ABATE OF WISCONSIN
“Madness, Mayhem and Mysticism”
1977 a crucial year in our history
Five years had passed since the formation of the Concerned Motorcyclists of Wisconsin (CMW), forerunner to ABATE. The bikers of the state attended five helmet law protest rallies, lobbied their legislators, testified at numerous public hearings, spoke to the media, appeared on TV and radio news shows, and engaged in massive letter writing campaigns. We were so close to repeal we could taste it. Time was running out for the legislative session, and although our repeal bill passed in the Senate, the Assembly had not voted on its version. Dick Smith was worried it would stall, so he called for one final, massive rally in an attempt to sway the Assembly to vote on our repeal bill. ABATE of Wisconsin was very busy working with the WBBA toward that end, but we were also watching the events surrounding the formation of our national organization. Easyriders wanted to form the national in California, and each state would send a portion of membership dues to them. We supported a different national, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and staffed by Fuzzy Davey.
Meanwhile, a new group formed and was welcomed by ABATE. Sue Menard, a member of the Free Riders MC in Eau Claire, started the Alliance of Women Bikers, a group dedicated to serving the needs of women who rode. They were very influential, and played an important part later in our history, helping to defeat the first attempt to pass a RICO style law in Wisconsin.
We couldn’t attend the large meeting in Lake Perry, Kansas, tasked with deciding where our national office would be located. It was being held on the same day as our “End the Helmet Hoax” protest rally. We sent our vote Not to support the California national, by proxy with Ed Armstrong, ABATE of Illinois, which was also against the California national.
The work of staging the huge rally on September 4, 1977, was under way. The WBBA, along with its charter clubs, once again put in the man hours in Madison, securing permits, organizing speakers, meeting with the police, and planning the logistics of hosting an event that would bring over 50,000 to the state capitol. Anyone who wasn’t at this event cannot begin to imagine the excitement, adrenalin and exuberance that was oozing out of our bodies. ABATE members and supporters staged at Brookfield Square, a shopping center on Moorland Road, New Berlin, just north of the I-94 corridor. We were given police support to enter the freeway, and then we were on our way, all 2,000 plus riders on a variety of bikes, about 75 percent or more of us without helmets. The State Patrol and Sheriff’s departments decided not to interfere with this pack of bikes that stretched out for miles.
We entered Warner Park in Madison to cheers of enthusiasm. Due to the size of this event, there were several other staging areas outside of Madison to accommodate the mass of motorcyclists gathering. The coordination of this rally was magnificent, and all the riders converged on the capitol at the same time. Parking this many bikes was another spectacle, but was aptly handled by the volunteers, although it took well over an hour to accomplish once the bikes rolled in, all 50,000 of them.
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It appeared to be madness to the casual observer, but it played out like a well-orchestrated ballet of motion and sound. Those riders who arrived early were treated to extra fun. The Freedom House on Williamson Street was the site of a Friday night party, hosted by ABATE and the WBBA. There were more than a few kegs of beer tapped that night, while the Mickey Larsen Band entertained the crowd of clubs and independents. Robert “Bob Bitchin” Lipkin was there from California. The editor of several motorcycle magazines at the time, Bitchin’ based his first novel on this helmet rally. “A Brotherhood of Outlaws,” by Robert Lipkin, copyright 1979 by Bentree House Publishing. He wrote about the rally, and even included Dick Smith and Tony Sanfelipo in the book, although their names were changed to fictitious characters. Although fiction, Bitchin’s description of the party were accurate. The street was barricaded for motorcycle traffic only. The Freedom House was a sea of denim and leather, music drifting out of the club, accompanied by a familiar pungent odor, dancers flowing out into the street in their ritual tribute to freedom.
At mid-night, a large group gathered in the street in a torch-lit procession past the Smith Brothers cycle shop on the way to the capitol steps. There, an impromptu celebration broke out, complete with music and dancers on the east entrance steps. Someone, perhaps Smith, untied the rope on a flagpole, and a rag-filled dummy with Governor Lucey’s name on it was hoisted to the top, to be left throughout the rally.
On Saturday afternoon, a day before the rally, Tony Pan was summoned to Smith’s shop and given five more dummy effigies. Representing the legislators most against us in our repeal efforts, they wore signs identifying them; Plewa, Bablich, Berger, Risser and Adelman. He hung these five from the tallest oak tree near the east entrance of the capitol, where the rally would take place.
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On Sunday, it was complete organized chaos. Tens of thousands of motorcycles descended on the capitol and speeches, cheers, a few burning helmets, and one brave soul on a trike climbing the steps near the speaker’s podium, brought thunderous cheers from those assembled. During the speeches, unknown to the crowd, the governor and legislators hung overhead silently swaying in the breeze. When they were pointed out by Smith, the sound of approval by the bikers was deafening. Yes, we were politically incorrect and proud of it.
We had the biggest rally in history and repeal was ours. Or so we thought. As feared, the legislative session ended without a vote. Timing got the better of us, but our rally certainly caught the attention of the lawmakers. It was promised that our repeal bill would be the first order of business taken up in the spring when the legislature reconvened. We were cautiously optimistic as the September chill descended on us.
Our celebration ended abruptly when news of a murder in Milwaukee fell on us like an elephant sitting on our chests. Milwaukee biker and ABATE supporter, Roger Lyons, was murdered. He died while in police custody under suspicious circumstances. This story attracted national attention and writers from several motorcycle publications covered the story, including Easyriders sending two writers/photographers to cover the story. 1977 was a roller coaster of emotions. Hearings, rallies, appointments, promises of a veto, record attendance at the last rally, and death of a friend. Some things I would never change, others I can’t, but wish I could.
Coming soon; the story behind the Lyons murder and the prison show that inspired other shows around the country.
Source: ABATE OF WISCONSIN