Meanwhile, Later in Wisconsin: What I Saw at The Protest Against Gov. Walker’s Proposed Bill
It’s after 5 p.m. I’m looking out the window. Hundreds of people are peaceably marching around the Capitol Building right now. I say, hundreds. With placards. With their children. With their students. It has rained, melting more of the ice and snow of the blizzard, but it has cleared, too. It is growing dark. I don’t know how many times that they will trek around the building.
But it is evident that they won’t give up, either outside of the Capitol, or within the room where the hearings from citizens are taking place now.
The Old Fashioned, a nice little piece of Wisconsin next door to the Y and across the street from the Capitol Building, showed exactly what side the owner(s), the management and most of the waitpeople were.
Two placards sat at the left corner people watching window of the restaurant. One said, “Walker’s Business is Monkey Business.” The other was more hilarious: “Wisconsin’s Right Wing Capitol Brothel is Open for Business.” When I went to have lunch there, the place was full of union people, from AFSCME to the Teamsters. The joint was jumping even more than usual for lunch time.
There were thousands of people at that rally. I was there. I just cannot believe the Department of Administration estimates of only 3,000 people; they’re suppressing totals. Channel 3000 is saying that there were at least 13,000 people, with 3,000 in the Capitol Building. There were also hundreds of people in the Capitol Rotunda, alternately shouting for Walker’s ouster by recall and other slogans, especially “This is what democracy looks like.” I liked it all, but there was something missing out of all of it. It seemed as if it was business as usual.
The rage was palpable inside the Rotunda. People were stuffed inside yelling slogans that echoed and bounced against the marble walls. At one point, there were competing slogans being shouted. After a while, I gave up trying to get under the dome. I know that the Joint Finance Committee members must have heard them. I wondered, though, if these Tea Party Republicans really understood or cared a smidgen about what the protesters were demonstrating about. Nah. I knew that they considered them spoiled children or something even more perverse.
Asked in Eau Claire, however, whether the protesters’ anger was understandable, Walker did not hesitate to lie that the unions refused to deal with him during last year’s election (they merely supported Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett), that they tried to shove through a bill that would ratify their union contracts without petitioning him, and that they knew what his plans already were, insinuating that union heads withheld that information from the rank and file. Mighty funny he’s in Eau Claire retelling that pack of lies rather than here in Madison. It all smacks of payback and revenge; I’ve never heard of other Republican governors (except for Reagan, who tended to turn on the charm offensive when it suited him, and Chris Christie and this Ohio governor) acting in such a highhanded, contrary, nasty manner. The posturing little twerp deserves any karma that is going reverb on him when it all goes down.
Bill Lueders let the demonstrators have their say. And to a man and woman, they aren’t living off the fat of the land.
Ramona Tenosorio was on the steps with her two oldest children, carrying a sign branding Walker “Bad for Education.” A grad student at the UW-Milwaukee who belongs to the teaching assistants union there, she said the changes Walker wants to unilaterally impose — doubling her health care costs — threaten her ability to survive.
“I make less than $20,000 a year supporting a family of six,” she says. “These cuts would cause devastation for my family.”
But Tenosorio feels the “real tragedy” is Walker’s determination to strip public employee unions of their right to collective bargaining, and ultimately their ability to survive. She noted that even the remaining ability of public employee unions to collectively bargain for salaries is a farce, as any increases above the rate of inflation would have to go to a voter referendum.
Also on hand from Milwaukee was Ike Edwards (a brotha), who works for a private sector union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1473. His union is not affected by Walker’s changes, but like many others in the crowd, he was there in solidarity with those who are.
“We’re pretty much united in terms of our position that this bill is ridiculous and goes way too far,” said Edwards. He called it “a power grab.”
Sue Cameron, an employee of WEAC who came to the event from Waterford, in northern Racine County, had a similar take: “We’re looking at this bill as killing a flea with a sledgehammer. I don’t know what gutting collective bargaining rights has to do with balancing a budget. It’s one thing to [ask for] sacrifice. It’s another to bash.”
Dave Carrid of Madison is a retired employee of University Hospital, where he was a member of AFSCME for 25 years. He has worked one other union job and some that were nonunion.
“The jobs that were nonunion that I held in Madison were terrible compared to the union jobs,” Carrid told me. “Unions made my life better. They make every worker’s life better.”
I spoke to several people who work as prison guards at Oshkosh Correctional Institution, members of AFSCME Local 18. They told me that about 50 members of their 275-member unit — everyone who had off or was able to take off by using vacation pay — was at the event.
