MADISON: My voice is hoarse and raspy after five successive days at the Wisconsin State Capitol protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s “budget despair” bill, and although I’m tired and sore, I’m very inspired. I’ve watched as crowds grew each day from 20,000 on Tuesday to an estimated 70,000 on Saturday, although it seemed to many that it was more like 100,000. A Tea Party counter rally on Saturday drew only a few thousand, their shrill accusations and denigrations often drowned out by chants of “Kill the Bill”, “Recall Walker”, “Walker’s a weasel, not a Badger” and “Don’t drink the Tea”.
It’s been an truly moving week of growing solidarity as Wisconsinites joined together to reject Gov. Scott Walker’s harsh agenda. Those standing in opposition ranged from very politically astute young people to seniors in walkers and wheelchairs. There were people standing up against MedicAid cuts, and union workers from both the public and private sectors. There wee nurses and doctors. There were so many families with children. Union firefighters exempted from the bill were a strong presence supporting protesters every day. I’ve linked a video from Friday of union firefighters leading a procession with bagpipers through the Capitol. Officers who provided security during protest came back off-duty to support unions and oppose bill provisions which would strip the right of state workers to collectively bargain together.
Wisconsin gained many new progressive leaders as individuals stepped up and organized, led chants, formed car pools, made signs, and generally worked together to fill the Capitol and the Capitol Square every day. Even today, in the midst of a snowstorm, the presence continues.
I have never been more proud of Wisconsin this week as I’ve watched this truly historic grass roots uprising unfold. Just a week ago many were feeling lost and alone as Walker’s agenda marched forward, like a bad Godzilla movie. But people then found an outlet for the despair, insecurity and anger they’ve been feeling when they came together to stand in opposition.
Suddenly what was happening in Madison was national, then international news. Experiencing these protests close up has been amazing. I’ve not only seen many old friends standing up, but I’ve made new ones as a whole state suddenly has something in common – a sincere disgust at the draconian agenda being pressed by Walker and his legislative allies, the Fitzgerald brothers.
I was in the Capitol rotunda when it was announced that the Senate did not have a quorum. 14 Democratic lawmakers had headed to Illinois rather than be forced to participate as Walker steamrolled the people of the state over and over with each quickly passed, little debated bill. It was a moment I will never forget.
By the end of the week, more and more Wisconsinites knew the roots of Walker’s agenda. They now know who the Koch Brothers are, and they had educated themselves on the facts and understood that the budget despair bill was a scam and had nothing to do with belt tightening and everything to do with grabbing power and taking away rights. The fact that Saturday’s Tea Party rally drew only a couple thousand underscored that point. It must have felt a little bit lonely in their small area as thousands and thousands of people marched around the Capitol hour after hour.
And it now extends far beyond the bill. A number of recalls are in the works. While Gov. Walker and most elected officials can’t be recalled until after serving a year of their term, eight Republican senators elected in 2008 have served more than a year and can be recalled. So while Walker recall supporters must bide their time, these 8 GOP lawmakers are now far game for a recall.
A new political movement was born in Wisconsin this week, and it was typically Wisconsin. As the Capitol Times noted in an article about the Saturday protests:
Mostly, however, the crowds seemed to give off a unique Wisconsin vibe. It seemed at times equal parts sporting event and political rally. Lots of Badger red and at least one sign that scolded, “Hey, Walker. This is not how you Bucky.” – “Opposing sides face off at Capitol in biggest day of protests yet”, Capital Times, Feb. 20, 2011.
Stay tuned as this story continues to develop here in Madison just blocks from where I write this…
See my slideshow of photos from Saturday in the link in the sidebar!