Monday, February 28, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin: The dawn of week three

May you live in interesting times.

Said as a curse, not a blessing, this saying (allegedly of Chinese origin, but who knows really) certainly applies to the current situation in Wisconsin. I'm still attempting to nurse myself back to health from a particularly nasty and tenacious cold, but have been doing my best to keep up with events as they unfold.

I wrote a summary of today's public access crackdown at the Capitol for Dane101 if you'd like to check it out. Basically, just over two weeks in, the Department of Administration and, presumably, Republican officials have decided that the public's ability to enter the building should be severely limited. Even those who work in the Capitol have been trouble getting in, bags are being searched, and now the rumor is that the windows are being welded and/or locked shut in order to prevent food from being delivered to protesters who've either been inside since yesterday or managed to squeak in this morning.

This all comes after the optimism of last night, when police conceded to allowing demonstrators to remain in the rotunda even after the 4 p.m. shutdown time handed down by the Walker administration.

All of it is being done under the guise of needing time to clean the building (even though they were able to clean it while protesters were there, and even though protesters themselves have been cleaning during the entire occupation), and now, I can only assume, because Walker has decided to give his budget address from the Assembly instead of off-site as originally planned.

Interesting, because the Wisconsin State Constitution explicitly forbids the Legislature from restricting the public's access to the building for any reason.

In the meantime, Walker is now also trying to say that a flyer found in the Capitol proves that the union claims that they're willing to concede to increased pension and benefit contributions in order to keep collective bargaining rights (something the national press as almost entirely ignored, by the way) are false. Because we all know that 1) random flyers found in the rotunda should be taken as gospel truth, and 2) Walker and the GOP wouldn't possibly make shit up in order to demonize their opponents.


I'll have more on all of this, plus a few other related items, in a comprehensive Emily's Post tomorrow. You can also check out a handy timeline of events so far over at Isthmus. Suffice to say that this ain't over, and I suspect times will get yet more interesting in the near future.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lost Time: Battle for Wisconsin, Day 11

Sometimes technology just fails you. I spent several hours at the capitol today, sending information and photos about the protests to Twitter via my fancy schmancy new phone (specifically through HootSuite), only to come home tonight to find that none of my posts had actually, y'know, posted.

More than a little frustrating, but not the end of the world.

What I saw today was pretty amazing, though - a continuation of the impromptu community that's sprung up in the rotunda, with several tables of free, donated food (including vegan options, natch), a lending library, first aid station, and even a roped off "family area" for kids and parents to hang out and play.

The rotunda is covered in signs of all sorts - some showing solidarity from far away states, some displaying good humor about the situation, some displaying crucial information about events and organizing as well as background facts on the current situation. There's a huge paper banner covered in signatures from people pledging to go on general strike should the bill pass, and a whole wing on the second floor covered with messages from individuals to Scott Walker expressing their opposition.

The firefighters continue to rally to show support and almost always do so with the help of their bagpipe and drum corps. I ran into a gent dressed as the Predator outside on the capitol steps. The first piece of #wiunion related graffiti I've seen in nearly two weeks of action, which shows remarkable restraint, I think.

I'm told that tonight several elected officials are camping out with the protesters in the rotunda. On Saturday there's been a call to hold solidarity rallies at capitol buildings in all 50 states.

It's both strange and wonderful to find yourself in the middle of such an enormous and important historical moment. I have been nothing but impressed and inspired by the fortitude and dedication of the multitudes of Wisconsin residents and out-of-state friends who've committed to seeing this thing through. I can only hope that the momentum remains even after this particular battle is fought and done.

Tomorrow I'm taking an official day off from everything and heading to Milwaukee for a mountain bike clinic at Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park. I'm hoping it will go a long way toward refreshing me and rebooting my brain to tackle the days ahead.

Many thanks, too, to everyone on Twitter and around the internet who've been keeping up with all of this and doing what they can to help spread information. When my technology isn't acting up, you can follow me, too, for updates and the like @millbot.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin: Day 9 personal update

It's official: I'm exhausted. But I can't stop paying attention, which means that I can't stop running around to cover as much of the goings on here in Madison as physically possible. I suspect I'm going to get very sick very soon if this keeps up.

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in on a roundtable interview with SEIU president Mary Kay Henry. You can read more about that over at today's Emily's Post if you'd like, but suffice to say that she was very personable and very informed and seems like an excellent choice to lead that union group. Glad she came to town to show support.

Today I've been at the capitol since about 11 a.m., observing yet another rally on the State Street steps (it was only a matter of time before local political song group The Raging Grannies got their turn at the mic). I slipped inside about halfway through to find the rotunda as filled with people and drumming as always.

Only two of the entrances/exist to the building are open (north and west, I think) to the public, with a very heavy police presence guarding all of the rest, as well as upper stairways and galleries leading to Senate, Assembly, and Supreme Court chambers. I've seen cops and troopers from all over the state, too, including places like Waukesha and Manitowoc.

