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Thousands march downtown, rally in Phoenix Park

More than 1,000 people took part in a rally and march Friday evening in downtown Eau Claire to protest the death of George Floyd and police brutality.

The Black Lives Matter Protest for Peace/Pick Up the Earth hosted by local group United We Assemble began with a rally at Phoenix Park and included six speakers over the course of an hour. Attendees then marched from Phoenix Park down Barstow and Farwell streets, crossed Lake Street and ended by picking up trash in and near Owen Park.

Participants included local musicians, activists and organizers.

Jaylin Carlson, an Eau Claire native who recently graduated from UW-Madison, shared personal experiences with racism, beginning at age 4 when a neighbor called her the N-word.

Carlson said people are not born with racism and discrimination but instead are taught them. She encouraged people in attendance to judge less, listen more and show more compassion.

“Instead of running away from these burdens and traumas, run toward them full-speed,” Carlson said. “Pledge to get uncomfortable. Let us inquire, not only about our own pain, but the pain of others around us. Let us heal together, and let us tear down the walls that separate us and realize we are more alike than we are different.”

Brittany Tainter, an Native American woman who lives in Eau Claire, addressed the history of racism and how it persists in different forms today including police brutality, mass incarceration and class disparities.

“Make no mistake that these injustices have been happening all along,” Tainter said. “Black and brown people, especially those that are LGBTQ+, have been dying over this for generations. We are here today because racism in all its forms needs to be understood, addressed and wiped out.”

She encouraged attendees, particularly white people, to learn, process information, reflect and act to improve.

“There is no time to sit on the sideline regarding social justice and inequality,” Tainter said. “Everyone is needed in the fight … The fight may look different for every one of you, but the important thing is that you do the work.”

Eau Claire resident Justin Vernon, the frontman for Bon Iver, said he looks forward to learning more about social justice issues and urged everyone else to do the same.

Vernon said the country must put a stop to police brutality and said white people must have tough conversations that result in uncomfortable feelings.

“If you’re fighting with your friends and you disagree about something, first off, look at the color of your skin and remember one thing: this feeling you have, the shame, the embarrassment, not knowing everything — compare that feeling to having a knee on your neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds,” Vernon said.

George Floyd, 46, an African-American man, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Chauvin faces charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and three other officers are charged with aiding and abetting in the killing. All have been fired from the police force.

Friday’s events came on the heels of several similar occurrences in the Chippewa Valley following the death of Floyd, including a peaceful protest and online vigil on Sunday, a vigil on Monday and rally on Thursday. As a precaution against coronavirus, the vast majority of attendees wore masks, which were available for free along with water and snacks.

After the first three speakers during Friday’s rally, musical artist Naalia performed two songs, including “Rise Up” by Andra Day. Throughout the song, everyone raised signs and fists in the air. Some signs read “All lives can’t matter until black ones do!” and “White Silence=Black Death.”

Fall Creek residents Brad Keith and Kat Keith did not want to sit on the sidelines and attended with their son Cam Keith. Holding hand-drawn signs of Floyd’s face, the names of many other people killed while in police custody and social justice causes, they wanted to help make a positive change after seeing Floyd’s death.

“We finally decided enough is enough,” Kat Keith said. “I think a lot of people are at that point.”

She felt hesitant to attend because of COVID-19 but decided that showing support outweighed those concerns.

“I felt like it was really important we get out of our white privilege world and try to show our respect,” Kat Keith said. “I would love to listen and learn and try to help be part of the solution.”

In the past week, the Keiths felt anger and sadness but wanted to turn those feelings into action.

“After a while you become numb, but I think that’s dangerous,” Brad Keith said. “You can’t become numb and tune it out.”

Eau Claire resident Daminiqus Ford said that as a black man, his first thought upon seeing Floyd’s death was that it could have been him. Ford spoke about having anxiety when driving and seeing a police vehicle.

“It’s like they’re supposed to protect me, but instead it feels like they’re going to kill me,” Ford said.

