Dispatches from the Madison Fight: #1

Dispatches from the Madison Fight: #1

Madison and state capitol - permission: MuZemike (creative commons attribution)

When word first got to me via Facebook that protesters had stormed the State House in Madison, Wisconsin, no one knew it was going to be more than a one-day thing. We figured it was just a rally that was fairly successful. But a few days later, it became obvious that the protests in Madison were of much greater significance than a simple day of action at the capitol.


The largest demonstration in Wisconsin history (according to the AFL-CIO) filled the streets of Madison last week, and the 24-7 sleep-in occupation of the state capital is entering its second week.


What happens in Madison could affect the entire country. The Tea- Party-backed governor is pushing hard for anti-union legislation under the guise of ending Wisconsin’s recession, but has refused moves by the unions to meet all the economic demands of the governor. Governor Walker’s goal is to take away the right to collectively bargain, which is the essence of a union’s power.


To slow the process, 14 Democratic lawmakers have left the state, which stops the legislature from being able to proceed with the bill. They have been threatened with punishment but as of today have still not returned. This is unprecedented considering the weak stances Democrats have taken in the last few years in response to the increasingly violent and extreme moves of Republicans.


Governor Scott Walker is refusing to concede to anything, much like Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak did up right up until the time of his resignation. Whether the movement of organized workers and students will hit him the same way as the protests in Cairo hit Mubarak is still up in the air, but the spirit of those who took Mubarak down is running through the people of Wisconsin. And now the people of Indiana and Ohio are also taking the streets in protest of similar legislation in their states.


It is in this context that I came to Wisconsin. After a brief conversation with friend and guitarist/songwriter Tom Morello (The Nigthwatchman, Rage Against the Machine), who was soon flying in to perform for the massive rally last week, I decided I should get to Madison immediately to lend my music and skills as an organizer/journalist.


I appealed to friends on Facebook to help me get to Wisconsin, and within a few hours, I had one plane ticket covered. By the next morning, most of another was covered as well. Those who donated include a Baltimore public school teacher, a union organizer, a single mother, an anarchist immigrant, and a computer tech. My most significant donation came from an active-duty soldier currently serving in Afghanistan, who was quick to reply to my request. “Our time for true change is now,” he told me. “Once I am done with my tour, I’ll be ready to start a peaceful revolution, just like Wisconsin.”


The spirit of Wisconsin has reached soldiers serving abroad.


At home, the massive veterans’ organization, Iraq Veterans Against the War, put out a response to the governor's threat to use National Guard troops against those protesting his policies. “We Are Public Employees Too!” opens their statement, which calls on troops to refuse to repress their own people. “…These deficits have been created and exacerbated by the ongoing trillion dollar wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” it continues. “Meanwhile, federal and local governments across the US are cutting back on the public sector.”


The whole world is indeed now watching Wisconsin the way they are watching North Africa, though perhaps not as intensely. It was reported last week the someone in Egypt ordered a pizza for protesters occupying the state capitol in Madison!


And many on the ground in Wisconsin have the spirit of Egypt running through them. And Egyptians have the spirit of Tunisia running through them. Now Libyans have the spirit of Egypt and Tunisia running through them. Indeed, the global revolt which began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt has ignited many people within the United States. Inspired by the massive success of relatively peaceful protest in bringing down some of the longest-standing dictatorships in the world, a new sense of commitment and willingness to struggle has swept over the world.


It has also re-ignited people who had been pulled down in recent years by cynicism and hopelessness of the task before us. A friend who was quite active after the great shut-down of the Seattle World Trade Organization meeting in 1999 told me this week he is jumping right back into organizing work. “Nothing like this has happened in our lifetimes,” he said, referencing the uprising in North Africa and the massive protests in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio. “This time we’re gonna' win.”


A global revolutionary spirit has been unleashed. Tunisia fell, Egypt fell, and now Libya is about to fall—all to the hands of massive, popular, democratic, and peaceful movements. With good things also comes reaction from those who, to borrow their own language, hate freedom. The Tea Party has also been mobilizing to break the unions, and has been sending members to come be outnumbered in the streets of Madison.


So now I am heading into Madison, the “ground-zero” of the battle for workers’ rights and economic justice in the United States. Joining me will be tens of thousands of local folks, and thousands of others who have found their way here to stand with the people of Wisconsin.


More to come! For my latest updates, follow me on Twitter!

Ryan Harvey is a Baltimore-based independent journalist and grassroots historian. His writings are posted at his blog, Even If Your Voice Shakes . He is also an organizer with the Civilian-Soldier Alliance and a member of the Riot-Folk musician collective.