Madison, WI - "Shame!" roared the audience as the Wisconsin State Assembly voted to pass the union-busting Budget Repair Bill, Feb. 25. Yet spirits remain high amongst the thousands of protesters still gathered at the State Capitol, with mass marches and the capitol building occupation still going strong. The Wisconsin State Senate has yet to be able to pass the bill, with thousands in the streets, the 14 State Senate Democrats still in hiding and many unions preparing the beginning stages of a general strike.
Outrage is not only seen in Madison. Statewide actions have taken place across Wisconsin. About 1000 people protested in downtown Milwaukee on Feb. 24. Labor unions and community groups in La Crossee, WI, have formed a coalition that has turned out hundreds to protest a visit by Gov. Scott Walker. In Prairie Du Chien, 400 people gathered at a local bar and then marched in the streets into the city center to demand "kill the bill." And in another example of many, in Gays Mills, a town with a population of just 600 residents, dozens packed a room at 8:30 a.m. to give Republican Sen. Dan Kapanke an earful over his support for the union busting bill.
As the 11th day of protest moves forward, organizers are quite busy, both in preparing for their largest march yet, scheduled for tomorrow at 3:00 p.m., and in figuring out how to keep the Capitol building a space for protest.
Yesterday, in a blatant attack on free speech, the Joint Committee on Legislative Organization voted to remove all protesters from Capitol office buildings, forcing union and student organizers to relocate offices off Capitol grounds. The hearing room, where hundreds of people have been able to testify their disapproval of the union busting bill, will no longer be available, effectively cutting off a line of communication between constituents and the legislature.
Suspicion remains high that police will soon raid the Capitol and remove protesters who have been occupying it for over ten days. Yet the people remain determined to do what it takes to stay in the Capitol building 24/7 and have formed several committees to keep a high level of organization in case protesters are forcibly removed. Some positive news did arrive when the Wisconsin Professional Police Association announced today that they will be joining people in an overnight stay in the Capitol.
The tens of thousands of people pouring to Madison's Capitol have outstripped the people's organizations, a clear indication that this is truly a mass movement that is not going to give in any time soon. People are pissed off and Wisconsin will likely see its largest march in history tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. outside the capitol.
Members of Students for a Democratic Society will be arriving Feb. 26 from Milwaukee, Waukesha, Chicago, Minneapolis, Oklahoma and North Carolina and will be meeting at 2:00 p.m. before the march in Library Mall to plot out more student actions and to march in a contingent alongside unions and community members.
Gilbert Johnson, president of AFSCME Local 82, has been on the front lines of the fight, marching and educating people about this outrageous attack on unions. In a forum put together last night by his Local, Johnson stated, "This is about our survival, and we're going to keep on fighting till we defeat this bill, and we'll keep on fighting after that until they can never allow this to happen again."