I saw the Teamster truck. I saw Paul Soglin, who is running again for mayor of Madison. The Madison firemen who came to cheer the protesters on. The kids who came from Middleton and East High School. Everyone seemed to be in a good, fighting mood. But will they have what it really takes to take on Walker long term, and to take a stand so that the entire country takes notice? Because, as Lueder said in an earlier article, it may mean that they may have to use civil disobedience, much like what occurred in colonial India with Gandhi and Nehru in the Twenties and Thirties, during the civil rights movement in the Sixties, and most recently, in Egypt and Tunisia, to begin to destroy this union busting completely.
Protests are exactly what Walker wants, because they can only lead to two outcomes: Either they are peaceful and accomplish nothing; or they turn violent and create a massive backlash against the unions and their members. Either way, Walker wins.
He knows this. That’s why he’s announced plans to bring in the Wisconsin National Guard to staff the prisons if guards strike, and presumably also to quell whatever disturbances might erupt.
The governor also knows exactly what kind of reaction — sustained, militant, disciplined — might put the kibosh on his power grab. That’s why he’s exempted law enforcement and firefighters from his union-busting scheme. He can always come after them later, when the destruction of other public employee unions makes them targets of popular resentment. Why should law enforcement have rights that no one else does?
It’s not clear whether police and sheriffs deputies will sit out this attack on their union brethren, or perhaps even be available to crack a few heads if passions run high and clashes can be successfully instigated. But clearly Walker knows he can’t get away with doing to cops what he plans to do to teachers, at least not yet.
The cops and deputies have cohesion, and resolve. Teachers and other public employees, on the other hand, are perfect victims. They aren’t used to conflict, and they aren’t very good at it. They will hoist their signs and chant their chants and lose their benefits and then their unions.
Could they fight back and win? Absolutely. But it would take a lot more resolve than Scott Walker and the Republicans give them credit for. It would take all-out campaigns of nonviolent civil disobedience, including a willingness to risk physical abuse and mass arrest, again and again.
Instead of converging on the Capitol to hear speeches and shout slogans, maybe the public employees of Wisconsin should show their solidarity with each other by forming a human chain around it, to prevent anyone from coming and going.
The scene Walker wants to see is chanting crowds and, ideally, tear gas canisters being fired after stones get tossed. What if instead the unionized law enforcement officers were sent to use their muscles and clubs to break a human chain that just kept reforming, as row after row of resolutely nonviolent resisters were dragged off to jail? And what if actions like this went on not just for a few hours of a sunny February day but for weeks and months?
I mean, I have never been in an action (demonstration, march) where there might be violent confrontation. Other friends of mine have demonstrated against divestment in South Africa, and against Lawrence Livermore, went limp and got dragged off to jail in paddy wagons or buses. I admit, though, that I don’t exactly savor being hit with a nightstick or being Tasered myself. I love my poor body too much to be lamed or mentally altered by such an encounter where I may not come back whole. And yet, I know, from what I have heard from my friends and from their writings, what it means to make such a decision.
The Highlander School. The workshops the civil rights workers underwent that was to inure them to ugly insult and physical assault. All this steeled the civil rights workers for what was to come. And even when the fury erupted on them, many were still surprised at the virulence of the hatred and cruelty from angry racists, from ordinary citizens, and from law enforcement, but they hung tough through it all, even though some were beaten into actual comas.
I agree–these union workers have no idea what real, sustained resistance is about. They may watch what occurred in Egypt on television with admiration, but frankly, people died or sustained lifelong injuries from working in the labor movement and in the civil rights movement. The same with India getting their independence from the British in the late Forties. And Indians sustained torture as well. Even Gandhi’s wife, Kasturbai, went to jail for three months in a British hard labor camp, even though she suffered greatly from chronic bronchitis, depression, stress, privations (and willful neglect by the vengeful British), all of which eventually brought on the two heart attacks that killed her.
All the great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers here who put their lives on the line for the sake of themselves and their co-workers to have a union have nearly all died. And then, a lot of times, they didn’t want to talk about it, if you asked them. It was a bad, hard time, the 1920s and 1930s were, and yet, they came out alive, with new rights that they could pass on to their children and grandchildren. They should have all gotten the equivalent of Nobel prizes.
This time is shaping up to be like the 1920s and 1930s. Business wants labor to be cheap and plentiful, with depressed wages and people leaving the middle class. So what is it going to take, Wisconsin, to really get Scott Walker with his 2.5 GPA scared, to get Chris Christie scared? To get the Republicans (and some Democrats) scared in Congress, those who parrot the meme that we’re so broke that we’re going to fix the situation on the backs of the people who can afford it least? To force President Obama do what he should or cannot do right now (like President Johnson telling Martin King that he had to make Johnson sign that civil rights bill.) If people don’t begin to put themselves out there, we may indeed deserve the government that we get. What do you think it means to really fight for something? It ain’t Hollywood. Otherwise, what is your plan, guys, to fight this?