Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, said Julius Ceasar, and anybody who’s studied Latin can tell you that phrase means “All Gaul is divided into three parts”. It’s a familiar early Latin lesson including a bit of history concerning France (Gaul).
Many of my friends who’ve only lived in southern Wisconsin are amused when I say Wisconsin is divided into three parts. Roughly speaking, by my estimation, the dividing lines are Highway 21 and Highway 29. Madison and Milwaukee are south of Highway 21; between Highway 21 and Highway 29 lie the Fox Cities (Green Bay south to Oshkosh) and Eau Claire - LaCrosse is right on the line; and north of Highway 29 there’s the huge expanse of “northern Wisconsin”.
The folks who live south of Highway 21 are, as far as I’m concerned, the most “liberal” of all the Wisconsinites. Between Highway 21 and Highway 29 folks are quite a bit more conservative in their politics. And north of Highway 29 - well, let’s just say that it’s a different breed of cat that lives up there. Rugged individuals who take the phrase “property rights” pretty seriously and think those of us down here in Madison are one step away from being commies.
My perspective on this comes from being born and raised in the Fox Cities, and while I consider myself an independent politically, my family members who still live up there think I’m a huge lefty. I even lived for years in that lefty loony bin of southern California, for heaven’s sake!
Crivitz is a small town off Highway 141, well north of the Highway 29 dividing line. They hold the American flag to be a sacred symbol of their nation, and they don’t like people messin’ with it, especially around the 4th of July. Just before the 4th this year, a Crivitz businessman, Vito Congine Jr., started flying the flag upside-down outside his restaurant.
To most folks, flying the flag upside-down is a symbol of distress, and that’s the message Vito was trying to send to the Village Fathers in Crivitz. Vito spent 200 grand to remodel a run-down joint into a nice Italian family restaurant, and the Village Board now doesn’t want to give him a liquor license. Vito says it could mean bankruptcy, so that’s his distress, and his reason for flying the flag upside-down.
According to the Associated Press, a few hours before the annual 4th of July parade in Crivitz, four local cops went to Vito’s restaurant and removed the flag, acting under “orders” from Marinette County DA Allen Brey. The county sheriff, Jim Kanikula, admitted it’s not illegal to fly the flag upside-down, but said it was “making the locals angry“.
Village President John Deschane is 60, an Army vet who served in VietNam. He said “if he wants to protest, let him protest, but find a different way to do it”. Vito, who’s 46 and a Marine veteran who was called back to serve in Iraq in 2004, said “it’s pretty bad when I go and fight a tyrannical government, and I come home to find it right here at my front door”.
The parade went off as scheduled, and the flag was returned to Vito the next day. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin is more than a little bit interested in Vito’s case, and is preparing legal action against the village for violating Vito’s First Amendment rights.
Of course, the Wisconsin ACLU office is in Milwaukee, with a branch here in Madison. They’ll face a challenge in explaining to the good folks of Crivitz that the First Amendment is there to protect UNPOPULAR speech. Popular speech doesn’t need much protection, north of Highway 29 or anywhere else in the nation.