A friend of mine, a hard-working union man known in the activist community as Milwaukee Ironworkers, put it like this over a beer in a bar in Madison after the rally today: "Last year, we took our blows. Walker and his people were swinging wide and hard, and we took serious hits. But now, a full year later, we're swinging back. They're backed into corners, and we have the momentum. We've got 'em on the ropes now, and we need to keep it that way…"
I should say that a year ago I wouldn't have been having beer with an Ironworker. I wouldn't have spent the afternoon marching with African American brothers and sisters from Milwaukee. I wouldn't have spent the early afternoon listening to three speakers who I know on a first name basis, and I wouldn't have spent last night at a lovely AFL-CIO organized candlelight vigil, or on a busy street corner holding Lite-Brite political signs with friends and strangers.
Last night, the Overpass Light Brigade was invited to hold our "1%WALKER" signs behind the stage at the vigil. People were handed cool little LED candles upon arrival, and as the sun went down to the cold night, the flickering lights were magical in front of the capitol building. I do have to boast here that I think Wisconsin's state capitol is the most beautiful in the nation. I would defy anyone to find a more magical cathedral of governance. Perhaps this partly explains our protective intensity regarding "the people's house." I was surprised by how contemplative the event was. After some really wonderful speeches, some bagpipers led the few thousand people down to the premier of a movie about the Wisconsin movement. It was an awesome sight to see the flickering candles follow a bagpipe brigade down past the statue of Lady Forward and on down State Street.
Badscience, Giles Goat Boy, and I packed the signs in the van, and headed across town to the Art In Protest exhibition that had earlier been banned due to implicit threats that our State Representative Stephen Nass suggested regarding University funding. Now untethered from the University, and relatively famous thanks to Mr. Nass' free, though somewhat heavy-handed, promotion, the art show had a pretty good crowd gathering. We figured the exhibition needed beacons in the night, so we went with some folks and the LED signs to a busy intersection nearby. This was the inaugural collaboration with Overpass Light Brigade-Fox Valley, a splinter group of folks from Appleton who have made a lovely "PINK SLIP" sign. It was great to work side-by-side with our new franchise!
After a late night drive it was hard to get up early in the morning, but United Wisconsin (the grassroots group the coordinated the statewide recalls) had asked to use our Sidewalk Soapbox amplification cart for a little "pre-rally" to mark the opening of their new offices in Madison. This little rally turned into a bout 2,000 people, and we heard great speeches by writer John Nichols, activist and head of the firefighter's union Mahlon Mitchell (who has announced his run for Lt. Governor…. yay!) and Democratic State Representative (and Kossack) Peter Barca. It was especially great to hear the Forward Marching Band, and see our favorite Scott Walker puppet, complete with the ever-expanding bald spot on the back of his head.
John Nichols gives a rousing speech
Mahlon Mitchell, our future Lt. Governor
Run, Mr. Barca, run!
The Forward Marching Band then led us from our pre-rally up to the capitol. I knew this would be a big rally, but couldn't believe the numbers! Remember that Scott Walker has quite frequently claimed that we would go away, would all go back to Illinois, would realize that his plans were working, or would just get tired. No way. This was huge, and as with all Wisconsin protests that I've experienced, full of family, of decency, of creativity and solidarity. It is really great to feel the coming together of so many people. I was especially happy to see fellow Milwaukee activists representing SEIU, and I marched around the square with them. It was the best kind of ruckus!
Speeches, lots of speeches. Lori Compas, the woman running against the corruption known as Scott Fitzgerald really hit it out of the park with her honesty and simple message of caring. This is something hard to describe, and really special to behold. It had been said that Fitzgerald was unassailable. I think he has some major worries if he is smart enough to acknowledge what is happening here. He is too arrogant to realize that he is going to be defeated through a soul-force of genuine decency. It's like a frequency his ears can't hear.
photo by Jenna Pope
A common sentiment throughout the day was that "we've got a lot of work to do." It is true. Turning this around will not be easy. There is an absolute frenzy of new legislation being passed up until the end of the session - as if the frenzy of the last year wasn't already enough. But you can sense that they know their days are numbered, that a bit of spring cleaning will sweep through the capitol soon. We might not win every race, but we are building a lasting movement. As Milwaukee Ironworkers said, "We've got 'em on the ropes now, and we need to keep it that way…"
Right on, Brother!