“Something stinks in Wisconsin, and it’s not the cheese”

The sea of people continued to flow most of the day in Madison, Wisconsin. Reports claimed 85,000 to 100,000 people congregated at the state capitol Saturday, March 12, to protest the anti-bargaining bill that the state’s GOP passed this past week and Governor Scott Walker signed on March 10. I got there the night before to take part in helping make history. I stayed with my good friend Tony Prince and his fiancé Mayra, who is working on her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The next morning Tony—who is legal counsel for Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago—and I drove out to the capitol building at around 8 am when hardly anybody was there. We entered the capitol building and had to be searched and wanded—one uniformed officer asked if we had guns. This was insulting—since mid-February protestors have been occupying the capitol building after Governor Scott Walker announced his plans to end collective bargaining rights for state employees. There has not been any violence and only sixteen arrests among tens of thousands of people who have come through here over several weeks. This may be the longest (and most peaceful) occupation of a government building in U.S. history. At first the numbers of people trickling in that day seemed small. But by 11 a.m. large contingents of workers representing teachers, state employees, nurses, teamsters, steelworkers, ironworkers—you name it—surrounded the state capitol. By then tractors representing the state’s farmers came through in support of the state employees—they know if state employees lose their pay, benefits, or jobs, they are also out of work. At noon, the numbers were amazing—Tony and I stood on the fourth floor of the Wisconsin Museum of History where you could see the masses of people with all kinds of signs (some were quite inventive: “Scott Walker is addicted to KOCHaine” (alluding to the oil/energy billionaire Koch brothers who have funded much of the Tea Party movement), “Being Middle Class was nice—while it lasted,” “Scott Walker is the ‘Con’ and ‘Sin’ of Wisconsin,” and even one sign that said “I’m a Christian/Conservative and for Collective Bargaining”). I talked to many people, including Matthew, who was on his eighth day of a hunger strike inside the capitol building. Schoolchildren were there, singing and chanting, along with their parents and teachers. I met with my friend, teacher Erik Shager, who brought three of his students to meet me at Frida’s Mexican Grill on State Street (packed to the gills with people). His parents, who had never took part in protests until the pro-collective bargaining protest began, came with a busload of seniors from Eau Claire, WI. Cops and firefighters were also marching along with union members and their families. This is a critical battle for the whole country. Recall efforts of eight GOP state legislators have begun, including a recall effort to remove Governor Walker. Other strategic plans and actions are being worked out among leaders and the common people. Wisconsin has a long history of working class and progressive politics. What’s happening here is the pinnacle of what’s happening across the land. I stand in solidarity. c/s

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