first published on WIvoices.org
Capitol in Madison during the Walker kick off rally, November 19, 2011.
This is the 2nd of a 3 part series of interviews from that day. Read the first part of the series HERE.
I stood silently on one of the corner streets of the Capitol scanning the diverse, demonstrative crowd. Speakers were rallying the crowd from the Capitol steps while thousands listened and cheered. Ragtag bands circled the block chanting the seemingly required rally song, “This is What Democracy Looks Like”. Homemade signs carried by children, parents, uniformed workers, and wheel chaired elders bobbed up and down in every direction, blocking my view except for short periods of time. The most noticeable difference between this rally and Farmer’s rally in March 2011, was the greatly improved food selection. Hours of wait time was no longer required as make shift vendors, offering everything from burgers to egg rolls, lined the streets around the capitol and proudly displayed their support of the protestors with signs such as this one.
I randomly questioned people in the crowd of 40,000.
Here are 3 of their stories.
After about 5 minutes of crowd study, my eyes settled upon a trio of women across the street from me. My view was mostly obstructed by the mobs of people passing between us, but through gaps in the crowd I could see two women sitting on a bench on the Capitol lawn. A third companion was entertaining them with a lively story of some kind. As the three laughed heartily together, I walked toward them. Two of the women were willing to grant an interview, the third wished to remain anonymous…but decided to chime in quietly (or laugh loudly) here and there anyway.
Janet M. and Stephanie Roland
Stephanie: I am here to collect recall signatures so we can force a new election for a new governor of Wisconsin. I look at it this way - we all contribute to the state and the economy whether you make $5,000 a year or $1 million. We are all tax payers. So every one of us has a voice, not just the wealthiest, you know? So when we march around the Capitol and you close your doors and you don’t even listen? That tells me that you don’t care about the people and you turn your back on the very people who pay your salary. It is just a slap in the face to all of us….When he came into office, the first thing he did was cut the educational system. Well maybe education is not important to Scott Walker because he doesn’t even have a college degree!
Not to laugh, but it is what is! Maybe that’s why he’s making the decisions that he’s making. Maybe we should require that our governors to have a college education. My point is this – I see the state of Wisconsin as always being a working people’s state. And if you tell the people of Wisconsinthat you are going to take away their rights? Then I start thinking that this person wants to be a dictator. And we are democracy. We live in the United States of America where we elect people who represent us. That is why I am here, because he forgot that he works for the people, not the corporate interests. If you work for the corporate interests, you will have civil unrest then…when people aren’t heard, they will make themselves heard.
In Northern Wisconsin, we don’t get a lot of news about inner city Milwaukee. How are recent policy changes at the state level affecting you in the inner city?
Stephanie: Oh my goodness. If you do any search, Milwaukee tops the list in unemployment, incarceration, poverty. You know when you clean up the house and you kind of shuffle something under the rug so when company comes you don’t see it? Well I feel that is what they did. They shuffled us under the rug, you know? When you have all of your blacks in the inner city…then blacks feel like they are not wanted here. Not to make it racial, but we did know about Scott Walker in Milwaukee county (for a long time). But a lot of the people who were initially affected were like the poor black housekeeper and the poor black janitor. And so it didn’t get as much attention. Now all races have been affected.
Janet: People need to use their brains and look at somebody’s record because if people would’ve done their research they would’ve noticed that Walker did the same thing in Milwaukee County that he’s doing to everybody now. He tried to “save” money by privatizing. Look at the activity records of Walker in Milwaukee County. He tried to privatize services by saying he was saving the tax payers money. And he fired union workers and then they all got hired back! So we ended up having to pay for them and private contract at tax -
Together: Payer expense!
S: So when you look at Wisconsin, you see a pretty picture. But what you don’t see is the crime, the poverty, the high school drop out rate… I look at it this way, those people who drop out of school – you are denying them an education. Like, if you don’t give the teachers the supplies and programs that they need, and don’t make sure that schools have quality teachers, I mean what kid is going to want to go to those kinds of schools?
** [According to Milwaukee public school superintendent Gregory Thornton, 82% of MPS children live in poverty, struggle with hunger, and have little access to health care. MPS is facing a $74 million dollar shortfall and is projected to lose 4 math teachers, school nurses, and programming including At Risk and Advanced Placement.]
