Archive for April, 2011

Voter ID

UPDATE: May 7,  The LaCrosse County DA has asked the Onalaska, WI Police Department to investigate. A detective has been assigned to the case. 

Madison, WI. During election season in Wisconsin it is common for legislative staffers to take a leave of absence and work on campaigns around the state.  For a couple of months they are assigned to a candidate who may not live in their home district, and in many cases, act as campaign managers.

In November of 2010 a republican legislative staffer, who in the past has worked for Rep. Mike Huebsch(Now DOA Secretary) and currently works for Rep. Warren Petryk, was assigned to the Dennis Clinard campaign in LaCrosse, WI.  This staffer owns a home in Madison where she has lived for several years.

On election day, Nov. 2nd, 2010, she posted on Facebook that she “just voted for Walker, Kapanke, Huebsch, Johnson and Van Hollen. Go Team!”.   Wait a minute…Kapanke? Onalaska Wisconsin?

Edited version of FB conversation to protect identity of participants. M is the subject.

But she lives in Madison, not Onalaska.  Her statement caught my attention because I wondered how someone who resides in Madison could vote in a district over 100 miles from their primary residence.   Good question, right? Especially since Governor Walker and our Republican State Legislature, her colleagues,  are making so much noise about fair elections and pushing a mean-spirited Voter ID bill that has the very real possibility of disenfranchising thousands of seniors, students and minorities in order to facilitate the creation of a permanent conservative majority.

The Wisconsin Voter ID Bill, or AB 7,  is set to become one of the most restrictive Voter ID bills in the nation for its special crackdown on students. If it passes, in 2012 voters will need to produce a drivers license, a state ID, a passport or naturalization papers, a military ID or Native American tribal ID in order to vote. A student ID would no longer be an acceptable form of identification.  It will make it difficult for out-of-state students to vote on their college campuses where they live nine months out of the year.

I happen to be a Facebook friend of the wandering Republican legislative staffer in question.  Back in November when she posted the information, I called her on it. She asserted that she “was living there”.  Not true.  She was temporarily residing in Onalaska knowing that she would be returning to Madison the day after the elections as evidenced by her additional facebook post; “Will finally be home in approx. 16 hours! Watch out Lake Point!”  Watch out indeed.

Here is a link to the Wisconsin State Elections Handbook. The following is excerpted from pages 37 and 38:

2. Temporary Absence.
a. Residency is not lost when a person leaves home and goes to another
country, state, county, town, village, or ward temporarily with intent
to return home. Residency cannot be established in any ward, town,
village or city in this state while living there temporarily.

This activity begs the question:  Is it common for GOP staffers to vote in districts where they are temporarily working on campaigns in order to give a little boost to their candidate?  This is what absentee ballots are designed for. In light of recent extremely close contests,  such as the 163 vote victory of  Rep. Randy Hopper over Democrat Jessica King, is it conceivable  that a “Mobile GOP Voting Strike Force” could potentially sway elections? What stops a large corporation, say, Koch Industries, from subsidizing apartments for a month or so where folks could claim residency in critical state elections.  That scenario might sound a bit far fetched, but is it possible? Sure.

Before the GOP endeavors to disenfranchise voters with this bill, perhaps they should police their own operatives to make sure they remember where they reside at election time.

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L to R, Tag Evers, Jon Langford, Ben Manski and Patrick DePula

How do you know it might be time to take a break from the revolution? You come home from work late, wife and child are sleeping, you pour yourself a glass of 2nd tier scotch and make a Parmesan/Sriracha omelette with a couple of Hebrew National hotdogs on the side. Yeah, need to go grocery shopping and remember that I’ve got a little one to spend some time with.

So…It’s been a long week, culminating in one of the most incredible events I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve gone from being a participant, to acquiring press credentials, to helping organize one of the best rallies against corporate greed and GOP money politics yet.

Here’s how it went down.

Last Thursday, I was eating a hasty lunch and perusing the interwebs for information about rallies scheduled for the coming weekend. Not much information at all. I had ran into my friend Tag Evers, when I gained access to the capitol with my handy Mudflats press pass. And something he said struck a chord: “We must hold the Capitol Square. It is symbolic of the larger movement.” So, that said, I created an event on Facebook and called it, rather generically, “The Largest Rally Yet against Scott Walker and The Budget Despair Bill”. I simply hoped to encourage folks to head downtown and keep the pressure on. I had no Idea that I had just set the machinery in motion that would ultimately lead to shaking Michael Moore’s hand just 36 hours later.

Patrick DePula and Michael Moore.

After making the post, I focused on work for the rest of the day. Right before I left, I signed into Facebook and realized I had 27 messages about the “rally” with questions such as “are you bussing from Milwaukee?” “Who are the speakers?”, “Do you have a sound system”? Then I noticed that there were thousands of people RSVPing. So I thought to myself that it would be a good idea to pull a program together.

