Feb. 19 – The people’s liberation of the state Capitol in Madison, Wis., is in full swing.
“Now is the time. We can’t let this die because we are at ground zero and what happens here affects the rest of the world. We have to be strong. A united front,” said Mahlon Mitchell of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin at the massive afternoon rally at the state Capitol Feb. 19. Mitchell became the first African-American president of the PFW on Jan. 12.
On Feb. 19 the biggest demonstration yet, with an estimated crowd of 100,000, filled the grounds outside the state Capitol and continued the sit-in. A massive roving picket line with all sectors of the working class — union and non-union workers, the unemployed, students, people of color, immigrants, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community — marched on the streets for the entire day accompanied by drumming, chanting, dancing and singing.
The Tea Party hosted a counter-rally of about 2,000 on the Capitol steps in the early afternoon protected by more than 500 fully armed cops with riot gear. Tea Party members were bused in and left quickly after their rally. They were directly confronted by students and workers from such organizations as Students for a Democratic Society, Fight Imperialism, Stand Together, Bail Out the People Movement, Veterans for Peace, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Workers World Party and others with chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racist Tea Party has to go,” “Hands off workers: Make the banks pay,” and “Kill the Bill.”
The racist, anti-worker Tea Party crowd was entirely surrounded by those opposing Walker’s bill, which is an attack on the entire working class and oppressed internationally by the banks, corporations and the Pentagon. Some workers even waded into the Tea Party crowd and shouted at the main speakers.
John Carey, a member of Veterans for Peace from the Clarence Kailin Chapter 25 Madison, told this writer, “We feel we have a purpose here because the economy is being affected by the war or should I say the wars. We oppose war as being a way of settling differences between nations, so we fit into this activity because our economy is being destroyed by the war and that is affecting the unions and working people. I think that if the administration is incapable of coming to a reasonable decision, namely not to destroy collective bargaining, then the unions should force regaining and maintaining their collective bargaining. They have a right to that and it can never be taken away.”
Widespread union, student participation
As has happened during the entire week, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, American Federation of Teacher-Wisconsin, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and other unions bused in thousands of members from across the state and beyond. Delegations of union members, students and other community members came from across the country and other locations such as Toronto, Ont.
Emergency national demonstrations by the Bail Out the People Movement began Feb.18 at the Stock Exchange on Wall Street and continued nationwide. Solidarity demonstrations across the world began on Feb. 18 and continued on Feb.19. Both will continue until the anti-worker Walker bill is killed entirely.
Walker and legislators for the so-called “budget repair bill” have been flooded with emails, phone calls and tweets. Thousands of union and non-union members and students have visited legislators’ offices. Virtually all the major unions have frequent updates on their websites. Facebook is ablaze with up-to-the-minute messages. Twitter updates are constant. Demonstrators utilize numerous other communication strategies, including a live stream from inside the Capitol.
During the past week union members and their allies picketed Walker’s and other right-wing racist politicians’ homes, held protests throughout the state, sponsored candlelight vigils and more. These and many other actions are ongoing.
Lynne Pfeifer, an AFSCME Local 1288 member who has worked at the Manitowoc County Health and Rehabilitation Center for over 30 years, told this writer: “We can’t have it. We can’t lose collective bargaining. The rally at the state Capitol was fabulous. There were people all over, on the lawn, on the sidewalks, around the Capitol, all different ages. I got into the Capitol and that was another display. If those legislators didn’t hear what they ought to do, they’re not paying attention. They have to make some change. They have to do something different.”
On Feb. 18, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spoke at a major noon-time rally and the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. spoke at an evening rally on the Capitol steps. Both speakers stood before thousands of poor and working people expressing their solidarity and pledging to assist in any way to make killing Walker’s bill a reality. Reverend Jackson also put forward a people’s program demanding a moratorium on foreclosures, relief for student loan debt, and a federal jobs program among other issues, and pledged solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer community. Continue reading