Madison, WI. The sky was gray, the temperature below 50, and the wind brisk. Perfect Wisconsin protesting weather. Nearly 20,000 people came out to the capitol Saturday to protest the Walker Administrations’ war on the middle class. You’d never know that the Wisconsin Uprising continues if you get your news from the mainstream media. The rally opened with music by PurgAtory Hill, an intense and otherworldly Sturgeon Bay duo consisting of grammy-nominated Pat mAcdonald, and his partner MelanieJane. Pat dedicated the song “Reset” to resetting Wisconsin government. Essentially, PurgAtory Hill has taken delta blues, amped it up to 11, added some serious low end rumble and injected some bad-ass rock and roll to create a sound that manages to be both working-class and anti-class.
As the band played, the crowd continued to grow in size. At the end of their 45 minute set, Pat encouraged the drum circle folks to give him a beat, which resulted in a spontaneous jam that included the massed crowd singing “re-call Wal-ker”. Shortly after their set, MelanieJane confessed “I’ve never really been part of a rally like this. When I saw the union members marching in from all sides, I started to tear up a little”. Video Here.
Former mayor Dave Cieslewicz opened the program with a joke. “Hi I’m Dave, I used to be Mayor of Madison, but when I was, they never let me speak. So today I arranged it so I could.” he went on to describe how we’ve created a true, national progressive movement that won’t stop at simply fighting for union rights. “First, we’re going to recall those republican senators. Then we’re going to recall Walker and take our state back”. Thousands roared in agreement.
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D- Middleton) took the stage next, accompanied by his son. He encouraged those attending the rally to focus on helping the democrats running in the recall elections. “This is the last time I want to see you in Madison,” he said to the massed protestors. “You can go vacation in Minocqua and help out Jim Holperin, or La Crosse, which is beautiful right now, and help out Jen Shilling.”
Up next is Ben Mansksi, former national co-chair of the green party and assembly candidate. He stated that Walker’s budget was designed in back rooms by lobbyists and special interest groups in order to “tax the poor and feed the rich”. He encouraged continued resistance and then led the protestors in a passionate chant; “We reject your budget!”
Mahlon Mitchell, the charismatic president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, said “We have touched lives of Americans all over the United States, and they’re watching”. He recalled a recent trip to Oregon where he heard a new chant that certainly applies to the uprising in Wisconsin. He then led the crowd with “Banks got bailed out, and people got sold out”. He followed that with a question. “What is the role of the union? Well I’m gonna tell you. The American Dream. He added “The role of the union is to make the American dream an opportunity to live with dignity, and to enjoy the fruits of your labor”.
Several other speakers addressed the protestors including Mary Bell, the President of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “We are still here, and we are waiting to be heard”. Bell said, “They thought you would give up. That you’d go home and watch Dancing with the Stars and you’d forget about the largest power-grab in the history of the state of Wisconsin! Well, that didn’t happen”. Bell added, “They thought you’d forget about cuts to seniors, to poor children and to schools in this state. Well that didn’t happen either.”
90 days after the first protest against Governor Scott Walker’s draconian budget repair bill in February, we’re still taking to the streets. We are unbowed. Wisconsin citizens have initiated 6 historic recall elections against republican state senators. Scores of new activists and leaders are involved in making a difference. We’ve shut down banks that financed the Walker Campaign, occupied the State capitol for weeks, held up the egregious collective bargaining bill in the courts, and much more. Dave Cieslewicz was correct; this is not just about Wisconsin, this is the birth of a new national progressive movement. Do we stand by in our communities while a mean-spritied majority consolidates power? Or do we fight? In Wisconsin we fight with a ferocity that made the “Mamma Grizzly” herself appear more like a frightened screeching weasel as she lied about “violent rent a mobs” and “vandalized businesses”. While the national media came out in force to report on a tea party event that saw barely 1000 people show up, they ignored the 10’s of thousands that massed at the capitol this past Saturday. Well, we’re still here.
As always, your comments are welcome!