Ford gave personal examples of racist interactions growing up in the area, including in interaction with a friend‘s father and being accused of stealing a friend’s wallet. He said being from Eau Claire gave him tough skin.

“Being black in a white community, you never know what type of slander you might deal with when you go out,” Ford said.

Ford said he felt afraid to speak initially but no longer does.

“At the beginning of this, I had fear, because if you’re a black man and you speak up about issues in America, you end up dead,” Ford said. “I’m not scared anymore, because I stand for what I believe in … Black lives matter!”

Selika Ducksworth Lawton, president of Uniting Bridges and a UW-Eau Claire history professor, said the country is “at a turning point in history.”

She urged people to help make Eau Claire a state civil rights leader and show what equality, freedom, liberty and justice look like.

“Until black people are free, no one is free in the United States of America,” Ducksworth Lawton said.

Near the end of her speech, Ducksworth Lawton led chants of “We are Eau Claire!”


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Allure of the shake-a-day

The first pandemic-related shock for me came late in the afternoon on St. Patrick’s Day when I heard that Wisconsin bars were closing. COVID-19 loomed far away, until then.

Months later, there are bigger concerns: unprecedented loss of life and income, not to mention a group of deniers who don’t believe in social distancing or wearing masks despite the long-standing science that proves they are effective. I love a conspiracy theory as much as anyone, and I appreciate the freedom to go wherever I please. Still, I will not take chances to socialize.

For many of us, home sometimes feels like house arrest, and we pine for the routine of going to work and to all of those other familiar spots.

In his book “The Great Good Place,” sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote about the necessity of having a “third place.” His subtitle “Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day” describes exactly what we miss throughout these chaotic times. Besides home (No. 1 place) and work (No. 2), your third place is an “anchor” to community life.

Looking back, I see that mine has always been a bar.

It was 1970-something: Mom and Dad loaded us kids in the car for a Sunday afternoon drive usually caravanning with another family. The highlight was stopping at a tavern, often Jump River Rosie’s about an hour away. Children ate Slim Jims, drank Orange Crush and played pinball or air hockey with other kids. Parents shared a pitcher of Leinie’s and took their turn at “Shake of the Day.”

I sometimes sat on my mom’s lap and banged that beat-up leather dice cup on the edge of the bar rail and blew on the dice for luck as I’d seen my dad and countless other patrons do. To my little girl mind this was like Yahtzee: shake three times, try for five of a kind. Every buck paid to play went into the pot or “kitty.” Winning meant whooping and hollering as the bartender counted out stacks of $1 bills. And that was just my parents. In our neck of the woods we called it “Shake-a-Day,” something Mom loved so much we even mentioned it in her obituary.

In “How Bar Dice Became a Wisconsin Institution,” Robert Simonson writes that the game is as widespread as “over-the-top Bloody Mary garnishes and Brandy Old-Fashioneds.” I’m more interested in bar people, what I love most about taverns. There’s always something getting ready to happen, an unpredictable mix of characters and stories.

The last time I visited Lake Hallie Sportsman’s Club, I trekked there on the frozen lake during halftime of the Badger men’s basketball game. Along the way I stopped to talk to families out for Sportsman’s “take a kid fishing” contest. I remember that ordinary Saturday as extraordinary now. Strangers in groups, live basketball on TV. None of us could imagine that soon most public places will close.

When I walk in, everyone turns to look. The regulars notice I may not quite be one of them, but I resemble their sisters or wives. I talk about the game or the weather or the kids out fishing. For a few hours I am a guest. No choosing sides on politics or most sports.

A guy calls out to me, “You must be a See girl. How old are you?” Turns out he is my oldest brother’s classmate. I sit on the stool beside him. The longer we talk I discover he is my high school crush’s brother and my dad’s retired Roto Rooter, connections that rarely surprise me anymore in Chippewa.

