Today marks a very special anniversary. On February 19, 2011, Capitol Balloon, a red mylar heart shaped balloon, floated up inside the Wisconsin State Capitol to begin a four and a half month residence under a ledge surrounding the mural ‘”Resources of Wisconsin”.
Hearts play a significant role in the Wisconsin Uprising as February 14, St. Valentine’s day, was the date of one of the first large protests, when the UW TAA delivered “I Heart UW” cards to Governor Walker. At the same time, Madison public school teachers created a rally sign covered in red hearts, and “Care about your educators like they care for your child”. All week long, heart balloons showed up in and around the Capitol and eventually a bunch was released by a young boy in the Rotunda. A lone balloon survived the Occupation intact and became a symbol for an entire community of winter soldiers who would look up into the dome on every visit to the Capitol.
As the protests continued the balloon was serenaded every weekday at noon by Solidarity Sing Along, a group singing peace, social justice, and pro union songs. Adults from all over the world would come to the Capitol and look up and smile. School groups would visit and children would point to the balloon and squeal with delight. Others followed the balloon on Facebook and Twitter.
On June 30, 2011 the balloon was not in it’s perch at the top of the dome when the capitol opened. Coincidentally, this was the day after the laws resulting from AB10 went into effect. AB10 is the bill that killed collective bargaining for public sector unions in the State of Wisconsin.
Regular visitors to the Capitol were not pleased that their heart shaped friend had been removed at a time when the solidarity was needed more than ever, so a few days later they decided to take matters into their own hands by releasing more heart balloons “to decorate Our House with love”. It was understood that if one balloon were allowed to remain up in the dome, that was enough love to power an entire movement. Helium balloons are not allowed at the Wisconsin State Capitol and several individuals were detained and ticketed for bringing the balloons inside. Volunteers agreed to keep bringing balloons inside the building, even if it meant getting a citation. Dozens of balloons entered the Capitol and many people were written citations. One Madisonian received his citation in the mail several days after his visit downtown. All of the tickets were ultimately dismissed.
Love is complicated and difficult to predict. You never know when you will be bitten by the bug. Many of us found our voices and our hearts during last winter’s protests. The one year anniversary of the Occupation of Wisconsin and the beginning of Fitzwalkerstan reminds us all of why we flooded the Capitol grounds together; we did it for love. We love our brothers and sisters, our families, our progressive traditions, open and transparent government. We love our Northwoods and Lake Superior, clean air and water. We love the Green Bay Packers, publicly owned with union representation. Most of all, we love Wisconsin. We have spent the last year of our lives doing everything possible to save our beloved home, in essence, saving ourselves. We are all in this together and whenever we get the chance, we look up into the dome of the Capitol as a community and collectively affirm that there is still a balloon up in Our House. Home is where the heart is. Whose heart balloon? Everyone’s heart balloon.