[ NLN received a first hand report from a Wisconsin worker shortly after the "Cheesehead" Support Rally in New York City on Saturday.
As the drama in Wisconsin intensified, hundreds turned out for the "cheesehead" support rally outside New York's City Hall. A wide variety of unions were represented -- and photographed by Thomas Good. One Teamster was eager to show his support for other union members and enthusiastically voiced his support for the Wobblies -- after he spotted Good's IWW emblem. Several local politicians attended the New York rally. Gerald Nadler, Anthony Weiner, Bill de Blasio, Scott Stringer and Charley Wrangel all spoke in support of the public sector workers in Wisconsin -- workers who are under attack from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Recently, Walker was in the news for another reason -- a reporter from the Buffalo Beast pranked Walker, calling the Governor and identifying himself as David Koch. Walker said a number of interesting things to "Koch" -- he seemed eager to reveal his strategy to eliminate collective bargaining in Wisconsin. "Koch" periodically said, "That's beautiful..." while Walker waxed poetic about keeping a baseball bat in his office (for unruly protesters?) and withholding paychecks from state senators who refuse to return to Madison -- the Democrats' strategy to deny the Republican union-busters a quorum.
Although Democrat lawmakers are staying away from the Capitol Building in Wisconsin, protesters are not -- they have occupied the Rotunda. Madison police appear hesitant to evict their fellow workers, one of whom filed the following report. Joy First is a peace activist living in Madison, WI, and a member of the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance (NCNR), Madison Pledge of Resistance, and Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. First has stood with the protesters in the Capitol and offers her observations here.
Photographs accompanying First's report are from the NYC rally. The images document the empathy New Yorkers feel for Wisconsin's workers but they highlight another issue as well: outrage over the apparent misogyny driving both the effort to defund Planned Parenthood (in the Congress) and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's relentless attacks on teachers. -- Editor ]
MADISON, Wis. — February 28, 2010. The story continues to unfold in Wisconsin. I was at the Capitol last night expecting there would be arrests to get people out, but there were none. The energy level of the people was really high, but remained positive and peaceful.
As you know, large crowds have been sleeping at the Capitol for two weeks now. It is all very organized into a working community. There is an information booth, a family center where parents can go with their children for activities, a first aid center, and even a knitting center. There is tons of food being donated and delivered to the activists there many times a day.
The government has been talking about shutting the building and removing the overnight people for several days now, and it has not happened. But it does seem like the government is trying to gradually shut the people out. For the last few nights, people are no longer allowed to bring sleeping bags and other bedding into the building. There were warnings and rumors about evictions for several nights, but in the end the people have continued to occupy the Capitol 24 hours/day.
Last night though (Sunday Feb. 27) we thought that it was really going to happen and people would be arrested if they didn’t leave, and there were hundreds of people willing to stay. It had been widely publicized in the local media that a Walker appointee in the Dept. of Administration had said the building would be closed at 4:00 pm on Sunday, presumably for cleaning, but it was really to get the people out. I believe this decision was made in close consultation with Walker himself.
My husband, Steve, and I got to the Capitol at 1:45 pm on Sunday and had to stand in line for 20 minutes to get in. They were letting one person in for every two coming out. By 4:00 pm there were about 1000 people outside waiting to get in and they locked the doors. There were maybe about 1-2 thousand people inside the Capitol at that time.
We were expecting that the police would try to evict us and arrest those who refused to leave, as the Walker administration said they would, but it didn’t happen. There were a lot of rumors swirling around. The plan was that those who were going to risk arrest would move up from the ground floor to the first floor and so people moved upstairs.
The police told the people remaining on the ground floor that they had to leave or they would be arrested.
In the center of the Wisconsin Capitol is a huge rotunda with several levels of balconies circling the building, all looking down to the ground floor. As most people gathered on the first floor, we could look over the railing and see that a few people remained on the ground floor and sat down in the center of the rotunda, expecting that they would be arrested.
As we waited to see what would happen the drumming and chanting that have been going on for the last two weeks continued. At around 6:00 we began to hear rumors that we would not be arrested. At that point, the three people in my affinity group discussed it and decided it was important that we stay overnight and continue to exercise our First Amendment rights and hold onto the space. My concerns about leaving were twofold. First, if we left the space, they might not let us back in. I have heard that Ohio is not allowing citizens to have access to their Capitol. I was also concerned that if we left Walker would declare a victory and move forward with his plan.
We were thinking about how to settle in for the night, when we were told their would be an announcement. The Teaching Assistant Association (TAA) from UW-Madison has been doing a lot of the organizing work and I think they were the ones making the announcement at about 8:00 pm. They said that they had made a deal with the police and we would be allowed to stay in the building if we moved to the ground floor – which had just been cleaned – so that the Capitol staff could clean the first floor.
I, along with others in my affinity group, were concerned about this deal. It seemed we were slowly being squeezed out of the building. At one time people were sleeping on and occupying four floors of the building. At this point, we were only allowed on the ground floor and first floor. Now they wanted to confine us to the ground floor. I believe we were there exercising our First Amendment rights and so there was no need to make a deal with the police in order to stay. After some discussion among our affinity group, we decided that we felt our work there was completed for now and that we were not going to spend the night based on what had happened. We had no say in the making of this deal. I’m very happy that the students are there and leading the way. I also believe that it should have been more of a group decision before making a deal with the police.
One of the very positive things the TAA has been doing is to organize nonviolence training in the event that their is an arrest scenario. I have been participating in this. Because of the large crowds and the difficulty of bringing people together to sit through a more formal training, we are wandering through the crowds with a handout and talking informally to individuals and small groups.
I think it is absolutely incredible that for several nights, but especially last night when it was so widely publicized, the police were supposed to evict the people from the Capitol but did not. So, though the administration wants the people out, the police are not willing to arrest us. It seems like this situation makes the governor look powerless.
On my way out, I thanked a couple of officers for not arresting us. One officer said that he didn’t want to arrest us and he is glad we are there. He doesn’t want to go back to 1959. That is the year that WI passed laws for collective bargaining for public employees. Over the last two weeks the police are very friendly with the protesters and most of them seem to be on our side.
However the very bad news is that today there is a large crowd clamoring to get into the Capitol, but that the police are not letting them in. THE CAPITOL IS CURRENTLY CLOSED TO THE PEOPLE. I guess at some point the police have to follow direct orders no matter what they believe. I don’t know what kind of response their will be from the people, but they will not take this without a struggle.
This is about way more than public workers losing their collective bargaining. The “budget repair” bill that we are trying to stop would have a dire effect on Medicaid and public transportation. It would allow the governor to sell public utilities in a no-bid process. (Hmmm. I wonder if the Koch brothers are in the mood to buy any public utilities for a dirt cheap price?) There are many provisions in this bill that would be harmful to the people of the state. At the same time, in January, the WI legislature passed and the governor signed a bill giving tax breaks to the richest people in the state. This is just the beginning. We all know the road where this is ultimately going. I believe we are fighting for our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.
And I believe that the people of Wisconsin are not ready to give up and will continue the struggle. We will see what the next weeks bring. Power to the