On the second floor of the capitol there are several impromptu stations set up by and for protesters, including a large free food set-up (I availed myself of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because I was about to fall over from hunger at one point), a first aid station, boxes full of free toiletries for those camping out, information booths, and more.

These folks know how to do it up right.

My only regret is that I physically can't partake of the boatloads of free pizza being donated from around the country/world to the protesters via Ian's Pizza. It's hard to catch wafts of delicious cheese smells and know that I can't eat any. Stupid lactose intolerance.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who's been in town for a few days now, also joined Rep. Tammy Baldwin at the head of a large parade of state firefighters as they walked around the rotunda and eventually gave some short, fiery speeches at the center of the crowd. Think I managed to snap a few good shots of the shindig, so keep your eye on my Flickr account if you're interested.

Anyway, this afternoon I'm going to attempt to cover the firefighters and nurses "address for the people" at 3 p.m. that will act as a sort of counterweight (I hope) to Walker's fireside chat at 6 p.m. - which is bound to be just as smug and infuriating as always.

A friend just brought me free food from Himal Chuli, so my day is pretty damn good.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin - Week Two upcoming events, etc.

The situation here in Madison only grows more interesting by the day. I feel like I've been holding on by my fingernails, just trying to keep up with everything and get as much coverage of events out to the world as possible (and on that note, you can follow my real-time updates of events via my Twitter account, and see photos via Flickr).

Yesterday was my first chance to get a little bit of downtime, and of course now that means I'm fighting off yet another cold that's trying to take up lodging in my throat. But my plan for the week is to keep at it - see things through until some sort of resolution is reached.

There are lots of events planned for the week here in Madison, as well as rumors of surprise guests, anti-union agent provocateurs, efforts to clean up the capitol building, and about a billion other things. I've tried to compile as comprehensive a list of everything below, hopefully for your edification.

I've been nothing less than impressed and inspired by how peaceful everything has been up until now, so let's keep it that way, folks!


Monday, Feb. 21:
  • Noon rally on the State St. side of the capitol, "Speakers will include former Green Bay Packer wide receiver (1994-95) Charles Jordan."
  • 5 p.m. rally, State St. side of the capitol, including a concert with Tom Morello (of the Nightwatchmen, formerly of Rage Against the Machine), Wayne Kramer (solo acoustic, of the MC5), Mike McColgan (singer of the Street Dogs, former lead singer of the Dropkick Murphys), Tom Gabel (from Against Me!), and Tim McIlrath (from Rise Against).
Tuesday, Feb. 22:
  • Noon rally on the State St. side of the capitol.
  • 5 p.m. rally on the State St. side of the capitol
Wednesday, Feb. 23:
  • THIS COULD BE REALLY IMPORTANT: Wisconsin Manufacturer's and Commerce (WMC), a notoriously right-wing corporate lobby with way too much influence in our capitol, is holding a "Business Day in Wisconsin" at the Monona Terrace Convention Center...which is just a couple blocks away from the capitol building in Madison. Featured guest speakers at this event include Rep. Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker. Might be time for the protesters to take a little detour to make their voices heard and presence felt. (this event was organized prior to the beginning of the protests, so keep your eyes peeled if they make any last minute agenda changes) UPDATE TO ADD: A picket is being organized by Wisconsin Wave at 1 p.m. - more details here.

There are plenty of anti-union people and organizations doing their very best to smear the image of the protesters and feed the media a message that they've been violent and are just a bunch of extremist thugs. No surprise there, but we can all be vigilent in making sure that 1) none of us do anything to feed their fires by remaining peaceful and respectful, and 2) being on the look-out for some good old fashioned agent provocateurs.

Raging right-wing talk radio host Mark Williams out of Sacramento, for instance, has decided to publicly announce on his blog that he hopes to "infiltrate" a solidarity rally being held in his city, under the guise of being an organizer, with the sole intent of feeding extreme images to the media. Thus typed Williams:
Our goal is to make the gathering look as greedy and goonish as we know that it is, ding their credibility with the media and exploit the lazy reporters who just want dramatic shots and outrageous quotes for headlines.  Even if it becomes known that we are plants the quotes and pictures will linger as defacto truth.
Williams also claims that he's received a "flood" of emails from fellow "Tea Party patriots" vowing to do the same in their respective states where solidarity events are being held. It's entirely possible that these are just the ramblings of one loose screw and not likely to impact events very much, if at all, but it's important that we remain aware of the possibility of people showing up at rallies with less-than-honorable intentions. If you see one of these chuckleheads, be sure to point them out loudly to everyone nearby but not to engage directly with them.

The best thing we can all do is go on being peaceful, respectful, clear-headed, and focused.

