Monday, March 14, 2011

Montage from the Madison rally

Friends, Saturday saw one of the largest rallies in the history of Madison, Wisconsin. The day was as remarkable for the climax that it was of more than 3 weeks of protests, of citizens of Wisconsin reclaiming their democracy, as it was for who was there - the folks, the people next door, the teachers, nurses, farmers, firefighters, cops, trash collectors, whole families with small children getting an excellent lesson in 'what democracy looks like.'

Favorite moment: my brother and I went from the tractorcade over to the Monona Terrace Convention Center to try to catch the Wisconsin 14 at their press conference there. So I go into the restroom and a mother comes in with her little daughter, maybe 3 years old. They go into a stall, and suddenly, out of nowhere, at the top of her lungs, the little girl chants, "This is what democracy looks like," and all the women in the packed restroom burst out laughing.

Scary people, these protesters.

The return of the Wisconsin 14 was triumphant. You could hardly tell that we had just lost the battle for collective bargaining rights in the state of Wisconsin. It felt like victory.

WI 14 make their unbreakable bond before leaving the state
My brother and I did indeed manage an intimate moment with 3 of our most famous 14. A crowd of 75-100 or so folks had come to the convention center and hung out in the narrow lobbyway hoping for a moment of encounter, a raucous "Welcome Home!" We were told they would not be leaving the building through the main entrance but then the doors of the meeting room opened and out came one of the staffers for Sen. Lena Taylor, needing a bathroom, surprised by the crowd. Someone asked if the 14 knew we were out here, and she said, no, but she would let them know.

Sen. Taylor is welcomed home
Then the chanting began, "Fab 14!" First out of the room came the cameras, right? because now we were the interesting thing, the great photo op. Then came Sen. Taylor, who walked right into the crowd and embraced them, then gave a sterling little speech: "We left because the bill was unfair, unjust... You created the movement!"

Sen. Erpenbach
Next came Sen. Jon Erpenbach, whom Rachel Maddow has made into a national rock star (and maybe our next governor?), who walked into the crowd shaking hands, waving, and thanking everyone. He gave all the credit to the protesters for giving them the strength to stay united: "You made us [the Democratic caucus] coalesce." They had to hang together because the protesters were hanging together. They could not let us down.

Sen. Larson with his clipboard
Then I turned and there was Sen. Chris Larson 2 feet from me.  "My Senator!" I said, and he held out his arms and I gave him a big hug. "I am so proud of you!" Larson also gave a little speech, referenced Ben Franklin, saying, "We have our democracy, if we can keep it." He said folks needed to get their clipboards and get to work (staffer then hands him his clipboard), says "This is all on you now," a challenge if ever I heard one. In other words, if we are going to defend and take back our rights, it really is up to us for the long haul.

So then off to the rally of some 150,000 or so folks. When the 14 joined it, they were led from the Capitol by a phalanx of firefighters and bagpipes, but the line did not hold long for the crush of people trying to see them.  When they arrived on the stage to a tumultuous cheer, one of them said, "Wow, you go away for a few weeks and look what happens!"  Big roar from the crowd.

Okay, this is long and there will be more to share, but just wanted to leave some impressions here.  What follows are a couple of videos and a few of my favorite photos (go to the end for a message from Erpenbach). And these final words from Sen. Mark Miller as he addressed the throngs at the rally: "The battle for Wisconsin is now joined!"  Indeed.

I don't either

Really good idea

Gandhi was there too

One of the scary radicals

More scary radicals

This one almost moved me to tears

Small portion of a big crowd

Photo of hands joined together: Sen. Chris Larson
All other photos: Margaret Swedish

Last word from Jon Erpenbach:

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