tell me that he'd signed the petition the first day but that he'd wanted to stop and thank me for being out there collecting signatures. An older woman in the passenger seat of a passing sedan shook her hands like she had something distasteful on them. At least two more people democrabeeped (or attempted to), and drivers of several pieces of construction equipment, a coach bus, and a delivery truck all gestured favorably.

A couple of young men, one with a rainbow tattooed into his ear, pulled their tiny smart car in to sign my petition. A woman was supposed to sign at her aunt's on Thanksgiving but wasn't able to make it. She turned around to sign my petition. "I keep seeing you guys on Witzel, but by the time I notice, it's too late for me to pull in. I keep saying I'll do it at the next one!" A couple who had actually stopped to buy a Christmas tree had a similar story and were happy that they could sign and get their tree in one stop. The man who'd almost bought a tree before came back with his sister. When she said he'd made her come, I told her I didn't want her to sign unless she wanted to, and she indicated that she was in favor of signing, just not of coming out in the cold. "I used to live in San Diego--I'm freezing!" She wasn't wearing a winter coat.

Around 3:30 the temperature started to drop, and I was starting to feel cold. I'd originally planned to take off around 4:00, but I waited another twenty minutes in hopes of reaching 17 signatures for the day. Finally, a man and woman pulled in to sign. He was a CNA who was concerned about how Walker's budget was affecting his patients, and she was an unemployed woman about on the edge of giving birth who was losing her Badgercare. "What am I supposed to do?" she asked. I didn't have an answer for her.

Later that night I heard from my organizer that a man in a white sedan had waved a written threat and a noose in his direction while in front of Fleet Farm that day while three of them were collecting signatures. The other two had been busy, and it had been such a surprise that no one got a plate number. It's too bad no one got the plate number, because writing threats and waving nooses crosses the line. I know that many of the Walker supporters who shook their heads and fingers at me would do the same at him. We can disagree about things, but there's no call for threats. Both sides need to remember this as emotions continue to rise across the state.

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