An overview of the Mifflin Street Block Party: A political statement.

Disclaimer: The following blog post is not a reflection of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opinion on any of the topics or subjects discussed below.

By Braden Longstreth

Writing as a senior on the eve of the annual Mifflin block party, I know plenty of people who plan to spend their Saturday drinking the day away between Dayton St and W Washington Ave. Yet many of the students who will be spending their day at Madison’s largest annual “darty” are unaware that the event started as a political protest.

A very crowded block of Mifflin Street
A cover photo for a Facebook event page for Mifflin St Block Party, showing the 400 and 500 blocks of W Mifflin St in Downtown Madison.

In 1969, Richard Nixon had just become president of the United States, the Vietnam War was at its peak, and on W Mifflin St in downtown Madison, a grocery store was closing. In response, residents of the Mifflin Area created the Mifflin Street Community Co-op to fill its space. The co-op quickly became not only a place for local residents to buy food but also a community space in the heart of the leftist counterculture movement in Madison.[1] In the spring of 1969, members of the co-op gathered outside the store for a celebration, yet the gathering was quickly met with resistance from local police.

UW-Madison campus was a hotbed for protests against the Vietnam War, and you can read more about campus protests against the war, including the Mifflin block party on our website here. Mayor Bill Dyke (1969-1973), a conservative, was seen as the embodiment of the political sphere of America that perpetuated the culture that allowed for the Vietnam war to continue, and he was marked as an enemy of the student population. Dyke mobilized the city’s police force over the course of three days throughout the city to put down the party, spanning from Langdon St on Campus, down Bassett St and to Mifflin. Dozens were arrested, including Paul Soglin, who would become mayor in 1973, defeating incumbent Bill Dyke. [3]

A black and white photo of a very crowded block street.
The first Mifflin Block Party in 1969 – Wisconsin Historical Society.

As the years continued and the Vietnam War ended, the Mifflin Block Party took on a different reputation. For a period, the event became an event sponsored by the city, often featuring food trucks, poetry recitations, and live music and cover charges, similar to Madison’s annual Halloween party, Freakfest. Yet when violent outbursts occurred, the view of the party soured, as without the political drive it had at its inception, the party had a more negative and “fratty” connotation. In 1995, a riot occurred, with revelers setting fires, yet there does not seem to have been a political connotation to this event. [4]

The 2011 block party marked somewhat of a turning point in the event. The event was no longer monitored by campus police, with municipal police instead patrolling the area. It had lost institutionalized support, and some were starting to call for a reexamination of the party following three stabbings. Paul Soglin, who was once again mayor in 2012, and had been arrested at the first iteration of the event, said, “That’s my goal precisely, to keep downsizing it every year to get to the point where there will be no block party.”[5] Yet college students, in a renewed act of defiance against the mayor and the police, continually set out to keep the tradition going, even a decade later.

After 50 consecutive years of the Mifflin St block party, 2020 was the first year that it was absent. Being only six weeks into the COVID-19-related quarantine, police told residents and landlords that gatherings would not be tolerated. [6] For once, on the last Saturday of April, the streets of Madison were deserted. In 2021, the party returned. While attendance was lower due to the pandemic, the party was scrutinized after videos circulated of students dancing on and destroying several cars. Now, with over 95% of the student population vaccinated, an entire year of entirely in-person classes, and no mask mandates in the city or university, Mifflin is expected to see its largest showing yet in the 2020s.

[1] Molly Noble, Exploring Cooperatives: Economic Democracy and Community Development in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Chapter 3, Food for the Revolution: The Story of the Mifflin Street Community Cooperative, p. 39

[2] Maraniss, David, They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967 (2003) ISBN 0-7432-1780-2 ISBN 0-7432-6104-6

[3] Johnson, Dirk (September 10, 2011). “From Firebrand to a Bit of a Grump, a ‘Hippie Mayor’ Evolves”. The New York Times. Madison, Wisconsin. Retrieved May 2, 2020.

[4] Pamela E. Oliver, Daniel J. Myers, “How Events Enter the Public Sphere: Conflict, Location, and Sponsorship in Local Newspaper Coverage of Public Events”, p. 41, American Journal of Sociology Volume 105, Number 1 July 1999,

[5] Sandy Cullen, “Mifflin Street Block Party: Authorities ‘wish it would go away,’” April 9, 2012, The Cap Times,

[6] Nick Viviani, “Madison police issue Mifflin St. Block Party reminders, don’t mention COVID-19”, April 28, 2022, WTMV, NBC,