Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mifflin Day Miracle?

And almost 365 turns of the world later, we're here again -- poised on the eve of another Mifflin Street Block Party with no accord reached between police and partiers.


I've said it before and I'll say it again. I love this event. When I was a student, I laid plans for the day weeks in advance. I had to make sure I had room to sleep however many guests I was expecting, there had to be a guaranteed source of meat to grill and beer to drink, and, if there was time, it helped to have a destination in mind on the street itself.

But that, to me, has always been the glorious part of the block party. Sure, it's nice to know someone and have a porch or balcony to stand on. But if not, there's always the option of wandering up and down the block seeing the sights, pausing to take in a good band and sparking random friendships with people you'll never see again.

I honestly think Mifflin Day is more magical than Christmas.

Unfortunately, those good vibes have been on the decline in recent years because of rising arrests, increasing noise citations and the resulting decline in the number of bands. If somebody doesn't do something, one of the most unique traditions in Madison is going to become what outsiders have always said it was anyway. Take away the music and the high spirits, and you're left with a bunch of people standing around drinking in front yards, eyeing the police suspiciously.

It would be a "drunkfest," to quote a wise man I worked with once.

The Wisconsin Union Directorate tried, heroically, to step up to the plate and organize the event. And by organize, I don't mean "suck the fun out of," which some argue is what happened to Halloween. They wanted to work with the city to get a street use permit and noise permits, thus cutting down on arrests and citations, and set up a music stage with a line-up.

I'm told the chancellor's office pulled the plug on that pretty quickly, wanting no association with the block party. Never mind that it takes place only a few blocks from campus. Never mind that 80 percent of the revelers are UW students or alumni. Never mind that some of my favorite college memories will be forever rooted in that scrubbly excuse for grass that grows between the houses and the street on Mifflin.

This is the new, re-imagined University of Wisconsin, damnit! IF there's drinking that takes place, we certainly didn't sanction it!

So since Bascom Hall has torpedoed WUD's effort to work with the city, now the students themselves are pulling together to get the permits needed to make it a "legitimate event" in the eyes of police and city officials. They face an uphill battle with less than three weeks until the event takes place May 2, but they've got neighborhood Alder Mike Verveer backing them up.

Verveer is a Mifflin lifer, like I hope to be one day, having never missed a block party since his freshman year in college. His streak's considerably longer than mine (this will be number six for me). He understands what the block party can be, and what it's become. I think he would move heaven and earth to bring the music back to Mifflin.

I applaud Verveer and the students both for their efforts, and now the onus is on city officials. It's certainly an unusual notion to give a group of people with no organizational affiliation street and noise permits, but it's not without precedent.

It's certainly late in the game to get a process like this started, but nobody counted on WUD getting the rug ripped out from under them. The very fact that a group has coalesced to take up WUD's fight is proof they have the capability and the resolve to make this work.

The City of Madison needs to recognize this and do everything to expedite the permitting process. What we need now is a Mifflin Day Miracle.


Tim Morrissey said...

Once a beer blast, always a beer blast. And what's wrong with that? Nothing. Enjoy!

Emily said...

Except that the Mifflin Street thing was not always a "beer blast." Not to be a party pooper, but it did start out as a big anti-war event.

I have nothing against the party in its current incarnation, and I do hope they're able to get the permits and make this an "official" event with bands and the like. Just felt I needed to point out the more social/activist history of the day. I hate it when that sort of thing gets lost under an emphasis on boozing.

Dustin Christopher said...

Not a party-pooper at all, Emily. It would be cool to bring politics back to the block party, just the same as music needs to be brought back as well... I think it's possible to do both in the same fell swoop. I think to a degree it still carries the seed of that activism. But what started as an anti-war event in a drinking town has evolved into a drinking event in an anti-war town.

I certainly hope the majority of party-goers understand the history behind the block party...

Jason said...

It was always a drunken mess of a party/riot, hippies were just incredibly self righteous and loved to label their excesses as protest. It was also a drunken mess of a party/riot when I happily participated during all five years of college over 10 years ago. And it's a drunken mess of a party/riot now.

The superficial political sheen comes and goes. The bands come and go. The one constant is the extreme, on-street mass consumption of alcohol, and in a city that has as many alcohol related problems as Madison, I can certainly understand why the brass is unlikely to endorse it. Same goes for the University (by the way, I think it's funny that when students are pushing for UW sponsorship, 80% of attendees are students, and when we're talking about the inevitable aftermath of the party, 80% of attendees are from out-state). A giant on-street drinking party is just one of those charming small town things that's no longer possible as Madison reaches city status.