A host of Wisconsin artists, activists, mobilizers, and community leaders from around the state sat down last week to Zoom with actress and activist Lilakoi Moon, also known as Lisa Bonet, as they worked together to bring her#VoteWithLove initiative to Wisconsin.
“It was so great to see how she worked with all of these diverse people. There were folks on the Zoom who were running art schools, there were art students, there were collectives, there were community organizers, college professors, non-profit leaders, and tribal leaders,” Emilio De Torre, executive director of the Milwaukee Turners at Turner Hall in the heart of Milwaukee, tells Madison365. “It was a beautiful, diverse coalition of Black, Latinx, Native folks and white folks. I think people are really excited about this.
“I think that the world is really paying attention to this election so it was nice of Lilakoi and her team to get together with all of us and speak to us,” he adds. “It’s nice to know that it’s not just another person coming to our state to tell Wisconsinites what to do, it’s a person with great integrity working with folks to uplift their efforts.”
Moon says that she is “so proud of this invitation to ‘Vote with Love.'”
“We’ve all landed pretty hard from this collective stumble and amnesia,” Moon tells Madison365. “As we regain our footing and remember who we are, it is Love – an incorruptible force – that will lead us to the path of repair and higher intelligence. The source of Love comes from what is undivided. This is our way forward.”
De Torre has had a steady stream of people stopping by Turner Hall in downtown Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee Turners are located, to pick up #ToWisconsinWithLove and #VoteWithLove love letter art including videos, posters, stickers, and stencils that are then delivered throughout the state.
“We have people who are carpooling out all over the state to places like Madison, Eau Claire, Racine, Green Bay. It’s such a great way to strengthen the work that we are doing,” he says. “Most of these groups are already doing incredible work fighting for racial justice and fighting for equity year-round and not just for the presidential election.”
The artwork was created by an artist friend of Moon, Ruby Roth, an artist and author-illustrator. #ToWisconsinWithLove is a citizen movement formed in response to the very important Nov. 3 election that has evolved into a “passionate assemblage of celebrated storytellers from Wisconsin” including actor, director, and producer Mark Ruffalo, and directors Marc Webb, David Leitch, and Zach Snyder. It is strongly supported by friends of Wisconsin including Moon and husband, actor Jason Mamoa, and daughter Zoe Kravitz.
Many Wisconsinites have also created emotional, inspirational, and shareable stories under the hashtag #ToWisconsinWithLove encouraging Wisconsin constituents to use their power to vote including “A Love Letter to Black Women in Wisconsin” (below) starring JoAnne Sabir, Venice Williams and Dasha Kelly Hamilton.
Williams, the founder of Alice’s Garden in Milwaukee, a two-acre urban farm and community garden that works with inner-city families, says that she is really particular about the things she says ‘yes’ to, but with this video and movement, there was no hesitation.
“To be able, as a Black female, to speak directly to other Black females was important and it was a welcome invitation. Although the video was directed to Wisconsin, it went worldwide,” Wiliams tells Madison365. “Especially at a time when while most everybody is reminding us to vote, most of those voices and people don’t sound or look like me.
“No one who needs to be reminded to vote by people of white less than Black women,” she adds. “It was important to me that the power of the vote and the encouragement to vote came from other Black women. We know that we’re not going to wake up on Nov. 4 and the world has changed for Black women – we’re going to have the same struggles and the same issues no matter who is in office. However, we understand that this is part of our legacy to continue to exercise our right to vote.”
Former Madisonian and current Milwaukee Bucks star Wesley Matthews is also featured in a new #ToWisconsinWithLove ad encouraging Wisconsinites to vote (below).
De Torre and Shahanna McKinney Baldon, the special assistant for Diversity and Inclusion at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, have been helping to spearhead the effort to get the #ToWisconsinWithLove art out throughout the state of Wisconsin before the election.
“I am so excited about the way that this has come together really quickly and the way that this initiative is bolstering and connecting the incredible work that folks are already doing,” McKinney Baldon tells Madison365. “I’m really hoping that this will continue to support the leadership of the folks on the ground in our Wisconsin communities, now as well as after the election, and in anticipation of future elections to come.”
McKinney Baldon says the connection to Moon started when she was talking with a friend from her days of undergrad at UW-Madison, J. Bob Alotta, who is currently the vice president of global programs at the Mozilla Foundation. “Bob’s partner is a famous musician named Toshi Reagon, who is the child of Bernice Johnson Reagon, a longtime justice leader and former member of [the all-black female a cappella ensemble] Sweet Honey in the Rock,” McKinney Baldon recalls. “Toshi is connected to all kinds of artists who are doing justice work in communities.”
Alotta soon connected McKinney-Baldon with Moon, also known as Lisa Bonet.
“Lilakoi said that she and the team that she had been spearheading were at the point where they wanted to get in touch with folks in our Wisconsin communities,” she says. “I immediately called my old friend, Emilio [De Torre], who has been doing some very important grassroots organizing around the state over the years.”
De Torre, in turn, immediately connected with 20 organizations throughout Wisconsin.
“After speaking with Shahanna and then connecting with Lilakoi Moon and the folks from her team, we realized that we would need a quick turnaround on this because the election was approaching rapidly, so we reached out to folks who have already been doing things statewide,” De Torre says. “We connected with a lot of people from Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Green Bay, Eau Claire, Baraboo and some rural organizers and we figured that these lovely posters elevating this message of ‘vote with love’ and with a lot of great
Wisconsin-specific iconography on the artwork could be used by people who are already doing this work, who are already organizing voters, who are already setting up hospitality stations outside of polling places to serve water, hot cacao or coffee.
“We connected with folks who are doing big art campaigns around the city who can use the stencils and these posters to not only elevate their message but to also make the process of voting during a pandemic that much more palatable and human,” De Torre adds.
Both De Torre and McKinney Baldon are delighted at how #ToWisconsinWithLove has spread in such a short time as Wisconsin artists and storytellers harness the voices of the many diverse groups that make up the Badger State.
“It’s amazing. Just to see how these artists have reacted to be working with other like-minded spirits and energy for this election is really uplifting,” De Torre says.
“I was so pleased with how excited folks were to connect with each other on the call we had the other day with Lilakoi and to see how the messages of this campaign – #votewithlove, love for Wisconsin, love letters to Wisconsin – resonated with folks and how folks felt lifted up by that,” McKinney Baldon says. “It’s just so inspiring.”
#Towisconsinwithlove artwork can be picked up between now and election day from Emilio De Torre at Turner Hall in downtown Milwaukee, 1034 Vel R. Phillips Ave. If people want to pick up the artwork in Madison, they can e-mail Shahanna at VoteLoveWi@gmail.com.