Feb. 21 — Inside the state Capitol building in Madison, Wis., the halls normally filled with politicians and corporate lobbyists are now occupied by thousands of people. Banners and posters with messages of solidarity and slogans denouncing Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on the public sector hang from every wall.
Chants of “power to the people” and drumming fill the building from the early hours of the morning until late at night. The energy in the building is absolutely electric and all who are participating in the occupation and mass demonstrations are determined to carry the struggle forward until the anti-union bill is defeated.
Young people and students are playing a decisive role in the historic struggle that is developing in Wisconsin. The occupation — which is entering its second week now — has been led by young workers, high school students, undergraduates and the graduate student unions.
Students have developed food distribution centers, information points, medical teams and infrastructure. A people’s assembly was held to make collective decisions about how to keep and build the people’s control of the capitol building. The struggle has been a tremendous teacher, in helping to shape and guide the development of the occupation.
Every day that the struggle moves forward, more and more young people are flooding Madison to stand with workers against the right wing’s attack on the public sector. This struggle has lit a fire in the hearts and minds of young people and awakened a spirit of resistance. So many young people that filled the halls of the Capitol, or have been marching in the streets shoulder to shoulder with workers, have remarked how this type of militant action has been long overdue and that they are determined to keep fighting until these right-wing attacks are defeated.
Solidarity of workers and students cannot be broken
Tens of thousands of students from all over Wisconsin, and indeed from all over the Midwest, have mobilized to participate in the many rallies and demonstrations that have been organized during the past week to help hold the occupation at the Capitol building. High school students in Madison organized walkouts and miles-long marches from their high schools to join their teachers down at the Capitol. Student organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society, Student Labor Action Coalition, Voces de la Frontera and the United Council, among others, have been helping to mobilize students to the Capitol and build solidarity for public sector workers. They’ve organized walkouts at a number of University of Wisconsin campuses, including more than 3,000 students at UW-Madison, organized by SDS. The graduate student unions maintain an organizing center in the Capitol building that runs around the clock, and student organizations help to staff and organize out of it. Students also helped to lead a demonstration against the Tea Party on Feb. 19 that drew out 100,000 trade unionists and students.
On a day this writer spent doing outreach at UW-Madison’s campus, there was near universal support for the workers and students fighting back against these attacks. Almost everyone we spoke with had been participating in the ongoing demonstrations and declared their intentions to return. In an instant, this struggle has opened up the political consciousness of so many young people and has given life to an urgency to fight back.
Struggle about more than this one bill
While the primary task at hand is to kill the “budget repair” bill that would eliminate collective bargaining, the grievances of young people extend far beyond that. In many ways, this bill was the tipping point that drove so many young people into the streets. Outraged by the injustices and inhumanities of this capitalist system, they have had enough.
So many remarked that what is happening now in Madison is exactly the kind of fightback that working people have needed to face the onslaught of attacks against the public sector that have occurred since 2007, the beginning of the current capitalist crisis. It was clear to all how this bill is the latest in a series of attacks on workers and students — from the attacks on public education to the millions of workers who are unemployed with no end in sight; the lack of health care for so many; foreclosures; and the list goes on.
Many people pointed out how the banks are sitting on trillions of dollars and how the U.S. continues to spend billions on wars, occupations and bailouts, yet Walker and every other state government around the country claims that cuts are necessary. It is the capitalist system, so many occupying the Capitol said, that is the real problem. Many here say we need a revolutionary transformation of society that puts people’s needs first, and not profit.
Young workers and students are determined to keep the Capitol occupied and in the hands of the people. They are continuing to work around the clock to defend the occupation from any police provocations, and to build it and bring more young people in to help hold the building. This is viewed as one of the most urgent tasks for young people at the moment.
The fighting spirit and the solidarity of workers and students in Wisconsin should serve as a great inspiration and example to all those fighting the attacks on the public sector and on all workers.