What I've seen in Madison | WisCommunity

What I've seen in Madison

This has been a very long week.  I've been in Madison for most of it. Working as a lefty blogger is often a thankless task - you don't get money, you don't get much help, and it's often hard to remember why you do it.  This week was different.

Despite the late hour and the fact that I've spent about 14 hours driving this week, I want to tell you why this week was different.  I've sent out a lot of pictures and video from Madison, but that only tells part of the story.  I want to tell you what I've seen this week.

I saw a lot of state and local employees who are scared, and unhappy that our new governor has in one swoop decided that they should lose a lot of their control over their work life. They feel that the governor has no respect for them, and that rather than working things out at the bargaining table, he just arbitrarily decided to fund the tax breaks he wants to give to corporations in the state by taking a pound of flesh from the state employees.  Still, in all my interactions here, they've been good-natured, cheerful, and willing to help each other out. They're mostly school teachers, so it's not too surprising that they know a lot about dealing with people, and playing fair. They're really unhappy that the governor not only is not willing to play fair, but he's unwilling to even talk.

I've seen a lot of police, state troopers, custodial staff, and other people who make Madison run. I'm sure they're all working a lot harder than normal this week, but they've invariably been considerate and pleasant to deal with.  I've seen people who were protesting thank them for being so great. I want to thank them as well, and I hope that things will remain as calm as they've been.

I've seen thousands of young people - Since I'm quickly heading toward retirement age, they look younger all the time.  High school and college kids.  They're out in the capitol, they're sleeping there at night, they're standing in the cold for hours at night-time rallies. At times they're raising an incredible ruckus. But I've not seen meanness, or cruelty.  What I have seen is a lot of bright young people who are concerned about supporting their teachers, and other state employees.  And it's also clear that they know that if they don't do something about this, their own future will be considerably less bright. This is the generation of people that we often think don't care, and who just want to go out and make a life for themselves.  Clearly we mis-judged them. Those I've spoken to are articulate, and (despite what the right wing pundits have tried to imply) have a very clear understanding of what is going on and why it's wrong. They've been great.They've clearly been working at keeping the place clean, and know that the world is watching them. They make me feel great about the future of the country.

I've seen families.  Two-teacher families, with their kids in tow.  Sometimes with babies held to their chests. These are the union thugs I keep hearing about.  And just when you think things are going well, someone whips out a box of cookies and passes them around.  Acts of kindness, not violence. I keep hearing from the right-wingers that there's rioting going on, that people are causing untold damage to the capitol, and that it's unsafe to be here. I don't know how they can know all that without actually being around, but I do know that if things were unsafe I wouldn't be seeing all these nice people taking their small children around with them.  Clearly the people who are writing these things have been in some other city called Madison - it's not the one I've been in.

Life in the capitol has been a little boisterous at times.  And I have to admit that it's a little strange to be in a building with so many people in it - people everywhere you look.  But I cannot for the life of me understand why the claim was made that the assembly had to shut down today because of safety concerns.  Just another story to make the demonstrators look bad, I guess.  I was in the rotunda about the same time and all I saw was exuberance.  Quite a lot of it, in fact.

Today I spoke to Richard Trumka from the AFL-CIO. He took an hour of his time to talk to us bloggers. Just the bloggers.  He was good-natured, articulate, and charming.  I hear he's a thug, a dangerous man, and a threat to America.  But he didn't seem that way to me, he just seemed like he wanted to improve the life of working Americans. As soon as I can find enough actual internet bandwidth, I'll upload that talk. Then you can judge for yourself.

I heard Jesse Jackson speak tonight on the capitol steps.  I've heard him speak  a few times before, and this was no disappointment. He was inspiring and moving. Don't tell me any different, I saw the faces of the people in the crowd.

I rode on the bus with families coming in to the rallies.  I heard a little girl tell her parents that she thought Scott Walker needed a time-out.  Which in fact, I think is what he got when the Democratic senators left the state to slow things down and force some consideration.  Maybe she knew something I didn't. 

I saw a lot of traffic in town, but people coping with it.  I saw a lot of people in close quarters, but getting along.  I saw people sharing tables at restaurants because they've all been incredibly busy.  Really, really busy.  At times I have thought that perhaps this is really Walker's plan to get Wisconsin open for business - piss so many people off that they all come to Madison to spend money and keep the entertainment industry working. If so, it's worked pretty well.

I've had many people just strike up conversations because we're all here together and why not just chat? It's been one of the friendliest weeks of my life, and in many ways I'm sorry I'm heading back home tomorrow to try to put my life back together again.

What I saw this week was unity, strength, kindness, and cooperation. It was a glimpse of an America that I am proud to be part of. I'm sorry that it has taken fear and threatening to bring so many people together, but it is inspiring to see. Now let's not let it stop.


February 19, 2011 - 12:12am