It’s getting tense today in Madison. The Department of Administration (not the Capitol Police) has issued a series of orders that have the effect of not allowing protesters into the Capitol and of making things tough for the few still inside. People who are authorized to enter by a legislator are being escorted in and out, not permitted to stay and join the protest. There are rumors that the small numbers still inside are being played on national media (FOX anyone?) as a sign of diminished protest enthusiasm. The police and protesters are trying to work ways around this, but the police are following orders and are apparently unwilling not to follow orders. Protesters accuse the Governor of trying to force a confrontation between police and protesters. There are actually lines in the Wisconsin Constitution that say that the Capitol must be open to the public so groups are filing suit to get court orders to reopen the Capitol. In short, even police who side with the protesters can engage in repression if they follow orders. The Governor will be giving his budget message tomorrow and he is hoping to have a clear field. A rally was called for 6.
Although I’ve been sick, my spouse and I decided to go to the 6pm rally for a while. It’s been in the 20s today — not all that bad for here — but it is supposed to get down to 12 overnight. (That’s in Fahrenheit, or -11 for the rest of the world.) It is clear that the goal of clearing the Capitol is to get dissident voices out for the Governor’s budget message tomorrow. Rumors are flying. All over Facebook is the claim that I’ve been unable to verify, that the Capitol Police Chief (under the authority of the Department of Administration (DOA), which has been issuing the “clear out the Capitol” rules and misleading press releases) has been replaced by the head of the newly-appointed head of the State Patrol (under the Department of Transportation), who is the father of two key Republican legislators. It is clear that the Dept of Admin has been issuing orders over the head of the Chief of Capitol Police, who himself issued a statement earlier today that he did not arrest overnight protesters because they were doing nothing wrong. But there has been no official announcement that someone with an appointment in the Dept of Transportation is now in charge of the Capitol Police. Nor any announcement that the Chief of Capitol Police has been fired. [Edit: Finally Facebook has a report from one of our grads who talked directly to the Chief and asked him if he’s been fired. He said no, he’ has not been fired.]
Another rumor circulating this evening and spoken from the dais is that “tea party” protesters would be smuggled into the gallery for Walker’s budget speech tomorrow via an underground tunnel from the office building a block away. There’s been remarkably little evidence of tea party folks anywhere. This just does not seem to be their issue. (Although there was one old guy wandering the crowd speaking to individuals tonight who seemed to be trying to stir up trouble by calling the speakers “porkers,” i.e. labor leaders who just fed at the trough. Nobody around me was taking his bait.) But as I thought about it later, it seems rather likely that Walker would issue special invitations to his friends to try to pack the gallery. I don’t know that there is a tunnel between the two buildings, but it wouldn’t be crazy for there to be one — it is pretty cold here in the winter. So the issue for tomorrow is who will get into the Capitol for a seat in the gallery, which is generally first-come-first-served.
DOA rules have been permitting few or no people to join the protesters already inside, so the ranks inside have been declining as people leave for their jobs and other obligations. There are relatively few protesters still left inside (about 50 today, I think, down from several hundred last night), but there are TAA and sociology grads among them. I ran into some TAA leaders outside in the cold at the rally, and they told me that they are in contact with “our” people inside, and that as far as they knew, things are going ok inside.
Today’s rally was obviously ad hoc. There was a crowd that I’d estimate to be in the hundreds, but it was obviously continuously shifting. There was a really crappy amplifier compared to previous days, so it was very hard to hear speakers even from pretty close to the speaker’s stand. Shouts of “talk louder” frequently drowned out the inadequate sound from the speaker. There also appeared to be no particular plan to the speakers. We arrived late, so perhaps I missed the keynotes, but what seemed to be happening was an “open mike.” Some people worked for inspiration, others seemed (to me) to be off-base or, in one case, seemed (to me) to be fabricating claims of mistreatment by authorities inside the Capitol (including a story of police erasing the video record on her cell phone), in light of other information available to me.
Attendees were exhorted to spend the night and assured that donations of blankets and warm coats were coming in. I couldn’t help but remark to my TAA colleagues that this did not seem like a very reasonable strategy to me. The crowd was mostly middle-aged. When I got home, I saw on Facebook a call for a “tent city” on the Capitol grounds, which at least upgrades the potential shelter provided to outdoor overnighters. And lots of people in this part of the world do winter camping. [Later edit: Facebook support site Defend Wisconsin reports 50 sleeping over in the cold and calls for blankets, hand warmers, warm hats and mittens etc so they don’t freeze to death. More than one committed activist expressed dismay at this action on the support page.]
Speakers were insisting they would stay “until we win.” If “win” means “get any kind of compromise at all,” I suppose this isn’t entirely unreasonable. Scott Walker thought he held all the cards, but he failed to count the quorum number. But if “win” means “win” as in getting what you want, vowing to sit out in the cold in Wisconsin until you get it seems like a losing strategy for the long run. I’ve personally been suggesting to people that there ought to be some sort of dignified exit strategy to fight again another day, instead of a bitter dwindling of numbers by attrition. But, as I’ve also noted, I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes pessimistic analyst, never the visionary at the vanguard. This movement has already gone farther than I thought it would.
Sociology faculty have been cautioning our TAA students not to be “ahead of the working class,” not to try to be a vanguard. From the external evidence, the elements that seem to me, as an outside observer, to be most extremist, are not the teaching assistants, but some of the members of the other unions.
Tomorrow is a big day. Scott Walker gives his budget speech. Everyone expects it to announce yet more horrific details, and to include punitive responses to public workers. Walker may have miscounted his cards, and the past two weeks have to have dashed his hopes of being a rising national star of the right, but he still has almost all the high cards in Wisconsin — including an electoral victory last fall, control of both houses of the legislature, and a letter-item veto power*. He’s obviously angry and likely to do his best take out a lot of his opponents in the wake of his public humiliation. I personally am pretty afraid of just what he is planning to come up with.
*I’m not kidding. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled some years ago that a Wisconsin governor can veto single characters — including digits and decimal points in numbers and the word “not” — out of bills passed by the legislature, as long as what remains when he is done is a grammatical sentence. This has led to its own brand of insane legislation-writing when the Governor and the legislature were not of the same party.
Last Saturday there were 100,000 euphoric people marching around the Capitol. Tomorrow . . .