So those kind of kids are feeling like opportunities are denied to them and they take it out on the innocent people around them…like going to the state fair and beating up innocent people. That’s wrong. People in the inner city would want to come to Madison (to protest) but they can’t get here. I mean Scott Walker just axed the rail line, (laughed, shook head) I mean, can you imagine if we would’ve took that money ($810 million from the federal government) to build a rail system from Milwaukee to Madison? How many jobs for the people -
Janet: And tourism jobs! Everybody in the state would’ve benefited because Wisconsin was gong to be part of a national expansion!
(But) not all of it is limited to inner city, I mean you are starting to see foreclosures in the “Burbs”… you are starting to see more people at food pantries, you are starting to see people go broke due to health care costs. And there are no jobs or jobs with inadequate pay with few, if any, benefits. And 65,000 losing health care and children, children! are being cut…and you have rich fat cats over here (waving arm behind her at the Capitol) wining and dining each other, lining each others’ pockets with money stripped from the middle class and poor. (All nodding and collective murmuring) It’s almost like Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake!”
(Burst of laughter, Stephanie hugging stomach)
That’s why he needs to get educated; he needs to learn his history!
S: (Catching breath) Oh he does…he really does. (Nodding) Because when you don’t know your history –
J: It’ll repeat itself!
S: And here’s an uprising just like in the past…and it always ends in the same way – the people always get what they want. Put this down there (pointing at my note pad). We are the 99% and the 1% don’t even compare…and we’ll always get what we want. And we should NOT vote on party lines. Let’s see if the candidate is really going to work for the people or are they going to work for the corporations? Are you going to support the inner city to the suburbs to the farmers, are you going to support all of the people? We have to come together, neighborhoods, color lines…
J: Mouths can easily lie, actions rarely do. People need to be conscientious of the fact that they are not just choosing somebody they can have a beer with or open a brown paper bag with.
But people have to be willing to work together and understand that the 99% need to come together and highlight commonalities, rather than allow ourselves to be divided by our differences. We must come together and help each other by electing people committed to helping the masses get those basic needs met…if we get ourselves united and mobilized together, that’s it. Positive change will happen.
I joined a throng of people circling the Capitol while eavesdropping on the conversations and songs. A couple abruptly stopped in front of me, halting me with them. As they made adjustments to their belongings, I took that opportunity to tell them about the gathering of interviews that WI Voices is amassing. They agreed to add their perspective to the assortment. We all began again to pace the Capitol, in the sea of bodies and voices, and they told me this.
Auriel Auriel and Julia Willett
Auriel: It is especially hard hitting for students in the state. I have contact with a lot of grad students, and they do not make a lot of money. And these giant cuts for public workers is really egregious. Financially, I’ve been affected fairly minimally. (Auriel is a post-doctoral researcher who works for the state). For me, (the policy changes are) annoying. But that’s not the main reason I’m out here. I’m out here because when someone is elected into office to help with budgetary concerns -
Julia: What budgetary concerns? (Laughing) We didn’t have any budgetary concerns until he got into office!
Auriel: Well, there were some longstanding issues that needed to be addressed. But making huge contributions to one’s campaign financers and then calling that a sudden budgetary concern on the part of tax payers? You know – that was egregious. But what I found the most appalling of all, was that unions were willing to compromise on a number of different measures in order to keep collective bargaining rights. And they all seemed quite reasonable. And it would’ve raised a significant amount of money that Scott Walker and the Republican were looking to cover. But Walker simply wanted to gut the ability to have collective bargaining as well as some basic rights. And that just shows a type of partisanship and unreasonableness that is not keeping with the tradition of Wisconsin or the past governors that has actually occupied that office. Partisan politics really bother me, especially when it doesn’t get to the root of the problem.
Julia: We have somebody sitting in the gubernatorial office who spent a lot of time campaigning on issues that nothing to do with why he came into office and once there, he pretty much starting doing everything he could to help out those really nice campaign contributors who helped him get in office and really nothing at all for the actually working class people in the state that he is supposed to be governing.
