Home is Where the Heart(Balloon) Is

Today marks a very special anniversary. On February 19, 2011, Capitol Balloon, a red mylar heart shaped balloon, floated up inside the Wisconsin State Capitol to begin a four and a half month residence under a ledge surrounding the mural ‘”Resources of Wisconsin”.

Heart balloon release 2/19/2011. Photo: Leslie Amsterdam

Hearts play a significant role in the Wisconsin Uprising as February 14, St. Valentine’s day, was the date of one of the first large protests, when the UW  TAA delivered “I Heart UW” cards to Governor Walker.  At the same time, Madison public school teachers created a rally sign covered in red hearts, and “Care about your educators like they care for your child”.  All week long, heart balloons showed up in and around the Capitol and eventually a bunch was released by a young boy in the Rotunda.  A lone balloon survived the  Occupation intact and became a symbol for an entire community of winter soldiers who would look up into the dome on every visit to the Capitol.

Capitol Balloon March 27, 2011

As the protests continued the balloon was serenaded every weekday at noon by Solidarity Sing Along, a group singing peace, social justice, and pro union songs.  Adults from all over the world would come to the Capitol and look up and smile.  School groups would visit  and children would point to the balloon and squeal with delight.  Others followed the balloon on Facebook and Twitter.

On June 30, 2011 the balloon was not in it’s perch at the top of the dome when the capitol opened. Coincidentally, this was the day after the laws resulting from AB10 went into effect.  AB10 is the bill that killed collective bargaining for public sector unions in the State of Wisconsin.Whitney-balloon-resized

Regular visitors to the Capitol were not pleased that their heart shaped friend had been removed at a time when the solidarity was needed more than ever, so a few days later they decided to take matters into their own hands by releasing more heart balloons “to decorate Our House with love”.  It was understood that if one balloon were allowed to remain up in the dome, that was enough love to power an entire movement.  Helium balloons are not allowed at the Wisconsin State Capitol and several individuals were detained and ticketed for bringing the balloons inside.  Volunteers agreed to keep bringing balloons inside the building, even if it meant getting a citation.  Dozens of balloons entered the Capitol and many people were written citations.  One Madisonian received his citation in the mail several days after his visit downtown.  All of the tickets were ultimately dismissed.

Up, up and away July 4, 2011 Photo: Leslie Amsterdam

Love is complicated and difficult to predict.  You never know when you will be bitten by the bug.  Many of us found our voices and our hearts during last winter’s protests.  The one year anniversary of the Occupation of Wisconsin and the beginning of Fitzwalkerstan reminds us all of why we flooded the Capitol grounds together; we did it for love.  We love our brothers and sisters, our families, our progressive traditions, open and transparent government.  We love our Northwoods and Lake Superior, clean air and water.  We love the Green Bay Packers, publicly owned with union representation.  Most of all, we love  Wisconsin.  We have spent the last year of our lives doing everything possible to save our beloved home, in essence, saving ourselves.  We are all in this together and whenever we get the chance, we look up into the dome of the Capitol as a community and collectively affirm that there is still a balloon up in Our House.  Home is where the heart is. Whose heart balloon?  Everyone’s heart balloon.

February 19, 2012 Photo: Leslie Amsterdam

February 19, 2012 Photo: Leslie Amsterdam

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17 Comments on “Home is Where the Heart(Balloon) Is”

  1. Jim Mueller February 20, 2012 at 3:21 am #

    Thank you having a wonderful human heart and lots and
    lots of Mylar ones with which to keep love in the Capitol.
    Thank you for sustaining the “winter soldiers” with hearts, food, jobs, bail money and experienced perspective when everyone except the participants of the Solidarity Sing Along and Second Floor Signs had left.
    And thank for allowing me to be part of the Balloon Brigade.



    • leslie February 23, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      Awwww, what a lovely note. the pleasure is all mine, Jim. Glad to have you aboard the ❤ balloon express.

  2. Genie Ogden February 20, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    Wonderful article. Thank you, Leslie, for keeping the heart goddess happy and our movement alive.

    • leslie February 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm #

      It’s totally my pleasure, Genie. You were the one who pointed out the ❤ balloon goddess to me and it makes perfect sense. She does protect us from evil!!!!!!!!!!! ❤

  3. Kevin Corkhill February 20, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Are you sure this balloon didn’t start it’s life in the capitol on February 18th as part of a bunch of balloons that held up a sign that read “KILL THE BILL”?
    Check out this sequence of pictures taken on the 18th is your balloon one of these??

    • leslie February 20, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Anything is possible, we will look more closely at our photos of the dome from the 19 to see if your bunch was still there before the others were released that evening. Our ongoing research with Facilities Managers suggests that any balloons touching the mural were immediately removed do that they wouldn’t harm the murals and bunches of balloons are easier to recover. However, it really doesn’t matter when the original went up, as my essay was meant to honor the love that keeps a balloon up in the dome since Capitol balloon came down. Solidarity! Love your photos!

    • Kevin Corkhill February 20, 2012 at 11:51 pm #
      • leslie amsterdam February 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

        I apologize if my essay offended you or if perhaps my date was incorrect. My project is about love, and I will make certain not to confuse the two situations in the future. I looked at your photo from the 19th and the solo red balloon is not in the spot where Capitol balloon ended up. However, it doesnt really matter, your photos are awesome and my book isn’t about a date or a person, it’s about the heart and soul of Wisconsin.

      • Kevin Corkhill February 24, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

        Leslie I loved your article and only thought to add my thought. Perhaps it was selfish? Any way I found your article an excellent expression of the spirit at the capital last year!


      • leslie amsterdam February 24, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

        Awesome 🙂

        The spirit continues today, please join us whenever you can. Bring your camera!

  4. Bill Dunn February 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I heart Leslie and all of you who come to the People’s House to peaceably assemble and lobby as citizens for open government instead of backroom corporate deals to benefit the WMC owners’ union.

    • leslie February 23, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

      I will never forget the day of the tree lighting ceremony when you showed up with your shiny red ❤ mobile. It's random acts of kindness like that that keep all of us going during those dark days. So grateful to have met you and glad to see you most every day. Solidarity, my brother. Forward ❤

  5. Beverly Skelton February 20, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    The love in your heart and the heart on a string you gave me on Feb. 14, 2012 will live on in my heart and the one on the string I will keep forever. Thank-you, Leslie.

    • leslie February 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

      My dear, the pleasure is all mine. I loved seeing you on our anniversary and I’m glad that you found a ❤ that day. It's all about the love and the people who believe in the ❤ balloon goddess! We are all in this together ❤

  6. Ashford Wyrd February 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    ❤ all over the place. Leslie, you have been one of the strongest advocates for solidarity, and for the love that fuels our revolutionary spirit -such as it is. Thank you

    • leslie February 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm #

      It’s because I get to hang out with awesome revolutionaries like yourself!!!!!!Super pleased to have you around, even if it’s only some days. I will take any Ash that I can get ❤

  7. Morethan Juan March 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    Awesome tribute!

    My eyes are full of tears. Never has a balloon meant so much to me. Never have I been as inspired by the courage, fortitude and LOVE of the people of Wisconsin!

    I shared this link on facebook, today. Can you tell me if the red heart balloon facebook profile still exists? I searched & searched but couldn’t find it.

    Thank you, so much, for telling this story!

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