Later that night I ended up at Fair Trade Coffee, deep in conversation with Tag Evers, Activist Concert Promoter, and Ben Manski,  Director of The Liberty Tree Foundation. Ben’s wife Sarah was also present; another indispensable organizer. We decided to put something together under the umbrella of Wisconsin Wave, a group consisting of labor unions and social and economic justice organizations. Tag discussed artists that might be interested, and those that he’d already been in contact with. Ben, Sarah and I discussed potential speakers and a framework. At around 11 pm we broke and all went home. Just as I was walking in the door I received a text from Tag that Michelle Shocked had confirmed. Awesome.

Friday morning I rush to work and try to get as much done as possible and then go about booking a flight and hotel for Michelle Shocked and other logistics related things, such as applying for the necessary permits. Of course, right while I’m booking the best priced flight for Michelle from LAX to ORD, the internet in the office crashes, hard. Thankfully I have an air-card that I was able to use to complete the transaction. Finally, airfare is paid for. We’re committed. And I still don’t have the permit. I finally received a call from the capitol police at 7 pm telling me that the permit was approved.

We decide to meet at 9 pm at The Orpheum in order to finalize our plans for Saturday. By now, over 30,000 people have been invited to the rally with thousands responding. And we haven’t even announced the speakers or musical guests yet!

So late Friday, we finally send out a press release. It includes Michelle Shocked, Ryan Bingham, Jon Langford, Vo5, Mayor Dave, Congresswoman Baldwin, and a host of other community activists. What makes this rally different, is that we’re deviating a bit from the union message. We’re now talking about how the GOP/Walker bill is hurting everyone in Wisconsin, except the handful of rich folks that Scott Walker loves to pander to.

RSVPs on Facebook are now coming in at a rate of 150 per hour. We finally break late Friday night after dividing up some tasks and ultimately try to get a few hours of sleep. Load in is at 8 am, Saturday.

Meanwhile, all hell is breaking loose at the capitol. The doors are breached, and protesters rush the building only to be stopped by police next to the first set of stairs. Fox news also pulls out of town, most likely because they can’t go on air without loud chants of “Fox Lies!” No matter, because they DO lie. Has anyone seen the infamous Wisconsin Palm Tree video? The final holdouts leave the building, and the Department Of Administration promises to comply with the court order to return to the same security condition the capitol was in before the protests began.

Saturday Morning comes, and I need to run my son 44 miles south of Madison so my parents can watch him while I engage in what will become one of the biggest rallies yet.

I get back to Madison at about 10:30, drop off a tent and table by the stage, then meet with volunteers at The Majestic Theater. After a briefing by Adam, Wisconsin Waves coordinator, we break to the capitol, one block away, and get things ready.

12:05 arrives and we are missing a couple of guests. We scramble to call them and get them to the stage. Everyone finally shows up and we start. Speakers are phenomenal and the crowd roars. Finally,Ryan Bingham takes the stage and with a slightly gravely, smoked voice starts singing “The Times, They are A Changin’” by Bob Dylan. Amazing performance. Hardly a dry eye within 400 yards of the stage. At about 12:30, we receive a call that Michael Moore is deplaning and wants to speak at our rally. We enthusiastically agree!

Ryan Bingham, Wisconsin Wave rally, 3/05/2011

All of our speakers are great. We have folks from the Sierra Club, Family Farm Defenders, Hmong groups, labor, student groups – truly a diverse collective. Then Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and former mayor Paul Soglin share the stage, and discuss how though they may be political opponents, running for the same seat, they are united against the corporatization of Wisconsin. Michelle Shocked then performs and is amazing. She sounds like a Wisconsin Native and has such an awareness of what is going on in our beloved state.

Michelle Shocked

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and Mayor Paul Soglin

At about 2 pm Michael Moore shows up in a procession with firefighters, and the Daily Beast Editor who crank called Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and takes over for the next 30 minutes. He gives an incredibly inspiring speech about how we’ve all had enough! And about how we’ve been fleeced by corporations and the top 400 most wealthy individuals in the country. He also repeatedly praises the Wisconsin Senators who fled to Illinois. Many rousing cheers reverberate around the capitol square. When I stood on the stage I could see people all the way down King Street. Easily 35,000 people were gathered.

Michael Moore Arrives

Michael Moore addresses the protestors.

Michael winds down and we hear from Tammy Baldwin who poignantly offers that we are all in the fight of our lives, as she details proposed cuts to state and federal budgets that will certainly negatively impact working Wisconsin families.

US Rep. Tammy Baldwin

Finally, Jon Langford, of the Mekons plays Union Made. Great song, great response by the crowd. When his full set is through, Ben, Tag and I join him on stage and we sing “Solidarity Forever” as one of the strangest boy bands in history.

