Protesters descend on Madison
This is the sort of scene you don’t necessarily expect to see anymore in crystal-clear modern digital photography. In modern U.S. mainstream culture, it’s more reminiscent of what you’d find underneath the accumulated grime and sun damage of pictures taken on film 50 years ago and left in a box in an attic. Yes, it still happens against the exotic backdrop of some far-off land, some land of mysterious “other.” But not here.
It is certainly a startling sight: thousands of people ringing the Capitol building in Madison. Crowds spilling into the streets around the square, traffic diverting off and around the streets immediately surrounding the building that houses our government because there are simply so many people standing outside, waving, yelling, chanting: because they know that something has to be done.
This was the scene in Madison on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 in response to Governor Walker’s attempt to gut the ability of public employees and civil servants to bargain collectively. Wisconsin has a long history of organized labor, reaching back to the 19th century — in fact, it was Wisconsin that passed the nation’s first collective bargaining laws for public employees.
Cries of “Kill the Bill!” and “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” were the soundtrack of the day. Students from the university, as well as from the several high schools around the Madison area, were present, and at one point stormed through the atrium of the Capitol and right up to Walker’s office door chanting “We are the students, the mighty, mighty students!” at a volume that would put stadium fans to shame.
Firefighters from across the state, despite being exempted from this bill, turned out en masse to show solidarity with the rest of the public employees. A representative of the firefighters, speaking at the rally held on the Capitol steps, put it this way: “It is a firefighter’s job to run toward a burning house, to save it. Governor Walker has set fire to the house of labor, and we will not stand by and watch it burn simply because it is not our house.” Also in attendance were private-sector union members from across the state and beyond, including a couple of iron workers who made the trip from Maryland.
According to leaders at the legislative briefing held prior to the rally, pronouncements of the certainty of the passage of the Budget Repair Bill are overblown. While it is assured to make it through the Assembly, the bill’s fate in the Senate is unclear. By the count of the union, there are as many as seven Republican senators “in play” that may be persuaded to vote against the bill, or at the very least call for amendments that would strip the severe restrictions on collective bargaining. Only four such senators would be needed to block the bill.
As national news outlets pick up the story (it was mentioned on all three major news networks this evening, with two of MSNBC’s primetime hosts devoting the entirety of their shows to the events here in Wisconsin), pressure will increase.
If you would like to voice an opinion on this measure, find out how to contact your legislator here.
ThirdCoast Digest’s Managing Editor Erin Petersen and Associate Editor Patti Wenzel will both be in Madison today – in the crowds and listening in chambers, respectively. Watch TCD’s Facebook and Twitter feeds for live updates from the Capitol.