On February 11th, when Gov. Walker "dropped the bomb" — his words — union chiefs and organizers had "a freakout of a long weekend" — as one of them put it.
As unions organized protests to be launched in the coming days - the largest in Wisconsin's capital city since the Vietnam War - about 250 people in two separate groups picketed Sunday at the Capitol and in front of the Maple Bluff mansion Walker now calls home.Here's my post commenting on the thin, mellow crowd that day:
It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm Sunday, and our new governor has just dropped a shocking union-busting proposal that our newly Republican legislature is likely to step up and pass. This is the push-back from the unions?Ha ha. And the Isthmus didn't seem at all enthused:
Protests are exactly what Walker wants, because they can only lead to two outcomes: Either they are peaceful and accomplish nothing; or they turn violent and create a massive backlash against the unions and their members. Either way, Walker wins.Look back over the last 2 weeks. We now know the protests were huge and peaceful, so did they accomplish anything? Did Walker win? He chose not to confront people, and, interestingly enough, the people of Wisconsin who opposed the protests didn't make trouble either. There was one pleasant Tea Party event on the first Saturday, with a good turnout, but everyone was nice. I mean, the anti-Scott Walker folks had their Hitler signs and so forth. But that's all. Over-the-top analogies.
Back to the State Journal:
Before Walker unveiled his budget-repair bill on Feb. 11, the Teaching Assistants' Association at UW-Madison, along with campus student groups Student Labor Action Coalition and Multicultural Student Coalition, had planned a noon march from the Memorial Union to the Capitol to deliver "I Heart UW" valentines to Walker and urge him not to cut education funding....They delivered the valentines.
That night, TAA leaders went back to campus and sent their 2,800 UW-Madison members an e-mail urging them to return to the Capitol on Tuesday and testify at the Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee, which had scheduled a hearing on the bill at 10 a.m.So the occupation of the Capitol began as a UW TAA operation.
Unions across the state were doing the same, as a dozen leaders convened Monday.
State law prevents Capitol Police from locking the building while there are ongoing hearings. So some TAA members made plans to stay as long as necessary, not realizing they wouldn't sleep at home again for weeks and that their union would set up a nerve center in a Capitol office, with members coordinating volunteers and helping manage what became the Capitol's 24-hour ecosystem.
[Tuesday, February 15th], AFSCME, a 68,000-member union that represents state and municipal workers... started running buses from at least seven cities throughout Wisconsin.So the TAs gained the support of AFSCME (and its buses). Why did the Capitol Police let them stay? They're clearing everyone out today, supposedly, but why did they let them stay so long? I talked to the Capitol Police yesterday, and I asked them the questions I raised in this post about free speech and viewpoint discrimination. I got a sense of what the answer is and will write about that later today.
About 10,000 people gathered at the Capitol for noon and 5 p.m. rallies, holding protest signs and chanting "Kill the Bill!" and "This is What Democracy Looks Like!"
Inside, 3,000 more turned the ground-floor rotunda into a raucous drum circle and plastered the walls with anti-Walker, pro-union posters. It was the start of a protest village that would occupy the Capitol at least through Sunday, Feb. 27, when Capitol Police say they'll no longer allow protesters to stay overnight.
Back to the State Journal. (These are excerpts from the article. For a more complete timeline, go to the link at the beginning of this post.)
At the [Madison Teachers Inc.] meeting, executive director John Matthews discussed the far-reaching consequences of the bill and the group decided Madison teachers should spend the next three days at the Capitol - and not in the classroom.So the reason the protesters could stay in the building overnight was that the Democrats kept hearings going, which kept the building open. With the Madison schools closed, the crowd in the Capitol swelled on Wednesday, and many slept in the building overnight.
"We were in lockstep," said Matthews. "There was no dissention."...
About the same time, finance committee co-chairs Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, directed staff to stop registering people wanting to testify, angering opponents....
The committee adjourned about 3 a.m. Wednesday. At that point, Democrats continued hearing testimony in another room, giving justification to protesters to stay overnight in the Capitol.
Thursday morning, the Senate's Democrats absconded, which kept the bill from passing and the protest going. And here's a State Journal scoop: Republican Mike Ellis, the state senate president, helped the last of the 14 Democrats get out of state, at least according to that Democrat, Tim Cullen. Cullen was assisting the family of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Bill Bablitch, who had just died. Cullen says he called Ellis "to ask if he could enter the Capitol without being detained," and Ellis "said fine, come in. There's no problem." Keep in mind that the Republicans only needed one vote to meet their quorum. They had Cullen, and they let him get away! According to Cullen. Ellis even called Cullen as Cullen was driving to Illinois to "double check" if he got out okay. According to Cullen. Doesn't that mean the Republicans accepted or even encouraged the prolongation of the protests?
The flight of the 14 Democrats enthused the protesters, and Madison public schools were closed for a second day and then a third, February 17th and 18th. Saturday, the 19th, was the day the pro-Scott Walker people showed up too. They came, had a rally outside the building, and then left.
That was a week ago. The occupation of the Capitol continued, and you've seen the pictures and descriptions on this blog. Yesterday, we had "about 70,000 people" at the Capitol, but they were mainly outside. I went inside. I walked right up to the nearest door, and a "volunteer" in an orange vest told me to go wait in a line to go in some other door. This door was for... I didn't quite catch who the special people were who got to go right in the door I'd walked up to, but I said, "This is a public building. You're saying there are 2 kinds of people — ones that get right in and ones that go wait in line? Who are you?" He was obviously not a uniformed city official. I was all "Who are you?" and "How dare you!" and, after a few seconds, I (and Meade) got right through that door.
Once in, I said "How dare they!" about 10 times. Sorry, Meade didn't video that. You've never seen video as emotional as I was right then. I got outraged for myself and for all the people that were out there waiting in that line. I was outraged about them for 2 reasons: 1. Because they were treated as second-class citizens who had to enter through the subordinate door, and 2. Because they meekly accepted their subordination.* On the other hand, whether the restricted entry plan came from the Capitol Police or not, it assisted them in what appeared to me to be a well-coordinated procedure of closing down portions of the building and moving a smaller and smaller group into the central area. I assume this slowly tightening cordon will effectively accomplish the end of the occupation at 4 p.m. this afternoon.
* My stature as a "line pioneer" was verified by David Foster Wallace. I have that in writing from the now-dead genius writer, who had a problem with lines too.