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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 65.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Walker opponents take to Wisconsin's waters with protest flotillas
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Saturday's flotilla elicited mixed reactions, Kohl-Riggs says.
Saturday's flotilla elicited mixed reactions, Kohl-Riggs says.
Credit:Arthur Kohl-Riggs

Wisconsin has a new protest movement, and it's on the water.

Protesters took advantage of one of the state's many bodies of water to move their "Recall Walker" message a little closer to the subject of the protest this weekend. After learning that Wisconsin's first lady Tonette Walker would host a garden party on Saturday, July 2, a group of nearly a dozen people formed a flotilla that set sail to the shore of Lake Mendota off the governor's Maple Bluff executive residence.

Saturday's protest was organized very quickly, says Arthur Kohl-Riggs, who organized the event through the "Shit Scott Walker Is Doing To My State" Facebook page he operates. He learned about the party Friday night and created a Facebook event Saturday morning.

Kohl-Riggs was pleasantly surprised that the turnout included people who had not met prior to the protest. The flotilla consisted of two kayaks, two canoes and a paddleboat.

"Saturday was kind of a test drive," Kohl-Riggs says. He has since created a Facebook event called "A Summer Full of #wiflotilla" to organize future lake shore protests. Flotilla protesters are also organizing with the Twitter hashtag #wiflotilla.

He would like to see a more consistent presence on Lake Mendota and is in the process of trying to schedule a weekly flotilla. He also hopes people will start flotilla protests in their hometowns throughout the state. Social media will play a significant role in organizing and publicizing the events.

"Wisconsin has a lot of waterways," Kohl-Riggs says. "We're trying to let Walker and his administration know that there's an active resistance to him on every waterway in the state."

Kohl-Riggs has been interested in boat-based protests since he first realized that the governor's mansion -- which he refers to as "the people of Wisconsin's mansion" -- is on the shore of a public waterway. He was happy to see that others had the same idea.

WEAU in Eau Claire reported on nearly a dozen people who gathered in three boats to protest at the 46th Annual Governor's Fishing Opener on Lake Wissota, in Chippewa Falls, on May 7. More than a month later on June 25, flotilla protesters took to the water for the governor's speech at the Devil's Lake State Park Centennial celebration.

Saturday's flotilla elicited mixed reactions, Kohl-Riggs says. While some people booed and shouted, "Go home," plenty of other boaters gave thumbs-ups and "democrabeeps" from their boats as they passed the flotilla.

The next flotilla protest is still in the works, and Kohl-Riggs is looking for ideas from people who are interested in joining. He refers to his Facebook page as an "open organizing structure," and encourages people to organize events on their own or with the help of the group.

"We're currently looking for water and boat enthusiasts who want democracy and don't want fascism," Kohl-Riggs says as if he's reading a classified ad.

Flotilla protests don't have be reserved for places where Walker is present, Kohl-Riggs points out, suggesting that people set up protests on waterways near corporate donors, or simply use social media to document their flotillas.

The message these flotillas hope to send differs only slightly from what you might hear from people marching around the Capitol: "This is what democracy floats like!"

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