The words "Contents: Democracy (Some Assembly Required)" were scrawled in red ink on one of the bright white boxes that was delivered to the Government Accountability Board yesterday. The boxes delivered in the late morning had 20,600 signatures in them, with every signature hand-vetted and double checked by activist Lori Compas, who spearheaded the quixotic campaign to recall Scott Walker's number one legislative lapdog, Senator Scott Fitzgerald. The 16,400 signatures needed had been deemed impossible to achieve, so the DPW had, reasonably enough, chosen not to put effort into that particular recall in such a Republican stronghold. Lori's total of 20,600 represents a threshold of 123%. This is a stunning achievement, and should go down as one of the great David and Goliath stories of recent times.
The 1 million (plus) total signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker represents a threshold of 185%. Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch's 845,000 represents 156%. Senator Van Wanggaard=156%, Pam Galloway=134% and Terry Moulton=140%. There are at total of 1.9 million signatures on 305,700 pages. The pages, if placed end-to-end, would cover the distance between Minneapolis to Chicago in a line across Wisconsin that would have roughly followed the proposed high-speed rail track that Scott Walker killed in his first months of office.
Yesterday afternoon, we drove to Madison to join the party. The Overpass Light Brigade was included in the festivities, and Giles Goat Boy helped organize the marvelous Solidarity Sing Along to stand with us. As we drove west from Milwaukee, I thought of the bus trips almost a year ago when we first responded to the insanely partisan and extremist laws being passed with no public scrutiny and no media analysis. We drove that same route to Madison, thinking about what we were doing and who we were a year ago.
A year ago, I had never written (or honestly, even read) a posting on Daily Kos. A year ago, I had never gathered signatures while standing out in horizontal winds whipping off the lake. A year ago, I had never stood on cold highway overpasses, hoping to install hope or dread in passersby. A year ago, I couldn't have even named a state senator or representative or judge. A year ago, I had never sung a solidarity song other than the treacle that trickles into summer camp. A year ago, I had never been told to "go home" or given the middle finger on a daily basis, or been shouted the f-bomb through half-rolled windows of passing SUVs. A year ago, I thought that people generally liked their kids' public school teachers. A year ago, I had never marched with ironworkers and school teachers and teamsters and environmentalists and nurses and moms with strollers and dads with kids on their shoulders and vuvuzelas and drums and fists in the air punctuating the staccato "this is what democracy looks like" or the singsong "Recall Walker, Recall Walker, Recall Walker."
We arrived and met Giles, set up the signs up on the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace. It was about 10 degrees outside, a sudden drop in temps after an unseasonably warm early winter. The Solidarity Singers inspired us to move, which warmed us up, and people joined us as they found their way into the convention hall. We sang and danced in the frozen air. When you are around the Solidarity Singers you become part of the band. There is no division between performer and audience - audience becomes artist in this most democratic of aesthetic form.
We were getting cold, and it was getting close to the time to move indoors. The plan was for us to hang out in the hallways for a bit, then do a conga-line through the crowd in the assembly hall. I had invited various Wisconsin activists to hold the letters, and was thrilled when people like Milwaukee Ironworkers, Lori Compas, Jenna Pope, Mark Balwinski and Kossack jvolvo agreed to help.
An endless stream of people filed by us while we played rousing labor songs in the hallway. This was a really awesome form of crowd control. The people walking by became performers, and solidarity songs echoed off the walls. The crowd was so huge (maybe 4,000 people) that they had to open another section to double up the space. We entered the room to a resounding roar of support. We snaked through the tight packed bodies, picking our way among tables in the standing-room only crowd, and then we worked our way to the stage, where I thought our part of the event would end.
As we were putting the signs down, and leaning them against the back wall, a woman came up to me and said, "You guys need to go on stage!" She wasn't an organizer or anyone official, so I said, "well, I don't think we have permission to." She replied, "Why do you need permission? This is our event!"
That seemed reasonable to me, so we got in line to go on stage. The organizer from United Wisconsin (who did a fantastic job, btw) was there, so I simply told her, "we're going on stage!" The funny thing is that she was not only cool with the idea, but suggested we end the show! And what a show it was, from union leader Phil Neuenfeldt's passionate speech about the importance of solidarity, to writer John Nichol's barn-burner about what we have accomplished in one year. John predicted last spring that we would get 1,000,000 signatures to recall Scott Walker. Everyone thought he was crazy at the time.
We climbed onto the stage with the signs, the Singers, and various musicians when the oratory was over, and we sang. 4,000 people's voices rose together. 4,000 people singing Solidarity Forever, and feeling the solidarity, forever. 4,000 people represented the workers who collected 1,000,000 signatures in 60 days.
Yes, a lot has happened in one year. It has been a harrowing experience to live through the takeover of our country by extremist ideologues in the service of the ever growing power of global corporations. But we've learned how to re-engage our democracy. The boxes full of signatures are now stacked up in a secret and secure location, waiting to be counted. We can anticipate the outrage of lies and false accusations in the coming months. We can anticipate an unprecedented amount of out of state money rolling into the state, even as we are decried as out of state drones who are mind-controlled by evil unions. We can anticipate even more work as we shift towards empowering Wisconsin citizens to vote. It is our democracy, after all, and as we've learned, some assembly is required.