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Madison’s State Steet After ‘The Storm’ Of Rioting

June 7, 2020

As a boy growing up in Waushara County there was one thing which could be counted on each summer with certainty.  There would be at least one major thunderstorm that would be so dramatic as to produce straight-line winds that would snap large trees and rip a roof off a barn or old shed and carry it into a nearby field.  Following the weather reports on the radio and the tracking of clouds at home, we could figure out where some storm damage might be viewed.   Dad was a member of the Hancock Town Board and so needed to know what road cleanup was required after a storm.  Mom and I would be amazed at the power of the storms.

I thought about those drives in the country as James and I started walking State Street on Sunday evening. We parked the car in a ramp, wore masks and self-distanced from others.  When we got to State, nearest to the University, the sight just hit me hard. Though there have been newspaper photos, and television news coverage, the enormity of the damage to every single store, block after block, is hard to fathom.  No one-word or phrase sums up the horrendous outcome following recent riots.

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(There needs to be a clear understanding that the vast amount of protesters have been peaceful in our city, and they should not be confused, at all, with those who rioted and destroyed so much.)

I recall a few years ago a Madison street reconstruction project was underway.  Two blocks of massive, old shade producing terrace trees were removed.  The first time I saw the stark nature of the block after they were cut down was like a thunderbolt.  That is how I felt looking down State Street with plywood on every single building, every window gone.

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Many artists of various types have brought their talents to the plywood and in the place of destruction have used colors and words to lend a hand at trying to bring something hopeful to the eye. (Pictures below.) There is some truly talented and expressive artwork to be seen.  But what is so overwhelming is that once one takes their eye from what otherwise is art worthy of a look, the eye goes back to the enormity of the destruction.

I chatted with a  couple artists at work with one telling me, “This is a moment for art.  This is my home”.

With the news this weekend that perhaps 25% of the current businesses on State Street will not be reopening, following the effects of a pandemic, economic downturn, and the rioting made the walk today even more difficult.  There will need to be investments made, and forward-thinking policies by our city implemented to ensure that this iconic street will rise again.  This is the street, after all, that every high school kid wishes to investigate when coming to the city for some school event.

After a summer storm when I was young there would be thoughts about the force that Mother Nature unleashed.  Leaving State Street tonight there was only sadness in my thoughts.  Unlike when a boy and thinking about future storms, I trust never to see such a sight again in my life as which was witnessed today.

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