Wauwatosa Mayor Kathy Ehley wore jeans to work Wednesday.
So did Tosa East High Principal Nick Hughes. And Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. And Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
They encouraged their employees to do the same – in Tosa, all those not in uniform, Ehley said.
All because Tosa East High itself also wore jeans – 1,050 pairs of them, covering the campus fence to call startling attention to Denim Day, a day to remember and support survivors of rape.
McKenna Nerone promised that her senior community service project would draw attention, and it did. Drivers on Wauwatosa Avenue slowed and stared. Those who were expecting something – perhaps not sure what – honked in appreciation of McKenna's work.
For weeks, McKenna has been collecting blue jeans. Each pair on the fence stands for a woman raped – one every two minutes – during just the hours McKenna spends in school over a week.
Blue jeans are the symbol of Denim Day because of an Italian rape case in which the defendant was freed – because a judge said the victim's jeans were too tight and therefore she could not have removed them unwillingly.
The outpouring of support for McKenna's display was astonishing.
"This isn't all," McKenna said. "I've got 700 or 800 more."
She has a full day ahead after a long night. McKenna and a hardy group of friends started hanging jeans at about 11:30 p.m., she said, and finished at 2:30 a.m.
"We had about 24 people working for awhile," she said. "It looked pretty powerful even in the dark, but now in the daylight – wow."
She was back at the school at 6 a.m., as bright as she could be on little sleep, but far from done.
Mayor Ehley arrived at 7:30 to read a proclamation declaring April 24 Denim Day in Wauwatosa. At 9:15, McKenna had a news conference scheduled with Barrett. Then she would be off to Madison for another with Van Hollen.
But while all the official attention is gratifying and important to her cause, McKenna found the most moving moments in her effort surprising and personal.
There was the young woman who donated jeans and said she had been raped at knifepoint three years before, at 17. She had never told anyone. Because of McKenna's courage to speak up for her, she said, she was going to tell her parents what had happened.
And then there was the Tosa shopowner.
McKenna's mom, Kimberly, called it the most moving experience of all.
"We stopped in and McKenna asked if she would put a poster up," Kimberly said, "and the woman said no, she didn't like to have things in her windows. I just pulled on McKenna and said, 'Come on, let's go.'"
"But McKenna said, 'Well, can I at least tell you my story?' And she said, 'OK, tell me your story.'
"She began to cry. And she said, 'I'm one of them.' A rape survivor.
"She said, 'Sure, I'll put up your poster, and I'll collect jeans for you. A week later she called, and we went to pick them up. She had a Suburban full of jeans."
There were many more. Women who "came out" to McKenna as quiet survivors, overcoming a wholly unnecessary shame at being a helpless victim, suddenly realizing there was a voice speaking for them.
McKenna said the experience of her Denim Day project will stay with her throughout her life – but don't expect it to become who she is. One lesson in this is that someone in any walk of life can take a stand to right a wrong.
"A lot of people ask me if I'm going to become a social worker," McKenna said. "But no, I'm not. I'm going to Hamline University in (St. Paul) Minnesota, and I'll be studying biology and Spanish, and taking pre-dental.
"I'm going to be an orthodontist."