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