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Reflections About Madison Capitol Protests

February 21, 2011

I must be honest. 

For all the emotions over the issue of collective bargaining, which has dominated Madison and the political environment of this state, the most intense feeling I have after a week of protests is of being inspired.  I am deeply respectful of the people in this state who have perhaps no other title than ‘citizen’.

All my life I have read history and followed the news.  The titanic political events always happened  somewhere in the past, or ‘over there’.  Be it in books or newscasts the movers and shakers were the  famous ones that if mentioned we could see pictured in our mind.

Then this past week played out in Madison. 

The movers and shakers became the ordinary men and women who make their own coffee in the morning, drive kids to school, and love a good Friday night fish fry.  The leaders turned out to be some teenagers who understood that politics is not a spectator sport.

On Monday afternoon I happened to be in the right spot to witness something that made my eyes moist, and my heart swell with pride.

After being outside in stormy February weather I made my way back to the Capitol Rotunda and was able to stand almost directly under the dome.  The raucous crowd was chanting, some drums were being used to ratchet up the mood, and people were pumping their fists into the air. 

Then the mood changed.

It was no less loud, or strident. 

It did however became emotional and highly appreciative and respectful as the firefighters entered from one end of the statehouse, crossing through the rotunda, and exiting the other side.  I was able to stand in the middle and have these fine folks walk directly alongside.

Some held their hands out to touch others as they passed.  Some held their hats in one hand, others wore them.  Some looked out at the crowd, others walked with eyes focused on the firefighter in front of them.  A few clapped the assembled crowd on the shoulder, but more often the crowd was tapping them with affection as they passed.

It was a moment that I will not forget. 

But it was not the only one that stands out from this past week.

On Saturday I was one of those that wanted to be a part of the process that was playing out on the Capitol Square.  Many had predicted chaos with both union supporters and members of the Tea Party all converging at once for rallies.  The end result was not one single arrest at the Capitol.  That can not even be said for a football Saturday at Camp Randall!

When I walked along the area where the two groups were separated only by February air I noted, and was really impressed with, the dialogue that was taking place.  Granted at times it was loud, and maybe not the type one wants over a holiday dinner.  But I never heard cussing at these times, or any sign of shoving.  It was a healthy, if heated, discussion.

That really made my day. 

It only added to the growing sense that for all the rancor on news shows and talk radio the rank-and-file citizens of Wisconsin are more grounded and civil, even though we have deep differences.

The fact that so many of my fellow citizens understand the role they play in democracy is uplifting at a time when the national mood seems so cynical and angry about our political institutions.  That people traveled to their statehouse, packed the kids and a toy or two, made some homemade signs, and viewed themselves as a vital part of the process inspired me in ways I can not even describe.

On Thursday, after inching my way through the crowd to the third floor, I stood and looked out into the rotunda.   The place was packed with a sea of citizens who felt that everything they knew about government and civics mattered.  I got goose bumps on my arms.  These were not the disgruntled and apathetic voters that pollsters often seem to find. These were folks who seemed to have the same sense of history as I did.  I just stood and watched them. 

As I did so for a few minutes I thought again that the issue we all were there for may not turn out the way we think best. 

But that does not mean those who gathered in the rotunda this past week, and believed in the cause, were defeated.  There is no way to lose when it comes to citizen involvement, and belief in the political process.  There is no way to be defeated when we show our youth that politics is a ‘sport’ that requires no arm-chair quarterbacking, but total involvement from all the team members.

However this all plays out in the days to come I know that we saw something remarkable play out in Madison.  I am glad to have seen it, heard it, and been inspired by it.

I trust that many who read this will have experienced the same.

  1. sharonsj permalink
    February 22, 2011 10:37 AM

    I watched Rachel Maddow tell us about Walker’s pre-governor shenanigans. I wonder if the WI newspapers bothered to find out this stuff before the election? Because I can’t imagine anybody voting for him once they learned he’s done this before.

  2. mlerc permalink
    February 22, 2011 8:52 AM

    Mr. R, I do not know if you read the comments, but last night Rachel Maddow told the story of the arbitrator’s ruling that the courthouse union guards had been replace illegally and must be offered their jobs back. She also produced the name, the photo and the criminal record of the man from Wackenhut who had been placed in charge of the Wackenhut guards. I could not find that story today in the Sentinel. Think you could track that down?

    I have followed the TV showing of the people showing up to protest in WI weather, with their kids (showing them how to “work,” not play at democracy, and I think MSNBC has done a fine job for those of us out of state.

    I know that the unions have had their problems of unproductivity and inflexibility, but breaking them does not seem to be the solution to anyone’s crisis.

  3. February 21, 2011 11:14 PM

    This is beautifully put. I’ve seen so many remarkable things, too. I was getting ready to go today from the Capitol at around 5:30PM and while there was a freezing drizzle coming down, more and more people were showing up – 100’s – and they began to march outside around the building. I was impressed with their determination to be there no matter what cold they endured.


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