Madison Report

An on-the-scene view from the Capitol building


For the last month, our family has demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate at the Capitol in Madison, Wis., because we believe in defending our rights as workers, and to support the 175,000 union members—teachers, construction workers, snowplow drivers, social workers—scapegoated by Gov. Scott Walker and his allies. The national news accounts of a “riot” and “angry” protesters are patently untrue, and it took several days to convince the national media that this isn’t about a “budget repair bill” but about union-busting by severely limiting our right to collective bargaining.

The scene inside the Capitol has been mesmerizing—at least during the time it was fully open to the public. The crowds outside may ebb and flow depending on the time of day and schedule of events, but the rotunda has been packed with people drumming, chanting and singing, trying to get their voices heard by the politicians behind closed doors and to the world at large.

The signs alone have become an internet meme, like the demonstrators dressed up as Star Wars-inspired “Imperial Walkers.” Kids trace people as they lay on the sidewalk making colorful chalk drawings surrounding the entire block, with the words “Chalkers against Walker.” There have also been grade-ins (for teachers), study-ins (for students) and knit-ins (for crafty types).

Indeed, our days at the Capitol have made lovely, if chilly, family days. People have stopped and thanked us for bringing our one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She’s spent hours in the Teaching Assistants’ Association union headquarters, eating cold pizza and swinging in chairs while union members phone-bank and strategize their next move. When we push her in the stroller through the Capitol during particularly crowded events, people yell, “Baby coming!” so others know to be especially careful.

The show of support here from firefighters and police officers is particularly powerful, because Gov. Walker exempted their unions from the limitations in the bill. The firefighters, in either dress blues or in work gear, are often on the march.

The same show of support is true of the police officers, who came to the Capitol the morning after demonstrators first spent the night, bringing doughnuts and water. (And bratwurst, of course; this is Wisconsin, after all.)

People have reciprocated. It’s been well-publicized that supporters from all over the world have been ordering pizza for those giving up their time at the Capitol. The police are not allowed to accept pizza from citizens directly, so when a pizza delivery car pulled up to the building recently, we witnessed a demonstrator stopping others from taking the pizzas and telling the police to come take however many boxes they wanted straight from the delivery guy. Everyone is taking care of everyone else.

This continues to be an amazing show of democracy in action, of celebrating peacefully our right to assemble. To paraphrase a friend, the GOP vote that severely limited rights to eliminate union power without the Democrats present did not signal the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

Now we work on recalls.

Sonoma County Library