Tears, anger, joy as protesters hold John Nolen intersection for nearly 8 hours

Madison Police Protest
Organizer M. Adams speaks to the crowd as protesters hold the intersection of John Nolen and North Shore Drives in Madison Monday. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

The cycle of the traffic light at the intersection of John Nolen and North Shore drives in Madison lasts about 20 seconds. So, for the seven hours and 40 minutes that protesters occupied the intersection Monday, the light went through almost 1,400 cycles. 

The event was part of the third straight day of demonstrations in the city as people across Wisconsin and the country protested the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd as well as other police violence against black people.

While they held the intersection, the nation’s divides were made even clearer as President Donald Trump threatened the use of military force against civilians and clashes between protesters and police continued. 

But on John Nolen, for nearly 1,400 cycles of a traffic light, the protest in Madison remained peaceful. Demonstrators did yoga in the street and danced while kids played with a basketball. People passed out masks and hand sanitizer to keep people safe from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well water and snacks. 

The protesters said they were at the intersection — a major thoroughfare in and out of the city’s downtown area — to disrupt people’s lives and make them face the issue head-on. 

“Madison sees itself as a liberal bastion and it thinks it’s exempt from these realities and systems of power,” said M. Adams, co-executive director of Freedom, Inc. “We marched here at this intersection, which is in the heart of the downtown area, to force Madison to deal with the issue.” 

THE MORNING NEWSLETTER
Subscribe now.

Adams said their demands were for the defunding of the Madison Police Department, the release of inmates in the Dane County jail and the implementation of community control over the department. 

As the afternoon turned to evening at the intersection, the protesters spent hours hanging out in the street. But eventually an impromptu block party started, with the group of hundreds dancing to the “Cha Cha Slide,” “Cupid Shuffle” and “Jump Around,” among other songs. 

Shortly after the dancing ended, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway arrived at the intersection and made her way into the diverse crowd of mostly young people. She attempted to ease the frustrations and offer some solutions, but was largely rebuffed as being just another politician telling the city’s black community that changes will be made. 

“Nothing I say today will be enough, she said. “But I promise you that I’m listening and that my staff are listening and that we will take the actions we can take as soon as we can.” 

Rhodes-Conway said the city is prepared to immediately move forward to create a police auditor position, develop a police oversight committee and move funding to black-led organizations in the community. 

After the mayor spoke, with protesters expressing dismay that  she was unwilling to end the citywide curfew, the demonstrators held the intersection for about 40 more minutes. 

At 7:40, after all those traffic cycles, the protesters began marching to the City County building to continue the rally. 

After the rally, protesters trickled toward the Capitol Square and State Street for more marching as the 9:30 curfew drew nearer. 

Organizers said they plan to keep protesting all week.