Some Republicans in our fine Wisconsin legislature have recently introduced bills allowing workers to “voluntarily” work 7 days a week and allowing employers to substitute overtime pay with accrued time off (with no provision that the employer allow their employees to ever actually use the earned comp time), so it soon may be that the sanitation workers here never have a day off. Ever. Unless they are crushed by their trash trucks or are laid off, I guess.
For now, at least, I still have the holiday off, and the reason I was headed downtown was to attend the official, state-sponsored Martin Luther King Day celebration at the Wisconsin Capitol. I will say the organizers of the ceremony do their best to honor the life and legacy of Dr. King, but Governor Scott Walker’s administration is learning how to control the message. I guess Walker was a little embarrassed last year when Dr. Margaret Rozga shamed him in front of God, the bust of Fighting Bob La Follette, and everybody.
This year certain areas in the rotunda were roped off and the first floor (which is actually the second level) was strategically overloaded with wall-to-wall chairs to try to prevent anyone who might be watching on TV later from seeing people silently protesting the governor with signs.
It’s a tough day for many of us in Wisconsin who care about the things that Dr. King’s memory reminds us to care about. On the one hand, we very rarely get an opportunity to confront our governor in person. He has alienated and angered 49% of the state’s population so he rarely makes public appearances for fear he will be booed and jeered. Even Scott Walker would feel too much shame to skip the Martin Luther King Day event, but it is a special day for all of us and we don’t want to disrupt the 2-hour event, which is usually quite uplifting except for the two minutes that Walker takes to read his proclamation.
This year’s event was, sad to say, less inspiring than usual. I believe Dr. King would have joined us on the ground floor rather than participate in the earnest but sanitized tribute being paid on the second level. The keynote speaker was Dr. Jack E. Daniels, who was recently hired as the president of the Madison Area Technical College. His speech was a dry, thinly-disguised plea for more funds wrapped around a couple of Dr. King’s quotes. Funding for public education of all kinds has been decimated under Walker. Dr. Daniels' speech contained a lot of the same buzz words we hear when Walker is spinning promises (as yet unfilled) about job training and job creators. Maybe dropping those words into his speech is a good strategy by Dr. Daniels for getting a few pennies from Governor Scrooge.
The music was wonderful, though, as always. Latino Arts Strings played some lovely classics. The GMAC Mass Choir of Chicago was back this year and sang some powerful gospel music. We also heard and saw a friendship dance by some members of the Ho-Chunk Nation known as the Wisconsin Dells Singers.
Awards were given out, handshakes were exchanged – we even sang “We Shall Not Be Moved” together, a song that is sung often in the rotunda by the Solidarity Sing Along, the ongoing daily noon hour singing protest that Governor Walker pretends never to have heard. I think he lip-synched, and he kept his hands in his pockets. And that was the problem.
The ceremony was recorded by Wisconsin Public Television and highlights were replayed this evening. They showed almost everything in close-ups, no wide shots. If you watched, you did not see the Capitol Police hassling the homeless men staying warm inside the rotunda. That happened about an hour before the ceremony (I saw it.)