Most of us were raised with a certain vision of this country as a place of community, justice, and mutual support. We were taught that a laborer's job was as honorable as a teacher's, which was in turn as honorable as a scientist's. We were taught that the strength of this nation was our ability to utilize our very diversity for a common good. Most of us lose faith in that vision as we grow up, and I'm no different. Today, on my tenth day at the Wisconsin State Capitol, I saw a glimpse of it, and it both energized and humbled me. I saw the muscle-and-blood reality of "e pluribus unum," and it was beautiful.
Between classes today, I walked the length of State Street up to the Capitol. It's become a familiar routine at this point; a scheduled part of my day just like any other commitment. I stopped for the first time at Ian's pizza, which has achieved a certain notoriety as the "go-to" place for those wishing to send food to the protesters. Ian's has stopped doing any other business. They won't accept local orders, and instead it runs like a soup kitchen. You get in line. You hear someone yell out what kinds of pie they have available. The line moves up, you tell them what kind of pizza you want, and it's in your hand. You move to the cash register, and the only question is, "what would you like to drink?" One guy in front of me tried to pay; the college student behind the counter just beamed at him and said, "Your money's no good here, buddy." I tossed a couple of bucks in the tip jar as I went by. (I also tried macaroni-and-cheese pizza, which is another story altogether.
Several of us stood at a shallow counter facing the street, as I ate, I saw what has become a familiar sight. The firefighters and police officers were processing toward the Capitol. It never gets old watching them march behind flags, banners, and bagpipers. These men and women always bring a certain strength and dignity that inspires one to match them. The day they first publicly joined us in the capitol rotunda was a profoundly moving moment that brings me to tears even now. These are people who regularly offer to put their bodies between danger and their fellow Americans. These are people not covered by Walker's bill. Nonetheless, they have stood up and proclaimed us their sisters and brothers. They are again putting their bodies between us and danger.
I finished my pizza and went up the Capitol steps. The capitol police (who ARE included in the bill) have taken to shutting down certain entrances for crowd control, so I began to walk around to find an open one. I passed by a large stack of bottled water - some 50 cases. No sign proclaiming who it was from, or who we should thank. No one there to ingratiate themselves to the recipients. The only sign on the stack read, "Free."
As I made my way around the Capitol, the procession of firefighters was moving around the square. The streets weren't closed today. The streets weren't closed until the firefighters and cops wanted them. A mass of people a city block long moved through the streets, with two squad cars slowly creeping behind them for protection. Traffic stopped, and their chants echoed around downtown. When the procession reached the corner of the open entrance, they turned en masse and began processing into the Capitol. Those of us outside quickly gravitated to either side of the entrance they were about to use.
That's when it happened. I saw my America march by me. First the firefighters, then the cops, the prison guards, steelworkers, sheet metal workers, nurses, all of them walking by and cheering. Blue collar, white collar, it didn't matter. All of these people just saying, "We're in this together, and we're right to be." Later in the procession were contingents from some smaller unions. I was bowled over when I saw representation from the two major unions of my field - Actors' Equity and IATSE (Theatrical Stagehands). In a very real way, I was in that procession, too.
I was so profoundly moved by what I saw that the tears come again as I type this. That was the America I was told about. I had given up on it. Maybe it actually is possible. Maybe we don't have to resign ourselves to the well-funded madness that is invading our discourse.
I think tomorrow I'm going to visit the new lobbying office opened by the Koch brothers with a big sign and a vuvuzela. One day longer, right?