Who would have thought that my Facebook post would have turned into the “We are Wisconsin!” rally featuring Michael Moore, Michelle Shocked, Ryan Bingham, Jon Langford, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, Mayor Dave, Paul Soglin, and a host of others. But we pulled it off, printed t-shirts over-night, and managed to collect enough donations to pay for the equipment and other expenses.

But what is becoming completely evident, is that this is no longer a protest. This is a movement. What the mainstream media fails to discuss is that this is a homegrown phenomenon. It’s no longer solely about unions. The right wing has succeeded in radicalizing the middle class, and we won’t stop until we’ve recalled them all.

Patrick DePula
Madison, WI
for TheMudflats.net

Twitter. Facebook. 

[Photos courtesy of Phil Ejercito. See more of his photos from the event  HERE]

“In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin,” Democratic Sen. Mark Miller said in a statement. “Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten.” 

Police Mustering on Second Floor

MADISON, WI. Thousands of angry citizens stormed the Wisconsin State Capitol this evening when the Republican Senate, after removing fiscal items from the original bill, passed legislation that will strip public unions of most of their collective bargaining rights and require employees to pay 8% more toward their health insurance and and a greater share of their pensions.    Earlier today State Senator  and majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), appeared on Fox news admitting that the end game had always been to marginalize labor unions in order to defeat Obama in 2012.  Hey Scott, since when is it the job of the state senate to help a presidential candidate win?  And just last week Scott Walker was adamantly explaining that collective bargaining was a fiscal issue. But suddenly it isn’t, or it was…

Protestors Inside the Capitol

Hundreds of cars circled the capitol honking their horns in support while the crowd grew seemingly by the minute.  Teamsters in their trucks were handing out American Flags, and obviously had some sort of train whistle installed in one of their vehicles.  Gone was the relatively easy going attitude of the crowd that had become a hallmark over the last several weeks. It had been replaced by anger, outrage and utter disbelief.While walking around the Capitol, I ran into an old friend who told me that GOP senators were now holed up in the Inn on the Park across the square.  So we walked over there, and sure enough the camera around my neck caught their attention when we walked into the bar.  We tweeted and facebooked the info and within minutes, protesting firefighters showed up who were quite angry. Ultimately, the republicans fled from the bar to their rooms.

Inside the Rotunda- Mass Protest Rally.

Heading back to the capitol we noticed the doors were wide open allowing easy entry to the building.  As we are making our way to the rotunda it becomes obvious that there are no police in sight. We reach the press office where I’m able to obtain today’s pass. It is clear that this is one of the biggest crowds to occupy the building yet.  There are constant reminders over  the PA system that “the capitol is closed, please leave”. No one is paying the messages any mind.  It is now clear that all the police have retreated to the second and third floors.  One semi-official estimate is that there is 8,000 people gathered under the dome, while thousands more march outside.  The crowd is a mix of teachers, union members, college students, and every day folks who have finally had it.

At about 10:30 pm, I enter the press office and find Tim Donovan, spokesperson for the Department of Administration and Capitol Police giving an impromptu press conference. Mr. Donovan states that “there will be a large number, a significantly larger amount, of law enforcement at the capitol.”  Another reporter asks if he was informed ahead of time about the surprise vote. He answers “yes, I was told at about 5-ish and we tried to have more law enforcement on hand, obviously not enough”. Finally, I ask “Have you been in touch with the National Guard today?” Mr. Donovan responds with “Yes, the National Guard provides emergency law enforcement assistance, and in that capacity, yes, we have had discussions with them, but as far as being on alert goes, that’s a question for the governor”.   He then exits.

Back in the rotunda, things are getting louder, drums are beating, and the police are trying to deny access to the second floor.  Lound chants of “Let us up” reverberate through the building, and people start handling supplies up to the folks on the stairs behind the police officers.  At one point the crows learns that stairs on the other side of the building are unguarded, and there is a rush up them, to the second floor.  It appears as if some of the occupiers are now digging in for the night.

Folks, that’s what happened this evening.  The crowd peacefully took control of the Wisconsin State Capitol by overwhelming the police.  This seems to be without recent precedent in American politics.  The vote will now go to the assembly tomorrow(today) at 11:00 am.  There’s much talk about a general strike and plenty of rumors taking on lives of their own.  I’ll have more updates tomorrow, but for now, good night.

Patrick DePula
Originally posted to http://www.themudflats.net

Union Worker Standing Strong during one of the First Mass Protests.

Originally posted: 3/2/11 Appeared at http://www.themudflats.net

(Madison, WI)It’s a community called Rotundaville. It boasts a medical clinic/dispensary manned by capable folks who know first aid, a food preparation/pantry area, a communal charging station for electronics, its own Facebook page, and even a family respite center. It’s a village unto its own that functions 24 hours per day, under the persistently glowing lights inside the capitol dome. And it is home to an eclectic group of dedicated volunteers who care for the sick, provide food, coordinate cleaning crews, and most importantly, occupy this normally staid symbol of Wisconsin State government in protest of Governor Scott Walker’s mean-spirited and unfair “Budget Repair Bill”.

