Dispatches from the Class War in Wisconsin - Adam's Story
What does organizing on the ground look like?
Adam: We have been having regular Solidarity meetings, which are the best meetings I have ever attended. We have been asking ourselves what we are trying to do and how we can radicalize the agenda and talking points. Obviously a lot of union leaders and people in general are ready to give concessions right away, but we are trying to say Scott Walker gave tax breaks to businesses and now they are trying to give the debt onto the people, and stressing the point that we shouldn’t be so willing to give in concessions.
People clustered with signs have made themselves at home. There are so many unaffiliated people, and they have committed themselves to the struggle. Coordinating between groups and unaffiliated people is crucial, and coordination between groups is starting to happen. Everyone was surprised at how well we have been holding down the capitol and now we are starting to really dig in. The energy could have waned, but we are seeing that this is more sustainable.
Theresa and I organized an open forum in the middle of the capitol with folks that were spending the night at the Capitol. We discussed such topics as why we were there, what are our demands are, and what are the interactions with the police. Medea Benjamin -- one of the founders of Code Pink -- just got back from Egypt, and she told us her story of the community that developed in the process during the struggle in Tahrir Square. This was perfect timing for Medea to say this because that kind of culture is developing in Madison. People are remarkable. I have been an activist in Wisconsin since I was 14 -- that's around 9-10 years -- and I have never seen anything remotely like this.
During the anti-war rallies, you went home after a few hours; it wasn’t sustainable. Being at the capitol at night, having political discussions, and seeing people with kids, people playing instruments or break dancing is a completely different experience. It is becoming more cogent. People are expecting these things now. We have an information center, food donation areas (food is available all the time!), lost and found, massage services and other stress reducing spots. There is a real community that has been forged through these events.
Tessa and I have been attending meetings about civil disobedience: What would that look like? What would that entail? We don’t know when that will happen -- or if that will happen -- but we need to have infrastructure ready as well as getting different people on the same page. Because direct action can be powerful or useless, we found that is it important for different groups to be asking these questions and communicating with one another. There is legal aid everywhere. ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild have been giving out information about our rights.
Whenever the police have a chance to close down the Capitol, they will do it. We need to negotiate with the police because we don’t want a confrontation, but we don’t want to be pushed out either. People power is our leverage. We need to keep our numbers strong, and keep workers and families there. That is very important. Saturday was very thin, we were nervous. We thought we may get pushed out. Police have already taken over portions of the capitol. We discussed how we need to have a crowd that is both large and diverse. On Monday night, about a hundred Firefighters with families stayed the night at the Capitol; last night many community members stayed there. That is VERY important.
What are some of the changes you have seen this week?
The fear we all had was that energy would wane this week, but that has not happened. In fact, this week we have taken a crucial step towards a sustainable movement. Last week there was an upsurge of energy that peaked Saturday so this week we thought this would be a bad week but on Monday 15,000 to 20,000 people came out. Tom Morello (of Nightwatchman and Rage Against the Machine fame) played, and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) president was there.
It’s important to note that not only the public sector workers, but private sector workers are also showing up. We thought that because Monday was a furlough day, that is why we had the numbers but yesterday we had 10,000 people and more people stayed the night at the Capitol than last week. The energy is still alive. Staying at the Capitol, you just get taken away with the people. Time flies while you are talking, laughing and sharing food with each other. I had this great conversation with this woman about the time when they occupied the Capitol in the 1980s to protest apartheid in South Africa. I never knew that had happened in Madison. It is becoming an organizing space and a new generation of activists is being forged.
The rally in Ohio and Indiana‘s Democrats fleeing the state is heartening to Wisconsinites. Maybe a new workers' movement is beginning. We could have something new on our hands. South Central Federation of Labor endorsed a general strike. They backed off the language after, but the fact that THOSE words came out is ridiculous in a good way. This is a new feeling.
We are getting creative in strategizing. We are not only focusing on the Capitol, but we are also targeting Scott Walker. We are protesting the M & I bank that gave him a lot of money. Today, I am going to protest the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), a business lobby and one of Walker's biggest donors. Walker was planning on announcing the budget there - which is unprecedented - but the announcement is postponed. Obviously, this shows which side he is on. Tomorrow we are protesting the Koch Brothers lobbying office. We are keeping the energy alive by organizing a lot. Students are also riding on this high energy by planning protests against the privatization of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.