These happenings on Madison's Capitol Square are exhilarating -- and exhausting.
They are both inspirational and emotionally draining.
Today was no exception.
The movement is growing and spreading, it is real, and we are winning.
Saturday, March 5, was just another day in Madtown. Not much planned, just a little rally. The formal part, with speakers and musicians, was just announced about 24 hours before it began.
So my expectations were low, having seen last Saturday what the biggest demonstration in Wisconsin history looked like, 100,000 strong.
There weren't 100,000 again today. Maybe there were 40,000 or 30,000 or something in between. It really doesn't matter at this point.
The movement lives, and it is growing. Every time Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican cronies commit another outrage, the coalition grows and the opposition gets stronger.
The rally on the King Street side of the Capitol today was sponsored by Wisconsin Wave, an organization that embraces a broad progressive agenda that goes well beyond support for unions and collective bargaining rights.
Until now, Walker's union-busting proposals have been the focus of most of the protesters. And that was reflected in the signs carried by many of the tens of thousands who circled and marched continuously around the entire Square, even while the rally went on. But that focus is expanding, and Walker is helping the coalition to grow, to include farmers, seniors, families with children, who see him attacking their standard of living with his ruthless, don't-give-a-damn, slash and burn style of governing.
The messages on Saturday were: (1) We are Wisconsin and we are winning. And, (2) This isn't a protest; it's a movement.
It certainly felt as if that were all true, if you were on King Street Saturday afternoon.
Michelle Shocked -- musician hardly does her justice, and neither does musician and activist, but I am at a loss for a better word -- brought tears to my eyes, I admit. There is something about the combination of musical artistry and political activism that can be very powerful emotionally, whether it is Pete Seeger singing "If I Had a Hammer" or Guy Carawan leading a crowd in "We Shall Overcome," or Holly Near on a Sing Out the Vote tour or the No Nukes concert, or Marcia Ball singing Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" during Katrina, it can give you shivers.
Michelle Shocked, a personal favorite, did not disappoint. She did her trademark "Come a Long Way" with lyrics adapated -- perhaps on the spot -- to include Wisconsin solidarity. And she sang a moving a capella song by the late Steve Goodman, "The Ballad of Penny Evans," about a young mother of two widowed by the Vietnam war. What made it appropriate was the repeated line, "They say the war is over, but I think it's just begun."
Filmmaker/muckraker Michael Moore was a last-minute addition whom many didn't know would be there, and gave a thoughtful, rousing speech, covered nicelyby Bill Lueders for Isthmus.
Moore credited the people of Wisconsin with awakening "a sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America! Your message has inspired people in all 50 states, and that message is: 'We have had it!'"
"We are all Wisconsinites now ... One thing is certain: Madison is only the beginning!"
While tens of thousands massed on the Square, rallies were being held all across the state. Fourteen hundred people showed up in Eau Claire to greet a bus sponsored by a Koch brothers-backed group. Six hundred were there to greet the bus in Hudson. And those are the numbers who showed up to protest, not participate. Those were few in number indeed. Meanwhile, volunteers were meeting, organizing, and canvassing to collect signatures on recall petitions against Republican state senators in eight districts across the state.
A week ago, as 100,000 jammed the Square, rallies were held in all 50 states to support collective bargaining rights and the struggle that began in Wisconsin in mid-February.
It's not dying out; it's spreading. Moore is right. Walker unwittingly struck a nerve in the body politic. He may win the short-term battle over the budget review bill; that is really in the hands of the 19 Republicans in the State Senate. But this is no longer a short-term battle over a single bill. It is a battle for the heart and soul of Wisconsin.
After decades in politics, I should be cynical enough to know better. But it is impossible not to think that what's happening here in the last few weeks may be the start of the movement we need to take our state back and return it to its progressive heritage. It will take a long, hard, sustained effort. Those are hard to maintain. But the people of Wisconsin have given every indication in the last few weeks that they may be ready to do just that. Let's hope so.
I am not one for Biblical references, but Scott Walker may reap the whirlwind.
[PS: I do not mean to slight others in the star-studded lineup -- Tammy Baldwin, John Nichols, Paul Soglin, Dave Cieslewicz, State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, and more, plus more phenominal music by Jon Langford of the Mekons (pictured with Michelle Shocked) and others. And hats off to Ben Manski for putting it together, with the help, it appeared, of Tag Evers and a handful of others who did it all in something like 48 hours. Amazing. Thank you. ]