About Me

My photo
Archaeologists are not unlike truckers. Exploring Minnesota and Wisconsin's oddities, scenery, culture, back roads, and eateries helps keep me sane.

10 March 2011

History Happening in Madison, WI; 9 March 2011

This is not the news, only an individual narrative of experience, with assistance from my Android phone.

I’m still trying to get my head around what happened in Madison last night. I left my weekly guitar lesson about 6:15 p.m. and saw my phone lit up with texts, “Republicans are separating collective bargaining from budget repair, don’t need quorum to vote, trying to pass tonight, now. Spread word. See you at capitol after guitar?” It was drizzling, and I was hungry, but I figured I could go yell a few, “SHAME! SHAME SHAME” chants and go grab some food afterwards. I’m lucky I had an Odwalla bar in my purse to snack on (since I’ve been subsisting on coffee, Odwalla bars, and ibuprofen – skinny jeans are getting baggy!) because last night turned out to be a non-stop outpouring of heartbreak and determination.

It was hard to find a parking spot and there was a line to get into the parking ramp. The word was getting out and people were flooding into downtown. I joined one of my best friends on the King Street corner, with vuvuzelas roaring and crowds chanting, “LET US IN!” She noticed I was on the verge of tears, but I was determined not to cry until I knew what was going on. I got on Twitter and Facebook and read that the Republicans passed their “non-fiscal” initiative 18-1, with Dale Schultz as the only “NO” vote. Thank you, Dale! People with bullhorns were trying to announce that the Democrat Assembly was attempting to hold a hearing to make it legal for people to enter the capitol, but they were being denied a room. I don’t know what was true or what was happening, only that people were desperate to get inside. My friend went to find a quiet spot to call her mom, and I stayed with the crowd, talking to fellow protesters to figure out what was going on. As with all of the other protests, the crowd was diverse. Kids in strollers, senior citizens, students, teachers. But the mood was shocked and hurt.

Someone from the MLK, Jr. Street side shouted that the doors were open. People ran en mass around the corner and up the giant flight of stairs. I was one person away from entering the door when a trooper appeared in the door and angrily shoved the girl in front of me out of the way so he could close the door. She started yelling, “He assaulted me! Assault!” That was the first act of aggression I’d witnessed in three weeks at the capitol, and it stopped me in my tracks. I backed away and jumped up onto the ledge of one of the giant columns. Soon I was surrounded by hundreds. Opportunists took advantage of a slight opening in the door and began to struggle with the troopers forming a barricade. Other protesters stepped in between to take pressure off the law enforcement while the crowd shouted, “PEACEFUL! PEACEFUL!” In the meantime, someone inside slipped into the bathroom and opened the window adjacent to the doors. People streamed inside by the dozens until troopers came to shut and lock the window. They must have been understaffed inside and stopped guarding the bathroom, because the window reopened three or four more times, each time dozens more getting inside. The troopers announced that the King Street entrance was open for entry, but someone in the crowd who just came from there yelled BS. My friend had already made it inside, being in the right place at the right time when she phoned her mother. I had several opportunities to get inside, but something stopped me. I was tired and hungry and did not know what being inside would mean. A lock-down? Sleeping on the floor? Being arrested? I think I cared about the latter least of all. But in the end, I’m more like the silent and steady Saint Bernard who will rush in and assist when someone is getting hurt, not the angry little ankle-biter who’s going to take on a pitbull trooper.

I ventured back to the King Street entrance to try to find out more information. A guy on a bullhorn announced that there were 1000 people inside who would be locked in there for the night with no bathroom access, but food would be delivered. For real? A few more glances at Twitter and Facebook provided information that the Assembly would vote on the amended bill in the morning. I was freezing and about to make my way back to my car when someone again shouted from the MLK, Jr. Street side that the doors were open and people could enter.

It was an uninhibited entry this time, no law enforcement to be seen anywhere. I made my way inside and wiped my muddy boots off on the doormat before treading across the marble. I found my friend, and headed to the second level. She said it appeared to be a coordinated effort by the law enforcement to stop guarding the doors. Inside, the crowd was roaring! I had never been on the second level, and even though it was warmer, the sound was incredibly muffled. I couldn’t hear what was being spoken, only chants and cheers and vague sounds of a brass band. People were clipboards were collecting signatures as complaints that the evening’s vote violated the open meeting laws.

After an hour or so of trying to find out more updates and being jostled around by the swarming crowd, we wearily sat underneath the liberty bell to decide what to do. I decided I wasn’t willing to stay the night, being overtired, hungry, and overworked. I applaud those with more dedication, but I needed my bed. The sound of bagpipes started, signaling the entrance of a Fire Fighter’s parade. I had seen them on video, but not in person. I stopped on the main level on the way out to get a glance at the pipers. The crowd began to sing, “Solidarity Forever” in unison, the song in its entirety. That was a good note to leave on.

Outside of the capitol, I saw that police had the Square completely blocked off to traffic. News vans and cameramen were everywhere. En route to the parking ramp, I had to cross Doty Street. At 11:00 p.m., cars were streaming by with signs in their windows and honking to show solidarity. Some even beeped to the tune of, “This is what democracy looks like!” It was loud and completely amazing. Even the parking lot attendant, who said she was supposed to remain non-political, could not hide her smile and admiration about the honking cars and outpouring of the people. She told me after I left the lot, that I should honk if I supported the workers. So I did.

Later I lay in bed unable to sleep, caught up in a mix of disgust, bewilderment, awe, disbelief, and pride. “Solidarity Forever” rang in my head upon falling to sleep and waking up. What does the next week bring, Wisconsin? The next month? The next two years?

Wish I could join you in solidarity this Saturday, but I will be partying down out of town for my littlest nephew’s 2nd birthday. Only a celebration with one of my beautiful nieces and nephews could keep me away. They are the biggest piece of me, and the reason I’ve been back in Wisconsin for the past five years. And even though I’m a public employee, union member, woman, and future educator, I fight this fight mainly for them and the quality of their future education.

Ask yourself, Republican congressmen – Is an annihilation of our state’s education system really worth keeping union dollars from Obama’s 2012 campaign? SHAME.

Again, this isn’t my usual blog, but I needed to process the overwhelming events that happened last night. Be safe out there, protesters, and keep working diligently with the mentality that this is for US, not this is for ME.