The Protests in Wisconsin: A Personal and Family View


Matt, a close family friend, called on Wednesday and his voice was cracking with emotion when he told us that our 11-year-old probably wouldn’t have school tomorrow.  He had been with other members of WEAC that evening listening to testimony before the Senate committee. Teachers were going ahead with plans to protest at the Capitol the next day.  This was an extremely difficult decision for him and other teachers.  The teachers we know didn’t want to call in sick or be out of the classroom.

As a civics/history lesson our family went down to the Capitol on Thursday to see the protests since our district cancelled school.  I kept reminding my kids that if we were going to this sort of thing in some countries, say Egypt or Bahrain, they would have to worry about possibly getting shot.  My 16-year-old saw some of his teachers and was able to talk to two of them in the very noisy, very chaotic Rotunda. One apologized for not being in school but was glad he was there getting a different kind of education.  My kids had never been to a protest before this.  The sound echoing off the marble walls was deafening.  Spontaneous chants of “Kill the Bill,” “Tell me what democracy looks like-this is what democracy looks like” and others started up every few minutes.  There were families with young kids, UW students, teachers and union supporters of all ages waving signs and camping out.  It was an amazing atmosphere.  Most of the action was inside but the steps leading up to the Capitol from State Street were full of people with some very creative signs.

We left the square and visited Lori, their aunt, who heads the Sociology Dept at Madison College (formerly MATC) a couple of blocks from the Capitol.  She explained to the kids that the protests were not just about teachers’ salaries.  The Budget Repair bill would have many consequences, most importantly collective bargaining rights.  Unfortunately, the loss of these rights was not the focus of what was being talked about, at that point, in the media. [It has since become a central theme.]  She is the director of a non-profit that serves people with disabilities and she was aware that this bill would also give the Governor and a hand-picked board of four the ability to make changes in Medical Assistance without legislative review.  My brother and his wife rely almost solely on Medical Assistance.  Could they be dropped because they were too expensive to keep?

Lori also explained how the Governor was looking to make changes to the UW System that would separate UW-Madison from the rest of the state schools.  She believed that his intent was to gain more control over the UW-Madison’s board of Regents by inserting his appointees to this board (Walker has been very busy appointing friends and donors with questionable qualifications to take over various state agencies).  On Thursday this was not being talked about in the media but an article in today’s paper finally addressed this issue.  Biddy Marshall, UW-Madison Chancellor, states there may be a 20 percent tuition increase.  Not good for our college freshman!

The govenor’s Budget Repair bill, the state Republican and Democratic legislature’s “maneuvering,” the unions reaction, the news coverage, social media’s role in mobilizing people and publicizing events at lightening speed…it’s all been a fascinating political storm to witness in my backyard (a backyard where I usually just watch birds!).  This has certainly given me a crash course on Twitter.  On Friday night, instead of being at a fish fry, I was watching a 30-minute online video of the Governor’s responses to questions by a local TV editorial board where Walker explained why he thought he had to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights. 

Events in Madison also have people from all over the country paying attention.  They could be next!  It was amazing to see signs in the rotunda and on the Capitol grounds carried by people from St. Louis, San Francisco, Toronto, Chicago and other cities and groups.  There was a Cheesehead rally in NYC as well as in many places around the country.

But besides being a personal and political event, what continues to draw me in is the human event it has become.  Walking around the Capitol and listening to speeches with people who want desperately to be heard, people who are tired of being victimized and people who aren’t used to doing this sort of thing made me feel connected on very basic level.  This wasn’t about cheering a favorite team to the Rose Bowl or the Super Bowl (though there were free brats being handed out on Saturday).  Most people were genuinely interested, they were friendly, they chuckled at the hundreds of creative signs,and most importantly they want to work together to find a solution to this problem.  They want to do their part but they don’t want to give away the farm! 

We’ve already had to do that too many times here in Wisconsin.

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  • danfrommo

    Please wake up folks!  You will make much greater sacrifices soon.  Your actions in Wisconsin put the U.S. at risk of even worse than is happening in Libya!  For Gods sake, gather your families and begin to prepare for hard times.  Be thankful for each day of peace.

    Can’t happen in the good ole U.S.A. you say? 

  • crowepps

    What in heaven’s name are youy trying to say?  What actions in Wisconsin?  How do they put the U.S. at risk of “even worse”?  Are you saying that the citizens aren’t supposed to get uppity?

     

    I agree hard times are coming – conservative evangelicals are trying to start a civil war so they can ‘conquer’ their fellow citizens and install a theocracy, and they have no qualms about destroying the country in order to ‘save’ it.