The bartender brings my beer and says to Mark, “Really? You ask a woman her age before she sits down?” We all laugh. Oldenburg claims a third place must be welcoming and comfortable, and you must meet both new and old friends. Today I’m here for the shake. Sportsman’s offers three types: Box Shake, Dollar Shake and Fifty Cent Shake, each with a different pot. I lose at all of them. Mark buys me a beer.

Every barfly has a Shake-a-Day story. One guy tells me he once won $2,400. “Right here?” I ask. Nothing is illegal, since bars don’t profit from shakes aside from the rule that you have to buy a drink to play. Others tell about pots over $10,000, often at hole-in-the-wall places.

Jim Draeger, bar historian and co-author of “Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin’s Historic Bars and Breweries,” claims tavern dice began in our state around the end of Prohibition. Rules for winning are different from bar to bar: the bigger the pot, the more complex the game. Some use 12-sided dice or require one shake to roll five or even 10 dice the same number. The odds of rolling five the same are one in 1,296. You can see why the kitty grows.

Many months ago my husband and I spent a late afternoon Shake-a-Day hopping along Highway OO, what Bruce dubbed the Lake Hallie Strip: a little cheaper and perhaps seedier than the one in Vegas. Four bars, four shakes all on a one-mile stretch.

At Hallie Bar the bartender warns me that someone won the kitty earlier in the day, which means there’s nothing left in the pot. Still I pay her a dollar and try to roll as many threes as I can. I’m here doing research, after all. What a story if I win my own dollar back! I discover that some of the diviest bars have the nicest dice cups. This one feels like expensive gloves. The bartender says, “If you don’t roll any threes, you get a free drink.”

Maybe losers do prosper. “My kind of game,” I say to Bruce. He watches cliff diving on one of the four TV’s with a much-tattooed man whose voice lilts like he’s perpetually telling a joke. I shake one three; I win nothing.

Sociologist Oldenburg says that a third place is important not only to help you establish a sense of home and a connection to your community, but also for maintaining civility, civic engagement, even democracy. Pretty heady stuff for a tavern. No wonder I miss it.

Containing this pandemic successfully means we all have to be community-minded, as if our lives depend upon it. For some of us, they do. As much as I love Shake-a-Day and everything else about taverns, some activities are still not worth the gamble.


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UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, UW-River Falls to bring students back in the fall

UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout, and UW-River Falls will reopen in the fall, with normal levels of enrollment. Their student dormitories also will reopen at normal capacity.

“We’re very excited as a campus community,” said UW-Stout Chancellor Katherine Frank after the announcement was made Friday morning. “All three campuses have been working really hard on our plan to determine how fall will look like. We’ve been working with our county partners. We’ve been focusing on the distinct needs of our campuses. We have thought very carefully about our structure and our density.”

UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt echoed Frank’s comments, saying “in-person engagement is crucial to a transformative educational experience.”

“Working together, with a common goal to support higher education and our communities in western Wisconsin, allowed us to focus and deliver strong safety plans for each campus in a short period of time,” Schmidt said in a news release.

One of those changes involves setting up barriers as needed in classrooms, and looking for ways to have smaller group gatherings.

“We’re looking at every component of university life,” Frank said.

The plan allows students to choose options from in-person classes to some online teachings, to keep density levels manageable on campus, she said.

“I’m sure students will have a variety of different responses, which is why we’ve built such a flexible schedule,” Frank said.

UW-Stout is a polytechnic university with an emphasis on hands-on training, which is why it was important to have in-person classes, she added.

“We want students to have that experience,” Frank said.

The universities have also made preparations for how to handle any COVID-19 outbreaks on campus and hopefully avoid a shutdown. They already have contact-tracing efforts in place, and they’ve created a quarantine space on campus. They also are making arrangements to have COVID-19 testing for those who are showing symptoms of the virus.

Campus tours will resume next week at UW-Stout, limited to nine students per group, Frank said.

UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls will begin classes Sept. 2, while UW-Stout will begin Sept. 9.

“We haven’t changed our start date,” Frank said. “We haven’t made any plans to change that.”