Volunteer Staffed Dispensary inside Wisconsin State Capitol

For two weeks now the State capitol has been continually occupied by a diverse group of people while tens of thousands of angry citizens parade around the square in opposition to all things Walker. Today I was able to gain access and experience first hand what’s been going on inside.

Tag Evers, Activist Music Promotor - Addresses the Protestors.

While approaching the building at 4:30pm from the King Street side, a dedicated crowd of about 300 people were waiting in line to gain access to the building. An impromptu rally had begun with the ever present megaphones. I had this passing thought that someone should call Radio Shack and see if there was a sudden uptick in megaphone sales that soon dissipated when I noticed that the assembly democrats had MOVED THEIR DESKS OUTSIDE and were conducting the people’s business in 30-degree Wisconsin winter weather.

WI State Representatives see Constituents Outside During Lockdown.

Why? Because it is becoming nearly impossible for representatives to meet with their constituents inside the building. Not so for right- to-life lobbyists that share the Governor’s agenda.

Matt Sande, of Pro-Life Wisconsin manages to gain entry in just under 8 minutes while regular citizens wait in line for hours. Furthermore, during Walker’s budget address, it appears that he may have allowed his supporters alone to access the Capitol via tunnels from the Risser Justice building located nearby. Madison City Councilman Bryon Egon snapped this photo of State Division of Criminal Investigation agents guarding what they say is a “storm shelter. ” Well, Councilman Eagon saw Mrs. Walker enter the “Storm Shelter”.

Massive Police Presence

While Walker’s cronies were freely entering the capitol, a hearing was underway regarding a court order issued by Judge Moeser to open the capitol completely to the public in accordance with the Wisconsin State Constitution. Of course, the Walker administration ignored the order and continued to severely and unconstitutionally restrict access. The hearing will continue through Thursday. Today, even the Honorable Dave Obey, former 21-term congressional representative from Wisconsin’s 7th District, was denied access to the capitol for the first time in 50 years. He went on to call Walker a “political bully”.

Okay, I’m rambling a bit. Upon entering the capitol, I immediately noticed Representative Brett Hulsey talking to members of the press. We exchanged some pleasantries and he dramatically announced “Welcome to our new police state!” And he was right. The police officers manning the building easily outnumbered the protesters by at least a 2:1 margin. Law Enforcement came from communities all across the state: Walworth and Trempeleau Counties, Prescott, Ellsworth, and a host of other small towns.

Interesting that Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney withdrew his deputies from the building while stating “My deputies will not be palace guards”. Kudos to Sheriff Mahoney for doing the right thing. Department of Administration Secretary Huebsch states that law enforcement costs are exceeding $5 million dollars. For what? I can’t see the justification in ordering 300 police officers to guard what appears to be 80 peaceful and respectful protesters inside the building. So much for the King of Frugality that Walker would have you believe he is.

It’s clear that we’re entering some seriously troubling times; The capitol is locked down with hundreds of police officers, The poorly thought out “Budget Repair Bill” is rife with attacks on Wisconsin families while further rewarding corporate interests. The Capitol square is overrun with angry residents every single day in a sustained protest the likes of which has not been seen since the War in Vietnam. Yet, the emperor still isn’t listening. Neither is the GOP majority. Together they continue to run roughshod over the rights of the very citizens they were elected to represent.

Amazingly, the folks inside the dome remain upbeat and they realize that they are a part of history and engaged in something significant. It’s not just college kids, but parents, teachers, firefighters, cops, iron workers and others that are staying overnight and keeping vigil. They are desperately trying to keep the Wisconsin Idea alive and would most likely be making Bob LaFollette proud if he were still around.

It’s not about Union busting, fiscal responsibility, the budget, or anything else but power. And making damn sure that the ruling class remains the GOP by eviscerating unions and pitting the middle class against each other. What Walker didn’t count on was Madison. Last Friday he was politely refused service at a new local restaurant because the other patrons were booing so loudly. He was asked to leave much to the amusement of nearly everyone in town. Beyond that, Madison is a special place with a population that basically exists within one degree of separation between everyone. A simple Facebook post that calls folks to action at the capitol will result in five thousand people showing up by 5 o’clock. Give it another hour, and you’ll have 10,000. Quite remarkable in a city of 227,000. We’re a compassionate lot here, supporting many joint causes and with many overlapping social circles, hence our strength. We will continue to resist because there’s no other choice. We’re proud of our city and won’t falter. We’ll win together.

One can only imagine what tomorrow will bring, but until then, good night!

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Democratic State Representatives Meet With Constituents Outside During Lockdown