Friday, February 25, 2011

Another week of protests...

So much to write about, and so little free time!

Here's what happens when you bring your anti-budget bill sign on your bus commute in Madison:
1) strangers driving down the street stop and offer to give you a ride downtown
2) people jump up and offer you their seat on a crowded bus
3) people in cars and bikes honk their horns/ring their bicycle bells in support.

Okay, so #1 and 2 each happened once to me this week; #3's totals were two car honks, and one bicycle bell ringing. And I live in a neighborhood with a lot of state workers. Nevertheless, all incidents were awesome! (For the record, my sign says "We [heart] our parks, and the public employees who maintain them.")

I went to a concert headlined by Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine) on Monday night. It was in support of the protests. I don't think I'd heard a RATM song before in my life. The crowd was pro-union, but it was a younger one than I've been seeing at the Capitol, and had more men in it. One of my favorite parts of the concert was at the end, when all four of the bands/musicians played "This Land Is Your Land" and asked the audience to sing the chorus at the top of their lungs. They sang all the verses, including my favorites:

"As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me."

This is my favorite patriotic song. It was awesome to sing this with 5,000 other people. Another highlight of the concert was Morello's comments to the effect that "What I'm seeing here in Madison right now is the world of my dreams." I feel proud and humbled by that statement. And I agree with it. I am continually amazed at the peacefulness and joy at the Capitol. It's not mindless joy; people know what's going on. And it's not manic, frenzied joy, though with the salary cuts public employees are facing, it'd be understandable. Most of us don't want to be doing this, but there's a sense that, while we're here, we might as well have fun!

People from different walks of life are living together--some literally--at the Capitol. The way protestors have organized the Capitol is amazing. There are food stations, an information station, a family area, a medical area. The TAA organizes crews to clean up the Capitol. If you want to testify at the Assembly hearing, there are volunteers there explaining how you register, telling you how long the wait might be, and what to expect in the hearing room. There are paper directional signs taped up around the building, pointing to bathrooms, hearing rooms, and so on. There are signs--by protestors--spelling out the rules for staying overnight: no alcohol or drugs, quiet time after a certain hour, etc. There are corners of the Capitol where they're holding dances! Tuesday night I saw a violinist standing on a kind of balcony on the second floor, playing along with the music coming from a boom box. Some of the overnighters have air mattresses as well as sleeping bags. Students do homework there; TAs do grading. The K-12 teachers organized a "grade-in" one morning. When organizers ask for quiet, the crowd quiets down. People hold their fingers up in the "peace" sign to ask people to quiet down (I think that's a trick from the K-12 teachers).

And nobody's yelling at each other. They're respectful of each other, and supportive of each other. If you slip on the ice, someone steps forward to grab you. People stand patiently in lines. They don't push forward to get a better view of anything.

I've seen significantly fewer signs on State Street the past couple of days. What I do see a lot of, especially today, are high school wrestlers, cheerleaders, and their families from around the state. Madison is hosting the state wrestling tournament, the start of tournament season here. That's a season that deserves its own entry sometime!

I have definitely seen more trade union folks at the Capitol and on State Street. There was a significant presence of folks from the United Food and Commercial Workers at a Tuesday evening protest. I noticed some people from the Communications Workers of America last night. This is good, because most K-12 teachers are back at work. They made up a huge part of the crowds last week.

The presence of protestors in the Capitol has been smaller too--but there's a reason. Evidently last weekend, some structural engineers took a look at the Capitol, to see how much weight the different floors could hold. As a result, the police closed off two of the four public entrances, and for a few days, they only let a certain number of people in the building. So you'd have to line up to enter the Capitol, and, as a certain number of people left the building, the same number could enter. But in addition to the people inside the Capitol, there are always people with signs walking around the Capitol, and around the larger Capitol Square. But there's definitely been a gradual move in restricting access to the Capitol, and to moving the protestors out overnight. I will admit that, after about 10 days of people living in an office building/museum, there's a slightly rank smell developing in some areas of the building. I'm okay with shutting the building down ONE NIGHT, for cleaning. But I hope the occupation is only briefly interrupted.

There are constantly rumors about when the building is open or closed; what parts of the Capitol are open or closed to the public; whether the Capitol will be closed to protestors...It's also hard to pin down exact times of major events. For instance, today we'd heard that Saturday there was going to be a rally at noon (sponsored by plus another rally at 3 p.m. (unions). We'd heard of various nationally-known musicians coming to play, but weren't sure when they'd play. Now it's pretty clear that there's a concert at 1 p.m., followed by speakers at about 3 p.m.

To my immense relief, I saw lots of new phone-bankers at the TAA office today. I hope and think people are realizing that we have to work in the districts. I'm so happy that a couple of other unions are doing phone-banking at Madison offices. All last week, the only organization I could find doing phone-banking was the TAA. Obviously, some people were organizing canvasses and meetings in towns and cities around Madison, because as phone-bankers, that's what we were telling people about! But there are so many people in Madison who are supportive of this cause. We need to harness that support and energy. Plus, the TAA is on the second story of a building with a steep staircase. I know people who wanted to phone-bank, but couldn't get up to the TAA office.

Today I did a couple of short calling stints. We were calling people in southwestern Wisconsin, in the district of Republican Senator Dale Schultz, who's considered a swing vote. I can say that, of the three districts I've phone-banked, I've liked Schultz's the best. I've called in Fitzgerald's and Olsen's, and I'd get more unpleasant (in number and in tenor) responses. Today I got several very positive responses. In my rap (such a 60's term, but that's what we call it), I say I'm calling about the budget repair bill, and I ask people if their familiar with it. I'm amazed when people say "not really." It could be a way to sound me out, to find out what side I'm on, but sometimes I think they really haven't been following it. But why should I be surprised?? I'm a public employee, working less than a mile from the Capitol. Of course it consumes me, but others have quite full lives of their own, thank you very much. I know that even as union members and sympathizers are up in arms, other businesses are lobbying the legislature on their own issues, on other bills floating around out there.

I'll close, for now, with one site I'm recommending, from the TAA: Defend Wisconsin. I truly believe that's what we're doing.


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