I had no idea what to expect at the Madison Capitol square on Saturday. There was so little Twin Cities media coverage after last weeks massive rally that I thought protests might all be over. Wrong! Somehow ‘only’ 30 -40k citizens converging on the State Capitol in brisk winter conditions to speak out against Governor Scott Walker’s plan to curtail collective bargaining has become ‘ordinary’, and not significantly newsworthy.
Every out-state protester, marching with a sign identifying their home town, got a cheer from the sidewalk. I arrived shortly after noon, and you could easily cross the Capitol square streets. By the height of the rally, about 2pm, the eight city blocks making up the square, sidewalk to sidewalk, were an impassable marching mass of signs, shouts, and drum beats. Two speaker stages on opposite sides of the Capitol gathered thousands in addition, to hear speakers and musicians. These protests, ranging from a midweek low of 3-5 thousand and swelling to 30-100 thousand on weekends, have been sustained for over three weeks now. I talked to one who had taken their first day of rest from the protests on Friday, and was back on Saturday! A peek into the Capitol building itself verified two weeks of occupation was not damaging to the building, yet another distraction from the issues facing Wisconsin.
I was photographing the Fire Fighters, staging to begin a fresh march, when the Michael Moore buzz hit. Supporting their banner, Michael Moore joined the march that led to the King Street podium. As they moved, you could hear the news of his participation travel like a telegraph. By the time Moore’s speech began, I was crushed in place by the crowd. His message was classic Moore, elaborating on the media manipulation in reporting, and the root cause of financial crisis in the accelerating wealth inequities within the United States. Moore noted, recent attacks on labor rights have aroused the ‘sleeping giant known as the working people’, th e ‘earth is shaking”, and ‘We have had it!” . The crowd roared, joined in the raise fist gesture of solidarity, and interrupted him several times with chanting, “Shame”. His presence fired up and rejuvenated the chilled crowd.
Listen to the complete Michael Moore Speech
Compared to anti-war protests 40 years ago, the intensity and participation of so many, and such a diverse cross-section of Wisconsin, created a completely different feeling. These people are angry, united, and committed. Support for the Wisconsin 14 (those Democratic Senators in Il) was vocal and on signs everywhere. It was plain in the first few minutes that the Governor’s rumor campaign of doubt, misrepresentation, and lies was meant for those who only watched the 10pm news and to manipulate public opinion. These people are here for the long haul.
The expectation that protesting voters will get tired, accept the governor’s Budget and Budget Repair Bill, and this will all just ‘settle down’, did not seem justified by what I saw. Whatever the eventual result, the memory of this perceived betrayal of working people will be etched in voters minds for years to come.
An AFT (American Federation of Teachers) member felt numbers were down from last weeks 100 thousand in part because over 500 organizers were out coordinating the recall petition start-up. Late in the day, an estimate of 50 thousand signatures already collected the first day was floated to the crowd. As this campaign to recall the eight vulnerable Republican Senators progresses, the threats to the ‘Fab 14‘ will likely accelerate. Only senators with a year experience can be recalled. The newly elected Governor is also protected from recall by this rule.
When I returned home, the TC media reporting, was shamefully inadequate. A brief mention of un-tallied ‘thousands’ in Madison with footage from when the crowd was just beginning to form. Contrast this was a minute of attention given the ‘Pro Walker Bus’ stop in Hudson that night. It gathered a few supporters, and an equal number of protesters (under a hundred).
This “Walker’ bus, paid for by Americans for Prosperity, was touring out-state Wisconsin towns, and returned for a rally in Madison on Sunday. This bus tour was media portrayed as ‘news’ indicative of the Wisconsin Governor’s ‘broad’ state wide support. Protesters consider it a last-ditch effort to create the ” illusion of grass-roots support“ for the Governor. Americans for Prosperity is a Virginia-based group launched in 2004 with money from David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers whose financial support of Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and alleged close ties to him have become part of the protest narrative.
Sunday thousands again continued protesting at the State Capitol grounds, as a rally for Governor Walker took place inside the Alliance Energy Center. It drew about 600 people, the largest turnout on the 10-city tour. Even event organizers acknowledged protesters outside the Center were more numerous that the supporters within, even as a secondary protest rally.
I came away from this Madison visit knowing this is primarily a labor, financial, and human rights issue. Broad based and not particularly or uniquely Pagan. In the interviews to follow you’ll hear the additional concerns Pagans express about what the future for them may look like, depending on the outcome.
(News Flash from Editor: I just received a Senate update letter from my WI State Senator, one of the ‘Fab 14′. Senator Bob Jauch details his experience [Click to read .rtf file] in contradiction to Governor Walkers public news conference statements, recounting his dedication to negotiation and compromise widely publicized today on national media.)