  • julie-watkins

    Peaking in briefly. someone on dKos pointed out one (of many?) surprises in the 144 pg bill being protested is to let wisconsin energy plants to be sold, no hearings, no bid process. Probably would be a fire sale, pennies on the dollar.

  • ldan

    Basically, use the fiscal hard times to gin up fear and uncertainty so bills can slip through without much oversight (sounds an awful lot like the atmosphere at the federal level just post 9/11). Lovely.

  • freetobe

    be afraid, be very afraid.  At least the workers in this country are doing this demonstration peacefully without the use of firearms and or carrying firearms like a bunch of lunatics.

    I think that when I woke up today it said it was 2011 not the 1800′s like some people think.

    I think the Koch bros are going to start a rumble and that is what is scaring you? Remember the Commander in Chief is a Democrat!

  • julie-watkins

    I’ve read the “fiscal problem” is Gov Walker drastically cutting state revenue by giving tax breaks to businesses, then asking state workers & bulk of residents to pick up the tab by lower state take-home pay & reduced services.

    Ditto nation-wide for Bush & Obama / majority Dems (when had majority) didn’t undo.

  • beenthere72

    I’ve heard this many places as well.   He created the ‘fiscal problem’ for the specific intent of breaking up the unions.  The unions that are the top contributors to the dems.    Notice he gives breaks to the unions that are made up of mostly conservative voters (ie law enforcement).  

  • cmarie
  • rebellious-grrl

    What a great lesson in democracy for your children (and all involved). As a former union member I was on strike for several weeks (a few years ago) and I admire the tenacity and courage of the protesters in Wisc. (and the Middle East.) 

    This is a complex issue that has little to do with Wisconsin’s budget woes, but more to do with taking away worker’s rights (that have been hard fought for more than several decades by unions in Wisc.).  The Gov. cares more about the Koch brothers who fund him than about the hard working people of Wisc.

    Thanks for covering this important story.

     

    The Koch brothers as Wisconsin puppet masters
    http://www.salon.com/technology/how_the_world_works/2011/02/22/koch_brothers_no_bid_walker_wisconsin

    Insanely Rich Koch Bros Demand “Fiscal Sanity” in Wisconsin

    http://gothamist.com/2011/02/22/insanely_rich_koch_bros_demand_fisc.php

  • julie-watkins

    cmarie’s link says:

    Isn’t it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process?

    here’s another link:

    http://current.com/news/93011382_the-public-matters-wisc-state-rep-s-fiery-speech-against-walker-s-leadership.htm

    Commenting on a speech (the linked YouTube was removed, bandwidth maybe.)

    Notice what he is talking about? He is talking about a bill being submitted from a Washington think-tank, in a rush, with no debate, and no public input, that fundamentally changes the way America operates on behalf of big business. That’s economic “shock therapy” at it’s best. It is undemocratic, it is corrupt, and it is here. They are trying to do this, state by state. Recently congress has put forward a bill that keeps states from filing for bankruptcy. That would allow them to seek protection and thus resist these kinds of measures, these kinds of “shock therapy” resolutions being passed one state after the other. But congress, loyal to the neoliberal process, is doing their best to stop that.  It is treason and should be dealt with as such.

    and this is from a transcript:

     

    When we sit there in 4th grade and we learn about Wisconsin government and we learn about US government, we learn about how amazing it was that they came together. But we also learn that it was bloody, that people had to fight for it, and they wanted to make it hard to do big things. You’re supposed to be a deliberative body. You’re supposed to have discussions. And you’re supposed to be transparent, because the public matters in all of this input. And then, when we keep the hearings going and we honestly look at the bill, it’s 144 pages, we find out that there’s things like $47 million of federal aid cut. And my city writes me and said ‘yes, we will have to close our bus system.’ And when I have an honest amendment to carve that out, and I want to get it submitted, we show up here, and you guys are gonna vote without us three minutes before you told us to be here. Are you seeing a pattern here?

    http://lybio.net/gordon-hintz-representative-on-the-budget-repair-bill/people/

    I’m sorry the YouTube no longer works. It was a great speech.

  • rebellious-grrl

    From Salon, The Koch brothers as Wisconsin puppet

    masters
http://www.salon.com/technology/how_the_world_works/2011/02/22/koch_brothers_no_bid_walker_wisconsin

    It’s the bureaucratic budget legalese shot heard ’round the world! On Monday, “Ed” at the blog Gin and Tacos unearthed a gem from Wisconsin’s Budget Repair Bill that appears to be a smoking gun connecting Gov. Scott Walker to the notorious libertarian Tea Party puppet masters, the Koch brothers.