He took away basic rights and he just keeps biting away at all the things that makes Wisconsinsuch a great place to live and work. I mean, when I first moved here back in 2008, Wisconsin was named by Forbes Magazine as (a great place) to find a job. And I did find a job at a co-op. I have health care through GHC and all the cuts that Walker has been making has made them have to make changes accordingly. GHC themselves did everything they could to minimize the damage, my employer did everything they could to minimize the damage, but every year it has been getting harder and harder for them to cover the costs .
(Also) I have friends who are educators, I have friends who are students, friends who are doctors, friends who are union members, and awful, awful number of people who have become unemployed because of this. We used to have really good viable prospects here in Wisconsin and now know some who are moving out of the state.
Auriel: Yeah when something comes along to affect a large proportion of the people with whom I deal regularly, I’m willing to get out there and protest, and in some cases get roughed up by police.
Roughed up here Madison?
A: Not here in Madison.
J: Well, if you don’t count all that stuff that was happening here when they closed off the Capitol.
A: Well, ok –
J: But that was no where near what was going on in UC Davis and UC Berkely. But the cops here were still were shoving people out the doors and dragging them around.
(However) I feel very, very, very lucky that we did it right from the very get go. The people did everything they could to make sure that we had convivial relationship with the police. And the police respected that. A little bit less so with the state police and a lot less so with the troopers and what not.
Why do you think the relationship is strained with the troopers?
J: Most likely, because, well… (laughs), troopers are familially tied to Scott Walker! (laughing)
[Walker selected Stephen Fitzgerald as the head of the WI state patrol. Fitzgerald’s sons, Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly speaker Jeff Fitzgerald helped push Walker’s agenda through the state legislature.]
A: Well, I think that (the state troopers) are less used to the protest culture, or the progressive element around places like Madison and Milwaukee. So it could also be a cultural thing that they aren’t used to.
J: It could be, yeah, but when they brought in the state police and the troopers, the people here did the same things they did when they were dealing with the city, university, and the capitol police. The people said, “Hey, we are here peacefully and we want don’t want to start any trouble with you and we just want to come here and express our rights legally, the way we have been doing.”
And the city police, the university and even the capitol police, to some extent, were like, “Yeah, we’re cool with that. You guys aren’t breaking any laws and as long as you stay peaceful, we’ll stay peaceful too.”
But, when the state troopers and other people who were brought in from the outside, they were like, “No, sorry, I really don’t care about that. I’m being paid to basically kick you out. It doesn’t matter if the way I’m doing it is wrong. It doesn’t matter if the reason I’m doing it is wrong. I’m going to do it anyway.” So yeah, to that extent, I would disagree that it’s not just because they are not used to the culture because they were exposed to the same treatment and they responded completely differently.
This was the view inside the Capitol rotunda this day. I hustled into the building to take the edge off the slight chill of the day. A group of four was just paces ahead of me, quietly talking and looking at the details of the architecture. They seemed surprised by my request for an interview, but they all quickly consented.
Zhi Yang Chen, Yang C., Jay S., Linshu Li Lily Spider
(Yang C. and Linshu Li are both students in the UW system; all from China)
Yang C: We are from China and we are here because we are very curious about American democracy. I’m majoring in humanities, so I’m interested in how the constitution of America works, and the American political system.
And I mean, like, people in Wisconsin are trying to recall Walker and we are very interested to see how people work in this system. So I mean, it is very interesting.
Is our constitution working?
Yang C: It’s working. (All nodding) You are all doing really good. You are the 99%. We’ve now experienced a full protest, in person. That is really good. You have a full right to recall a governor. That’s a nice right for the citizens. It is the price of democracy.
Do you have that capability in China, to recall an elected official?
Linshu: Never. Never. It is illegal.
Zhi Yang: It doesn’t work.
Linshu: Because we are communist!
(They all laugh.)
Zhi Yang: We are westernizing, pretty much becoming more like South Korea.
Yang C: Uh…we elect people, who have the power to elect our leaders.
So do you feel like you have a voice in china?
(All started talking at once; indiscernible)
Yang C: (Loudly) Really less voice. Really less voice.
I couldn’t help but wonder how officials in the Chinese government would feel seeing their youthful citizens swept up in the excitement in Madison, Wisconsin. These young people are exposed to debates ranging from isolationism in the inner city to cronyism and campaign finance reform. While the contentious atmosphere of 2011 has been openly divisive, Yang’s assertion is sobering. He reminds us of the price of not having voice. And how precious the right to use it.