Eyewitness Wisconsin: Occupation, solidarity continue strong

Editor’s note: Sharon Black is an organizer with the National Bail Out the People Movement who has been at the State Capitol in Madison since day two of the occupation. She submitted the following report on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 26, prior to the huge demonstration of 100,000 workers that took place that afternoon in Wisconsin’s capital.

Morning, Feb. 26 — The occupation is growing stronger every day. The big news on Feb. 25 was that 150 workers or so flew in from Los Angeles. Among them are bus drivers, teachers, nurses, hotel workers, longshoremen, electricians, construction workers, costume designers, utility workers, truck drivers, letter carriers, refinery workers, grocery store clerks, college faculty, and more.

They had more people waiting who were ready to come to show solidarity with us here in Madison, with those inside and ringing the Capitol. The LA workers arrived in the Capitol area with tears in their eyes, proud and happy to be standing together with their sisters and brothers in Wisconsin.

This growing strength is important for the struggle here. We got news yesterday that the governor had ordered the police to clear the Capitol on Sunday, Feb. 27, at 4 p.m. CST. In preparation they are trying to make life miserable for those of us in the Capitol, making lots of noise, locking the doors at 9 p.m., booming the loudspeakers all night long to deny sleep, and refusing to allow people to bring in sleeping bags and other bedding. Somehow bedding got in anyway, which is good because it is really cold here in Madison.

Their pretext for clearing the building is that they have to clean the Capitol. Of course it is the workers who keep the Capitol clean — we don’t expect that the governor and the Republican legislators will get out their brooms and mops and vacuum cleaners, and as of yet we haven’t heard this is being assigned to the National Guard.

Last night hundreds of people slept in at the Capitol. Many of us are determined to stick it out until the end. What is an interesting development is that there were even some police who slept in here with their fellow public employees, giving evidence of a surprising split within an arm of the state. It is likely to be the police who are called upon to eject those participating in the occupation.

On Feb. 25 the Assembly was finally able to vote — after heroic delaying tactics by thousands of witnesses from the workers here and a sort of filibuster by many of the Democratic legislators — on Walker’s union-attack bill disguised as a budget measure. Of course the Republican majority passed the bill, which is still being delayed in the State Senate because 14 Democratic senators have slipped away to Illinois to prevent a legal vote from taking place. If they return, the bill will pass unless a few of the Republicans switch sides.

Protests hit Koch brothers, Walker

One of the big topics of conversation has been the “prank” phone call to Walker made by a blogger who pretended he was one of the Koch brothers, the billionaires who helped finance the Tea Party. Walker spoke with him for 20 minutes and admitted he was planning a “PATCO moment,” referring to Ronald Reagan’s crushing of the air controllers’ union in 1981. Walker also had a friendly response for the fake Koch suggestion that provocateurs be sent into the Capitol to create trouble with the police, thus providing a pretext for clearing the building. He said they had considered such a tactic, but decided it was not presently the best course.

During much of Friday, Feb. 25, there have been protest demonstrations at the Koch Bros. offices in Madison.

While we’re hoping that the biggest demonstration ever will take place outside the Capitol today, the organizers here are making legal preparations for a possible eviction. The announcement is that it will be at 4 p.m. tomorrow, but we know that this government can always pull a double cross and change the timing, so we have to stay alert.

Even if they manage to eject every last unionist and supporter from the Capitol — and we don’t know what will happen in the course of such a harsh tactic — this doesn’t end the struggle. Gov. Scott Walker’s open attack on unions and the right to collective bargaining has aroused a spirit within the working class that hasn’t been seen for decades. The genie is out of the bottle. It won’t be so easy to put it back inside, not in Madison, not in Cairo.

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