    16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state-owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

    Over the next 24 hours that paragraph rippled through the left-wing blogosphere at lightspeed. And for good reason. Koch Industries is a conglomerate with operations in scores of energy-related fields. There is no question that directly and indirectly, the Koch brothers contributed significant funds to Walker’s election. There’s also plenty of evidence that no-bid contracts are an invitation to cronyism and backroom deals. The blanket authorization that Walker’s bill offers for cutting deals with the private sector to get rid of state assets is blatantly undemocratic.

  • julie-watkins

    & thanks for being at the protest. I will reread this properly on lunch.

    Edit: didn’t have “lunch”, got a heads-up from my Union Steward & about 50+ people having a just-organized Solidarity protest/teach-in at U of I Alma Mater outside statue. Trying to do the same thing here, just not all at once. I didn’t know there’s Rebublican plans to spin off/privitize part of U of Wisconsin — as the speaker pointed out, that’s theft. There will be more Union stuff happening here & we are in solidarity with Wisconsin.

    Good luck to you!

  • julie-watkins

    argh, I can’t read that now. Have to work.

  • rebellious-grrl

    I had to post this just for laughs. I hate giving Sarah Palin anymore attention but when I read her FB post I couldn’t stop laughing.

    “a message to my fellow union brothers and sisters……”

    http://www.facebook.com/notes/sarah-palin/union-brothers-and-sisters-seize-opportunity-to-show-true-solidarity/10150093967618435

    Brothers and sisters? Has she ever been in a union? She said, “Wrong fight at the wrong time.” 

    WTF? What could be a better time than now?

  • danfrommo

    Google ” Honduras Teachers Torture “ 

     

    See what they have planned for u when they no longer need to use u.

     

     

  • catseye71352

    Don’t you mean when the Koch brothers no longer have any use for the ‘Baggaz?

  • rebellious-grrl

    And you point is?

  • goatini

    from your local libertarians, trying like hell to divide the left with fact-free FUD.  

    ZOMGWTFBBQ!!1  This is HUGH!!!11!  Be sure to RUN AWAY from demonstrations for collective bargaining rights!  By all and every means, RUN AWAY and SHUT UP!  Do NOT take any action!  Just HIDE!!  DO NOT SPEAK OUT!  They’re COMING FOR YOU!  The right won’t help you!  The left won’t help you!  They’re both the SAME anyway!  If the left doesn’t abandon party lines now we are DOOMED!! There’s only ONE man who can save us all!!

     

  • ack

    Thank you for portraying an accurate picture of the protests in Wisconsin. I encourage people to read this:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/opinion/21krugman.html

     

    This isn’t about the budget. If it were, unions who supported Republicans wouldn’t be held harmless. This is about ideology. This is about hatred of the teachers’ union, and disrespect for public employees. (Cuz, you know, it’s not like we pay rent, or own houses, or buy groceries, or buy gas, or make car payments, or go out to dinner, or contribute ANYTHING to the economy…)

     

    I encourage bloggers and people who are on Facebook and Twitter to post about teachers who made them who they are. We all have them; teachers who listened to us, believed in us, challenged us, and helped us become better people. They dealt with our Teenage Wasteland. They suggested books and guided us through extracurriculars that fulfilled us.

     

    I am who I am because of public schools. If you are, too, and if you think you turned out ok, talk about it.

  • ack

    Thank you for portraying an accurate picture of the protests in Wisconsin. I encourage people to read this:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/opinion/21krugman.html

     

    This isn’t about the budget. If it were, unions who supported Republicans wouldn’t be held harmless. This is about ideology. This is about hatred of the teachers’ union, and disrespect for public employees. (Cuz, you know, it’s not like we pay rent, or own houses, or buy groceries, or buy gas, or make car payments, or go out to dinner, or contribute ANYTHING to the economy…)

     

    I encourage bloggers and people who are on Facebook and Twitter to post about teachers who made them who they are. We all have them; teachers who listened to us, believed in us, challenged us, and helped us become better people. They dealt with our Teenage Wasteland. They suggested books and guided us through extracurriculars that fulfilled us.

     

    I am who I am because of public schools. If you are, too, and if you think you turned out ok, talk about it.

  • goatini

    am who I am because of public schools!

  • rebellious-grrl

    Gov. Walker in Prank Call: ‘This is Our Moment’

    “This is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says, talking about his fight with the unions in a prank phone call that was secretly taped by a Buffalo journalist Ian Murphy of the BuffaloBeast.com website who was posing as billionaire oilman David Koch.

     

    You can listen to the phone conversation at, http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/02/23-2