Union and non-union citizens reacted strongly, descending upon the Capitol, historically the place for the public to come and express their opinions about their government and its legislation. Republicans cut off public input on the bill, leaving hundreds, if not thousands of citizens, out of the legislative process. The Democrats decided to continue unofficial hearings so that every citizen who wanted to would have a chance to speak on the bill. With the building left open for these hearings, thousands of people kept the Capitol building occupied day and night.
The bill was introduced on February 11. On February 13 a little less than 200 people protested at the Capitol. On Valentine’s Day, the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) delivered Valentine’s Day cards to the Governor’s office. The following day several thousand people showed up to protest. On February 16 I felt the need to be there and took the day off of work to join an estimated 30,000 others protesting the bill. The protests continued to grow until there were nearly 150,000 people on the Capitol steps and surrounding streets.
The feeling was exhilirating. To see, hear, and feel that many people speaking out against a piece of legislation was awe-inspiring. They stood outside through cold and snow for hours at a time and camped inside for days at a time. Though ultimately the bill passed through trickery and political ploys it was incredible to see the people power arrayed against it. The feeling of the power of the people continued throughout the legislative session and was probably responsible for the mining bill failing to pass later in the session. Although Walker survived his recall some of his Republican cohorts lost their seats in their own recalls.
Unfortunately, Walker and his Tea Party allies retained control of the both houses of the Legislature after subsequent elections, which pretty much allows them to pass whatever they desire this year. The massive numbers of protesters tailed off little by little, leaving the several dozen Solidarity Sing Along members to show up every day at noon and a handful of other protesters who still show up with signs or a song. It can be very difficult to maintain the kind of passion and momentum that existed two years ago, particularly when the system, through the legislature and the courts, keeps dealing blows to the people.
Still, two years later, many of those awakened during the Wisconsin Uprising are still fighting passionately for what they believe in and against those who would sell out the people of Wisconsin to outside corporate interests–whose only goal is to make money for their shareholders. There are still occasional and regular protests–against the newly reintroduced mining bill, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Walker’s upcoming budget, and more. Those who still come to the Capitol regularly are passionate and have never given up the fight. Those who take part in the Solidarity Sing Along have been given dozens upon dozens of citations simply for gathering to sing songs and continuing the fight against the new plutocracy. Virtually every one of the citations has been dismissed because the Capitol is truly the people’s house and long considered a public forum. These patriots deserve a thanks from everyone in Wisconsin for their stubborn persistence in reminding the oligarchs who really owns the state.
I am still trying to go every day, too. I stand in the Capitol rotunda and sing four verses of “We Shall Overcome” after my workday. I don’t make it every day, but I do my best. For me, if our fight two years ago was a legitimate fight, then I can’t walk away from it. Walker and his compatriots in the Legislature are still selling out the state. They are still working on privatizing as much of the state as possible, including schools and prisons. They are still trying to pass a socially conservative agenda which doesn’t appear to coincide with most polls of the people of Wisconsin. They are still trying to manipulate voting to their advantage. They are working without consideration of the will of the people, still arrogant in the way they do it, and they still don’t seem to care about the law or social constructs regarding the way we do things in Wisconsin.
I will continue to sing and fight for justice. I will continue to keep an eye on proposed legislation and the impact it will have on my people. And while I don’t expect 150,000 people to join me and my fellow diehards again any time soon I do know that there are several hundred (and sometimes thousands) who are equally as passionate about protecting this state and I know they will be there whenever there is a good reason to be called back into action. And even though we are aware we cannot stop most of the bad legislation simply because of the numbers in the legislature and Supreme Court we can draw attention to the worst of it. Some day we may be able to look back and at least know that we did everything we could to keep those in power in check as much as possible. Perhaps a couple bad bills will be stopped, or some others delayed, just long enough for a more representative legislature to take its place. At the very least, we will be able to sleep at night knowing we made a stand.