*Editor’s note: The following message comes from Gerry Daley, who was one of 161 workers who travelled from Los Angeles to Madison, Wisconsin to stand in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin workers who are fighting to protect their rights. Here, Gerry recounts the scene he encountered in Madison.
The wave of protest cresting in the Wisconsin Capitol building is amazing – students, workers, seniors, coming together in peaceful but unyielding opposition to the Governor’s attack on democracy. Solidarity crossed all the usual lines – class, age, gender, race, religion, public employee vs. private, students and workers. There are no borders in Madison, and this solidarity has completely taken over the state house in a peaceful occupation that has now lasted for two weeks.
I was there for two days last week with a California Nurses Association contingent that flew in with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor to add our voices and bodies to the wave. When the L.A. County Fed marched en masse into the Capitol rotunda waving our “L.A. Supports You” signs, from the friendly roar that greeted us you’d have thought we were the Allies liberating Paris in 1944. The Wisconsinites crowding the Capitol hugged and high-fived and thanked us and laughed and cried to know that workers were flying 2,000 miles and more to join their fight.
The Capitol is now truly “the People’s House.” Along the sidewalks outside the Capitol, many local unions were grilling bratwursts (“brats”) and offering them free to protesters (one IBEW member jokingly told me the union acronym actually stands for “I Burn Every Weenie.”) The occupiers have self-organized a little town within the building, establishing a first aid station, a food court, a soapboxing area in the rotunda and child care areas in side hallways of the upper floors, and then arranging all the sleeping bags and negotiating with state cops about where people can sleep at night. The occupiers are keeping the Capitol clean; only blue painters’ tape is used to put signs up, to avoid damaging the walls. A hand-lettered sign above the long table laden with free food expressed the prevailing ethos: “Take what you need.”
When you walk into the ground floor of the massive and imposing rotunda and look up to the dome high above, you see the historic banners of dozens of ancient unions draped over the marble balusters of the second and third floor galleries overlooking the rotunda, and mixed in with them the freshly minted signs of dozens more unions and other groups expressing support for the workers and opposition to the Governor and his puppet-masters the Koch Brothers. All day there is chanting (“This is what democracy looks like!”) and speeches by local and visiting labor leaders, rank and file workers, and all manner of groups and individuals who feel the need to testify. Good old-fashioned Tom Paine patriotism, the real old American stuff. Nice to know it ain’t dead yet. Click here for video.
Late at night, the vibe in the Capitol changes as the occupiers settle in for the night. My second night there, at 11 PM, a University of Wisconsin coed got us all to hold hands in a circle and chant “OMMMM” in an effort to levitate the Capitol dome. There were smiles and laughs all around as some of the older members of the crowd experienced a ‘60s flashback, followed by five minutes of “OMMMM.” Now, I could be wrong…but I think the damned thing lifted an inch or two.