Believe it or not, something is actually happening at the Capitol this week.
Amidst the legislative impasse over approving a new budget in the Wisconsin State Legislature, there is something peculiar occurring on the grounds of the Square: the appearance of zombies. Their first appearance was witnessed Wednesday morning, when a few hundred gathered at the Capitol's King Street entrance, reanimated by the longwave frequency of AM radio to rally in favor of the status quo of stasis in state government.
If you missed this display that sent the squirrels back to their trees, though, don't worry. A second outbreak is predicted for this weekend.
On Saturday, October 20, a pair of local undead enthusiasts is resurrecting the Madison zombie lurch, a gathering of ghouls that staggers down State Street from the Capitol to the UW Memorial Union. True, a minor outbreak was witnessed at the Mifflin Street Block Party back in May, and there was today's paroxysm in favor of drowning by bathtub, of course, but there hasn't been a full-blown lurch in nearly two years.
This is the peculiar Madisonian version of the zombie walk, an organized gathering of folks in Romero drag who shuffle and moan as a group in the simple interest of creating a spectacle. While these gatherings sometimes have a specific purpose (usually in service of a blood drive or to lampoon consumerism), the idea behind the lurch is ultimately satirical, a protest for zombie rights down State Street, the most traditional route for political marches in the city.
The last zombie lurch was held on October 20, 2005, when scores of the ghouls assembled at the Capitol and subsequently made their way to Memorial Union. Organized by Maddie Greene (an undead aficionado who reviews zombie movies at Zomploitation), the gathering attracted significant attention just as the fad was taking off around the continent. Now, participants from this outbreak two years ago are looking to revive the lurch, just in time for Halloween.
Becki Thiesen, 23, and Benny Shaffer, 25, are similarly fans of stage make-up and zombie movies, have organized the Coalition of the Living Dead. "Tired of your rights as a member of the living dead being violated?" they ask in an announcement about the lurch.
"Sick of people putting you down or worse, screaming and trying to smash your head with a cricket bat? We don't deserve to be treated like this! We will no longer stand for being viewed as lesser citizens. We need to fight for our rights and demand equal treatment." The Daily Page had a few questions about this return of this dawn of the dead, and this new pair of patient zeros were happy to oblige.
The Daily Page: What is the Coaltion of the Living Dead?
Thiesen: The Coalition of the Living Dead (COLD) is a political lobbying organization that advocates for zombie rights including equal opportunity employment, non-harassment, the provision of brains at local food pantries and the right to not get shot in the head.
How are zombies being mistreated? What are they asking for?
We are forced to endure blows to the head, constant screaming in our general direction and objections to our feeding habits, especially at local restaurants.
Why do zombies need to lurch for their rights?
People don't see the needs for zombie rights -- such as equal opportunity employment -- and we strive to rectify that. Many of the stereotypes about zombies are unfair and don't portray us in the light that we deserve.
How have zombie rights progressed since the last lurch?
The last lurch did a great deal towards building zombie awareness among the living community.
More seriously, are you trying to have fun with the protest tradition on State Street ?
Of course. And stage make-up.
Did the zombie lurch in 2005 inspire you to organize this event?
Yes! The event two years ago was so amazing and we wanted to go so badly last year but it didn't happen. We said that if it didn't happen this year we would have to make sure that people got together and we would plan it. Maddie Greene did a wonderful job the first time and we want to share that with other people who want to revisit that.
Why did you decide to put it on this October?
October is a good time to have it because the make-up and props are easily available and everyone is in the mood to get together and dress up.
How do you see this lurch fitting into the overall hype over Halloween in Madison?
We have been going to Halloween on State Street for years and years and grew up loving Halloween. For me it is a time to have fun and hang out with friends. My father and I always spent a lot of time decorating the yard and my mother and I always made hand sewn costumes. Madison has a fantastic tradition of going all out when it comes to Halloween and it is something we hope to do some day with our kids. We also want to show that there is more to Madison Halloween than just drinking downtown.
There is a Badger football game on Saturday; what message do you hope visiting fans will take home with them?
That Madison is an amazing and creative place to live and visit and that we don't take ourselves too seriously and we know how to have a good time.
What are the zombie movies or other elements of undead culture that you love?
We like scary movies with content that could never happen. People murdering other people can be a little too scary sometimes because that happens every day. With zombie movies it can be scary and fun at the same time because we know that it could never happen. One of our favorite all-time movies is Shaun of the Dead for that reason. We are also big fans of 28 Days Later and are excited to find time to see the sequel 28 Weeks Later. Finally, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend is a classic.
Why do you think zombies have been such a powerful cultural symbol in recent years?
Most people love the adrenaline rush of being scared and the living dead is something that goes way back. With improving movie technology people want to recreate movies bigger and better than before. We all had our favorite movies from when we were little and now that we are older the people who loved those movies as children are recreating them and giving them a new life so to speak.
What should participating zombies bring with them?
Zombies and zombie supporters should bring signs and banners to help show our support. Be creative with what you wear and what you bring, remember this is a march for zombie rights.
What else do you hope to accomplish with the lurch?
This latest group of zombies will be gathering at the Capitol at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 20 for their lurch down State Street to the UW Memorial Union. Or if this isn't an option, there is also a third outbreak expected on Tuesday, October 30, when WSUM hosts a Zombie Dance Party with a quartet of DJs at the King Club.
"Come and join us as the living dead are strongest," quoth the lurchers, "in shambling hordes."