“That’s where the protest was earlier,” my driver said. “Zeidler Square. Named after Milwaukee’s socialist mayor.” he revealed with special contempt. (As he works for a Silicon Valley “transportation network company” — where people have been fired for thought crimes less serious than speaking ill of socialism — I’ll leave his name and employer out of it.) When we arrived at the block in front of the Wisconsin Center . . .
we ran smack dab into a gaggle of police.
Police on bicycles, police on horses, police walking around in front of the convention center. I rolled down the window and heard the prosody of a group chant.
The convention had shut down for the evening. Fortified with a fine dinner of raw fish and sake from the Screaming Tuna, the noise generated by a crowd of protesters outside the NRA Carry Guard convention rang in my ears like a slightly off-key call to duty. I quickly plunged into a massive crowd of young people.
I was astonished at first that so many teenage types would show up for an anti-gun rally. I was wrong, though. They weren’t protesting anything. The badges uniformly worn by the kids made it clear that they were a bunch of college freshmen on some sort of walking orientation tour of the city. The protest had already moved down the block; I scurried to keep up, easing past the equine-borne constabulary.
“These guys protesting the NRA?”
Milwaukee’s finest smirked.
“That and who-knows-what else. Be careful if you go down that way.”
I nodded and charged into danger with Gaston Glock’s subcompact magnum opus my only companion.
By the time I’d caught up with the protesters they’d turned the corner, marching in a big circle around the Wisconsin Center. I collared one of the stragglers. He was carrying a black cardboard tombstone with a woman’s name written on it. I asked him what was going on.
“We’re protesting the NRA and guns,” he said timidly.
“Who’s the person on the tombstone?”
“She was a victim of the Milwaukee gun violence!”
“Really?” I replied. “What was her story? What happened?”
He stared blankly at me. I tried again.
“I write for The Truth About Guns, perhaps you could tell me a little bit about this woman’s story? How she died?”
His eyes moved rapidly from left to right. “I–I don’t want to be recorded!” he said and quickly turned away.
Well, that’s what I get for talking to the guy at the end of the pack, I suppose. I moved ahead through the geriatric-looking crowd, seeking a protestor made of sterner stuff. I found one in the person of Wendell J. Harris, Sr., a Milwaukee School Board member who was attending the anti-gun rally to protest . . . racism.
I asked Mr. Harris why he was protesting.
“Because I am adamantly against the, uh…this National Rifle Association, this racist agenda that’s, um, encouraging mayhem, with shows like the show that they’re going to have with the country and western singers that are going to be talking about ‘the South is rising again.'”
Harris appeared to be referring to the “Southern Uprising Tour” starring Travis Tritt, the Charlie Daniels Band and Lee Roy Parnell, performing at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in conjunction with the NRA Carry Guard convention. Anyway, I asked Mr. Harris if he thought the right to bear arms was a civil right.
“Oh, the Second Amendment is fine,” he said, “I’m talking about the National Rifle Association. Let’s not get the [NRA] and the Second Amendment confused.”
Even at an anti-gun rally in a progressive epicenter of the heartland, I couldn’t get a straight-up denunciation of the right to bear arms. Instead, the crowd was trying to tie the NRA to the cause du jour: racism. (Apparently fear and loathing of civilian firearms ownership is no longer sufficient to keep the anti-gun masses motivated.) A lady wearing a green reflective vest kindly offered me a copy of the pre-programmed chants on request.
Towards the front of the crowd, a lone clarinet player belted out an instrumental version of the chorus to Queen’s 1977 hit We Will Rock You. Unsurprisingly, the song lacks a certain gravitas when played by an unaccompanied woodwind.
As for demographics, the crowd appeared [to my not-so-young-anymore eyes] to be somewhat geriatric. The few NRA stragglers still hanging around the convention hall — including the two guys with rifles slung over their shoulders and the nice young fellow from Indiana who was volunteering with his mother to help with gun safety training — all seemed younger than the anti-gun group.
To my college marching band-trained eye, I’d estimate that there were about 150 protesters on scene. Not surprising — Milwaukee has a long tradition of progressivism, one that dates back to the era when progressives actually prioritized the working class (though as the Wilson Administration showed, the racist identity politics was always there in the background).
Of the people I saw and spoke with, Harris was the only one who seemed to have any real fire in the belly. The rest were just going through the motions.
I couldn’t quite understand why the protesters waited until most of the NRA attendees had left for the day to march. They had a small mob of like-minded people around them. Plus, they were surrounded by Milwaukee’s finest armed with double-stack striker fired pistols, equipped with the sort of magazines that their political allies were busy trying to ban.
What was there to be afraid of?