The howling, early-winter wind and roar of afternoon rush-hour traffic on the Kennedy Expressway muffle the sound of the cars that beep at Veronica Wolski every few seconds.
From her perch on a pedestrian bridge over the westbound lanes, Wolski never fails to become practically ecstatic at every single driver who acknowledges her while motoring toward O’Hare Airport.
“They love seeing someone tell the truth,” Wolski says.
Twice a day, every day for the past year and a half, she has stood on the bridge. On the chain-link fence that borders it above the expressway traffic speeding by, she posts an ever-changing array of signs that beckon drivers below with stridently left-leaning messages.
And she makes sure to snap a picture of any car whose driver has honked in solidarity, then posts the photos on Facebook.
In these divisive times, her messages seem to be reaching many frustrated commuters in blue Chicago — and beyond.
One Sunday, Wolski was protesting the Republican tax bill in Washington: “BILLIONAIRES DON’T NEED TAX BREAKS.”
I posted a photo of Wolski and that sign on Twitter. Hundreds of people across the country soon retweeted and liked the post.
Wolski, 60, a married mother of one who lives in Jefferson Park, says she believes that being on the bridge is the best thing she could do to make a better future for her teenage daughter.
“This journey began because of Bernie Sanders,” she says of the candidate who lost the Democratic nomination to eventual 2016 general-election loser Hillary Clinton. “He told us to get involved. This is something I can do.”
Wolski says she wouldn’t run for office herself because opponents would dredge up her past, when she was an alcoholic, though she says that on Thanksgiving day she marked 27 years of sobriety.
“I was wild,” she says over a mug of black coffee at an old-school family restaurant on the Northwest Side after an hour-long afternoon session on the bridge near the Gladstone Park Metra station.
She considers herself a Democrat. But she became so angry over what she calls the “rigged primary” last year that she nearly voted for Donald Trump. She ended up writing in Sanders, she says.
Acting on her convictions by being out on the bridge is tough. With the windchill in the teens on a recent afternoon, Wolski wore four shirts under her coat, long johns, jeans, a hat and a scarf.
She often relies on cold-weather gear donated by fellow Bernie bros and sisters she connects with on social media. Someone from California sent her a $150 pair of gloves. Electric boot inserts and a rubber rug help insulate her from the cold of the concrete bridge deck.
She estimates that it takes her 10 to 18 hours to paint each sign at home. But first she’s careful to refine her message.
“Unless traffic is really backed up, I have five to 10 seconds for people to read my message, register it and have them respond back,” she says. “My message has to be as direct and understandable as possible.”
The sign protesting the Republican tax bill was among her most popular, Wolski says, based on the reaction from drivers on the Kennedy.
The other messages that complete her personal top-5 list:
• “NO MORE WARS”
• “PASS THE DAMN BUDGET”
• “WE’RE STILL WITH YOU BERNIE”
• “STAND WITH STANDING ROCK”
Wolski says she plans to keep doing what she’s been doing until “2020, at least.”
If you don’t see her for a few days, it might be because she plans to go to another bridge — over the Stevenson Expressway — to support 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa’s campaign for Congress.
“This is a revolution,” she says. “And I’m a patriot.”