06 June 2011

Walkerville Day Three: Protect Public Services

While “public services” was the theme of the day in Walkerville, the slogan surely could have been “We will not be silenced!”  At least a thousand citizens converged to march around capitol square to protest the cuts to essential public services in the upcoming biennial state budget.

 At 11:30AM, a diverse group comprised of firefighters, police officers, nurses, teaching assistants, students, farmers, and numerous other community members assembled and marched up State Street to the capitol, as they had done over and over in the past several months. The bagpipers of the local fire department led the way and tractors followed in the rear as protesters made their journey around the capitol building, repeating their now familiar chants calling for equality, justice, and democracy.

Stopping briefly at M&I bank, the group demonstrated against the taxpayer bailout received by that financial institution, who then used their funds to support Governor Walker’s campaign. Shouting, “You got bailed out, we got sold out,” the protesters marked their disgust about governmental funds being funneled to private corporations rather than public services.

After several rounds about the capitol square, the firefighters led the protest group to the door of the capitol building at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Hoping to re-enter the people’s building, as they had been able to in all times past, the protest group was blocked from entry. Discovering that a side door around the corner was left ajar, a number of protesters ran to the entrance and went into the building, only to encounter capitol police officers who tried to block their passage.
 The firefighters managed to gain access to the rotunda of the capitol to symbolically voice their concerns with the legislation being promulgated by the current administration. Meanwhile, others in the building did not fare as well. A couple of protesters were carried out of the building for failing to enter through the “proper” guarded door, even though at least one actually had. Two visiting documentary filmmakers from Vermont were forcibly escorted into an elevator and arrested for “disorderly conduct,” which apparently is now defined as being in the capitol with a video camera. Interestingly, there were more (erroneous) arrests today than in all of the prior months of protests, and for the first time members of the press were arrested.

As lobbyists and friends of Walker are whisked into the statehouse through a secret tunnel, the citizens who are the true owners of the capitol must be frisked and go through a metal detector to enter their own building. But this is a perfect analogy to the state budget, which hands out millions to those members of the corporate elite (who in turn, do nothing with their riches to help anyone but themselves), and slashes rights and services to all of the actual taxpaying citizens of the state.

What was clear here on Day Three in Walkerville was that fascism has become the dominant theme of the current state administration. Oppression is rampant, as not before witnessed in the previous demonstrations and rallies. Besides the continued blocking of open access to the capitol building, the Walkerville encampment itself faces severe restrictions in terms of the spaces and times allowed for the village to exist. In addition, police seem to be quick to arrest, with little to no provocation. Apparently, our new Mayor Paul Soglin is also complicit in the oppression, as sources say he reneged on his promises to the citizen protesters today, and assisted in the threats and arrests of anyone not strictly adhering to prescribed orders about when and where they could and could not be.

Nevertheless, the importance of this day should not be underestimated. Despite the attempts of the governor and state legislators to subjugate the citizenry, the citizens have proven that they will not lie down or retreat. Indeed, their struggle is about basic survival. One could immediately sense the exhilaration and excitement, the sense of purpose and strength as the crowds who had previously walked, rallied, protested, and even slept beside one another for days on end were once again united. The day marked a renewed effort in the ongoing movement against not just one anti-union bill, but the larger corporate takeover of government. It demonstrated that the ties made in recent months between numerous groups and individuals still hold strong and that the efforts to fight the anti-union bill will continue in the fight against the unjust Walker budget bill … and beyond.  

Not resting on their laurels, Wisconsinites establish Walkerville

After the huge wave of protests throughout February and March, the focus of activists in Wisconsin moved to the impending recall elections this summer. The winter actions erupted as a result of an anti-union bill which threatened to remove essentially all collective bargaining rights for public employees as well as hamstring unions by requiring the almost impossible tasks of annual recertification and individual opt-in dues collecting. In response, besides assembling in numbers reaching nearly one-hundred thousand, Wisconsin citizens amassed signatures on petitions to facilitate the recall of numerous state senators who had voted for Governor Walker’s duplicitous legislation.

In the past two months, though a presence of protesters has remained - with their t-shirts, buttons, signs, banners, vuvzelas – around the vicinity of the capitol building, it appeared the united front of thousands had waned. Groups still came to meet for solidarity sing-a-longs and to attend governmental committee hearings on the many new regressive, pro-corporate, anti-human bills being forwarded by the Wisconsin legislature. But with the recall elections on the horizon and with the recent small victory of the Dane County circuit court dismissing the anti-collecting bargaining law (as it had been passed so hastily as to not adhere to common legislative requirements), it appeared that Wisconsinites might be done with the fight, resting on their own laurels and those of the Democrats they hoped to elect via the recall.

Of course, the corporate media, who operate under the same anti-human system that fosters plutocracy and redistribution of wealth from the many to the few, would like nothing better than to make it appear that all is “back to normal” in the cheese state. So, perhaps few people outside of Wisconsin and even outside of Madison realize that we were serious when we said that this was not a protest but a movement. There is much yet to be accomplished.

As of 7pm on Saturday, June 4th, a diverse group of citizens, representing unionists, non-union workers, students, teachers, immigrants, farmers, families and people with no formal affiliation (save for being a part of the empathetic class who truly seeks liberty and justice for all) laid down their tents and founded “Walkerville” around the perimeter of the Wisconsin capitol building. With a nod to the Hooverville tent cities of the Great Depression, these activists are demonstrating that we are not only opposed to the aforementioned anti-union bill, but that we are opposed to the entire regressive budget of this state, which wholly removes the rights and social safeties for the most vulnerable members of our society and shifts all of the state’s bounty to the wealthiest and most anti-social corporate oligarchs.

The police state enacted by the Walker administration has severely hampered the lawful and peaceful assembly of citizens in our own statehouse, so Walkerville exists to re-establish the constant presence and occupation by the people of the state, whose voice is being muted within the capitol.

Most importantly, Walkerville demonstrates that we in Wisconsin are not going to let up. Just as we are being attacked on all fronts as citizens, we will be fighting back on all fronts. Though the Democrats in our state legislature have stepped up to the plate and helped to support the will of the people, it is unlikely that they would have done so had their feet not been held to the fire. If we had not gathered in the capitol clearly proclaiming our will, our presence, and our solidarity, it is not clear the state Democrats would have had the impetus to help us fight. Thus we know that simply electing new officials will never be enough to ensure justice for the people from the government.
States like New York and California serve as prime examples of how the Democratic agenda is just as corporate as the Republican. Governor Andrew Cuomo, the son of a man once considered one of the strongest liberals in NY State history, is promoting many of the same brutal and unnecessary cuts to education and poverty programs. The underserved of California are faring no better under Jerry Brown. If we citizens fail to realize that we must pressure ALL politicians of all politician affiliations, and we must be prepared to fight indefinitely against the bipartisan corporate takeover of our local, state, and federal our government, we are sure to lose.

Walkerville signifies the fortitude of the Wisconsin people, and the recognition that our struggles as citizens are not soon to end. Our actions may take new forms or may morph as they are reassessed for utility, but they are far from over.

For those of us in Wisconsin who cannot camp out day and night around the capitol but still want to volunteer with the movement, there are numerous opportunities to be present for more protests and actions against the state budget, which will be negatively affecting all of us. (See Defend Wisconsin for full details.) For those in other states who will likely see similar developments, please know that we are still fighting, as you will surely have to fight too. The more we acknowledge that this struggle against the ruling class will be ongoing, that it affects us all, and that we may not ever be able to “return to normal,” the more likely we may have a fighting chance for our future.

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