An inspiring stroll down Willy Street

I was feeling a bit frustrated this morning with the development of my individual story for J202. I am looking at the history of student activism on the UW Madison campus and how that has changed or impacted student activism today. But a key spark was missing from my story; something that could lead me to discover something truly worth telling just wasn’t clicking for me.

This afternoon, I decided to head to Willy Street to check out the Madison InfoShop. I didn’t really know what it was about, but I thought what better a place to get a fresh look on things than the radical, historically-active east side of Madison.

While looking for the InfoShop, I passed the wig and costume store, Amsterdam. I needed a wig for halloween, so I figured why not stop in. I ended up talking to the owner of the store for a long time about the proper wig choice for my costume. Just as I was starting to feel as if I was getting off track, I noticed she was wearing a hoodie with a solidarity fist on the breast. I asked her if she, by chance, was involved with activism in Madison.

She responded by saying that she was not only involved, but had been for the past 25 years. She gave me names of people I could talk to and told me that she would meet with me to talk more later this week. Suddenly, I felt that discouragement slip away, replaced with a sense of amazement that you can find what you are looking for in the most unexpected places.

I ventured on to the InfoShop. It is located in the basement of Nature’s Bakery- hard to notice if you are not looking for it. I walked into the hole-in-the-wall and found a world of radical activism, archives of years of activist history, community zines, artistic and inspiring posters, and a handful of people sitting around a table.

I introduced myself and explained my goal and they welcomed me to join their meeting (which I happened to be right on time for). I got a general idea of what the InfoShop was all about while I listened to them discuss events, plans and experiences. After what they called “checking-out” (going around the table and saying our names again and whatever else we wanted to share), I asked if anyone had historical knowledge of student activism on campus and if they would be willing to talk to me more.

I ended up with four business cards being handed to me, including one from a friendly man who happened to be extremely involved in the Vietnam protests in the late 60s. They also gave me copies of their “Disorientation” zines, which lay out activism each year from the start of the InfoShop in 1992 to the most current issue.

Sometimes, you find everything you need if you are just willing to walk off the main road, down some stairs and in to an underground world of button-makers, zines and inspiration you didn’t know existed.

2013 Willy Street Fair Photo by Esta Pratt-Kielley

2013 Willy Street Fair
Photo by Esta Pratt-Kielley

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