On Thursday, November 3, Riverwest and UWM student activists congregated at Mayfair Mall in Wauwautosa and Brookfield Square in Brookfield to protest Victoria’s Secret’s outrageous catalog campaigns, which destroy old-growth trees. The protest was part of a nationwide campaign spurred on by ForestEthics, a San Francisco-based environmental group dedicated to exposing corporations that destroy endangered forests. November 3 was a day of action when activists gathered at 350 protests and events from Nova Scotia to Las Vegas to demand that companies such as Victoria’s Secret stop using paper that comes from endangered forests in the boreal forests of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain foothills. An employee at Mayfair claimed that the store is on the side of the activists, that they work with ethical printers, and the store’s clearance catalogs are made from recycled paper. Yet, these clearance catalogs only make up 10% of their total catalog mailings and clearly show that VS is capable of using sustainable printing practices. Anyone who orders anything from Victoria’s Secret is inundated with an onslaught of mail-order catalogs, sometimes as many as two a day. They mail out over 395 million catalogs a year. This excess combined with the destruction of virgin wood gets protesters fired up for action. According to Thomas Ciaccio, 20, of Milwaukee, it is only a matter of time. “If we can get Victoria’s Secret to change, then the rest will follow their example,” said Ciaccio. In this case, Victoria’s Secret stands for the destructive wastefulness of the catalog industry. In ForestEthics Environmental Corporate Action Program, they have convinced Home Depot to stop the conversion of native forests into tree plantations in Chile, and convinced Hewlett-Packard to monitor their suppliers to make sure their paper does not come from endangered forests. None of the Riverwest activists are employed by ForestEthics, but are volunteer supporters of activism and change. Shea Schachameyer has done forest defense work in the past and said, “My New Year’s resolution was to bring Victoria’s Dirty Secret to Milwaukee.” Nichali Ciaccio said, “The ultimate result [of cap-italism] is the complete exploitation of natural resources. So I’m less in favor of pressuring them to change their practices as I am dismantling them. But you have to start somewhere.” A St. Louis-based org-anizer named Charlie Frederick with ForestEthics came around to Milwaukee and stopped to give a talk in Riverwest. This got a group of locals involved, who collectively decided to put on a playacted reading of The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. “Doing The Lorax made it a happy, stress-free thing,” said Schachameyer. “After we decided that’s what we’d do, instead of working out the stressful details of police liaisons, jail solidarity, and lawyers, I went home and began re-writing parts of the story complete with Dr. Seuess rhyming.” “The main reason we weren’t more confrontational is because we didn’t have the money to be arrested,” said Fosse. Both he and Thomas Ciaccio have been arrested in New York and Milwaukee for participating in protests. Thomas Ciaccio is an advocate for militancy in activism. For Fosse, it comes down to values. “They are protecting property; we are protecting life.” The collaboration involved rehearsing the reading of the book and building a set for the performance, made with dumpstered cardboard, a little aluminum foil and reduced price mistake paint. Schachameyer did the backdrops, which looked a lot like Seuss’s original artwork. Some names of other people who helped: Lydia Gantert, James Brennamen, and Natalia Koss Vallejo. Nichali Ciaccio and Schachameyer read most of the story to a group of curious mall-shopping passers-by and young children who were intrigued by the colorful scenery. Aytan Luck played the Lorax, the one who “speaks for the trees.” At Mayfair, protesters were allowed to read through their entire script, at which point they were shooed along by the mild-mannered security guard. “One mom told the kid that it was time to go, but the kid talked to her and they sat back down,” said Tom Fosse, 21. At Brookfield Square, a crowd of 20-25 people watched them perform. “The cops showed up after we finished,” said Thomas Ciaccio. “There’s a group of about 10-15 people in Milwaukee who do the organizing for most protests.” One activism hotspot has been a flat in Riverwest, which is breaking up now, but its original conception was to create a space for projects for the Student Labor Action Coalition, a UWM student organization, according to Nichali Ciaccio. “Riverwest was of course the natural place to move to – it is a diverse and hard-working community of people who largely share our ideas and visions,” he said. For people who care to get involved with some of the activism in Milwaukee:
- Alternating Mondays and Tuesdays at 7 pm there are free politically radical films shown an UWM’s Fireside Lounge.
- Critical Mass Milwaukee (the monthly mass bike ride, last Friday of the Month at 5:30 p.m., starting at Riverside Park
- Food Not Bombs www.fnbmilwaukee.homestead.com
- Stay informed through Milwaukee Indymedia: mke.indymedia.org