  • The ACLU has been handing out these "Bust Cards" (pdf) to protesters as a solid reference for what to do in the off chance that you find yourself in conflict with law enforcement. Know your rights and responsibilities!
  • The TAA has put together a website where you can donate money for either rally organizing and food, and/or to help clean up the capitol building itself. Many volunteers have already been working hard to keep our beautiful capitol clean during its occupation, but more can always be done! This is a great way to support your state and to make the cause look even better.
  • Wisconsin Wave's petition "Against Corporatization and Austerity and for Democracy and Shared Prosperity."
  • One Wisconsin Now's petition opposing Scott Walker's unprecedented power grab and move to take rights away from Wisconsinite's while refusing to negotiate with them.
I will be updating this post as the day progresses - please feel free to drop me a line if you know of any events or resources or information that you think should be added!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin: Day Four

I'm sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Madison, taking a momentary break from the incredible volume (both sound and bodies) of the protests against the governor's bill to bust public employee unions.

I've just come from the capitol building, where a massive rally - I'm guessing the biggest yet this week - was taking shape. Inside the dome itself, thousands packed into the building to voice their displeasure with the bill, which the state senate was this morning attempting to vote on. Amazingly, happily, we got word that all of the Democratic senators (and possibly two Republicans) walked out and have now left the city entirely to avoid voting on the measure. Republicans currently hold a majority in the Legislature and can pretty much rubber stamp whatever Walker wants, so this action was entirely necessary.

Firefighters and cops - both groups exempted from Walker's union busting plans - have joined the protesters for the last several days, and this morning when their contingent marched into the throngs inside the capitol rotunda they got a heroes welcome. I've rarely been in the middle of such an incredible, deafening din as I was today. The sound was almost overwhelming.

Masses of students - grade school through college - have joined their teachers on the streets to demand the bill be defeated. I saw a girl holding a sign that read, "Tell FOX News that I know exactly why I'm here!"

People are upbeat, determined. There's some hope now that our saga has reached national and even some international media. President Obama released a statement calling Walker's bill "union busting." And now the Dems have walked out, further eroding the Republican push to rush this measure through as quickly as possible.

The people of Wisconsin are standing up and making themselves heard. I couldn't be prouder to be a citizen of this state than I am today.


Video taken by me in the crush of bodies in the capitol rotunda earlier today, as firefighters marched through to show their support. Gives you a decent idea of the size and intensity of the crowd:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin, pt. 2

Today all Madison public schools are closed due to a massive teacher sick-out (most, I can only assume, are headed for the capitol, where the vote on Walker's union-busting bill is scheduled to happen today at 3 p.m.).

Yesterday, their students showed support by walking out and joining the protests downtown. I shot some video of the action, which you can check out right here:

Updates as I get them today...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Battle for Wisconsin

Shit's getting real, folks.

Our newly elected (sigh) Governor Scott Walker, a man with a long history of fucking up government in Milwaukee and now apparently intent on doing the same for the state, recently announced his plan to strip almost all collective bargaining rights from state employees. He also wants them to contribute more toward pensions and health benefits, which is, as far as any state worker has told me, absolutely fine. Very few people are protesting that - but the stripping of their right to fair representation with their employers? Yeah, people are pissed.

That's at least 50 years of established state law he's spitting on. Not to mention just a vengeful thing to do.

I've been writing about this over at my "professional" blog, Emily's Post, for the last week now and will be continuing to cover this debacle as it unfolds this week and beyond (you can see video I took of yesterday's UW student protest here). You can also find some of my handiwork over at Dane101, along with plenty of other good coverage.

This is a crucial moment in Wisconsin history, so it's good to see so many people so up in arms and ready to fight for their rights and the rights of their friends and neighbors. I can only hope the outcry doesn't fall on deaf ears in the Legislature, where the so-called budget repair bill that contains the union busting provision is being rammed through this week.

Lots of other good bloggers and reporters have been and will continue to cover the saga, as well, and all are worth keeping tabs on:
Even the Wisconsin Sports Network has gotten in on the action, as have some current and former Green Bay Packers. The DailyKos and FiredogLake are all paying attention on the national level, too. Finally, this article by a public school teacher is must-read. Because the issue here is less about money, like some media outlets have tried to frame it, and far more about the fundamental rights that we as Americans hold dear.

UPDATE (2/15/11 - 5:51 p.m.)

What an amazing day. Will have my full recap for Emily's Post on Thursday, but you can check out my set of photos from today's rallies right here. That's 10,000+ people converging on the capitol, including some 700 East High School students who walked out of class and marched 3 miles to join. The whole thing was also surprisingly on message for a lefty protest - lots of people from all over the state, both union and non-union alike, and very exuberant.

I'm told that there are still thousands of people up at the capitol, mostly due to a large contingent of public school teachers who came out once their work was done for the day. Lots of folks packed into the Joint Finance Committee meeting discussing the budget repair bill, and word from those inside is that those speaking against the bill outnumber those for it something like 20 to 1.

An interesting week, indeed. Expect more posts here in the future, too. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


(rediscovered cell phone pic, what can I say)
The Lost Albatross