High Times in Madison
February 20, 2011
By Paul Buhle
As I moved along with the tight-packed crowd, late in the afternoon, coming out of the demonstrator-filled Wisconsin capitol building and passed the statue of Hans Christian Weg (Norwegian immigrant, Union Army officer) toward the street, I touched the engraved lettering. “Fell at Chicagmauga.” It occurred to me that my great-great-grandfather, farmer-abolitionist Ezra Fuller, did NOT fall at Chicamauga, and that makes me a lucky survivor of another civil war.
The scene around me was changing fast, from the afternoon 20,000 (or the 10,000 of the previous day), more with union insignia , including no few giant Teamsters, to the more middle class (and rather more white), small town and suburban folks, middle aged teachers and their families, with plenty of kids in tow. Not that there is a competition to be noted. Everybody is happy about everyone else being there. Wait, a little competition did occur earlier: on Tuesday, highschoolers from the tough East High had marched over together; Wednesday, it was West High, including the children of professors. More of them wearing the signature U-W red outfits.
Among the best chants heard:
HE’S A WEASEL
NOT A BADGER
This, of course, about the hated governor Scott Walker but also referencing the UW sports teams, never far out of the public eye. Next would be highschool students shouting “UNION POWER” over and over again. And also to be noted: THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE.
Among the support statements bringing the loudest cheers of the crowd:
Packers’ Superbowl champion players, themselves proud unionists (nothing from coach or management, their conservative views presumably in line with the late Vince Lombardi)
The support statement from the archibishop of Milwaukee, trumping the local Bishop Merlino, an Opus Di devotee and political thug.
Among the best (home made) signs:
BEAM SCOTTY UP, PLEASE!
BAYVIEW MASSACRE 1886 [citizen-labor historian at work
DON’T PISS ON MY LEG AND TELL ME IT’S RAINING
And one wrapped around the back of a pet dog: PAWS TO NEGOTIATE
Most heard music: “We’re Not Going to Take It,” Twisted Sister
“We’re Not Going to Take It,” Twisted Sister
Not all was sweetness and light, of course. Now and then a corporate suit would step out of the door of one of the banks around the Square. They had done much to bring Scott Walker into office and badly wanted to see Walker’s plan go through. On a lighter note, and during a lull, I dropped by my insurance agent on the Square to check on a few details and he affably reminded me that he was practically the only non-Republican that he had ever met among his industry colleagues.
There were further disappointments and shortcomings, of course. Not much heard from the small towns were the Republican vote had been heaviest (and Russ Feingold signs rare). UW-Madison President Biddy Martin, in an ongoing love fest with Walker, had urged university officials not to oppose her plan to divide this campus from the less-prestigious state system, so as to insulate it from budget losses and to advance the program of privatization begun under previous president Donna Shalala (herself best remembered for bringing into her administration former strikebreakers from Madison’s famed newspaper strike of the early 1980s).
But all in all, good spirit remains, heartened by a Democratic walkout that left the state senate without cloture. Even the visible socialists (International Socialist Organization, known unkindly in their earlier, smaller membership years as “the invisibles”) seemed increasingly to Get With the Program, although stuck with selling pretty a clunky issue of the SOCIALIST WORKER and, at least at first, leading chants from labor’s yesteryears rather than the funnier ones from the crowd and fellow students.