Conflicts of interest

There’s still a lot of protest and politics going on in Wisconsin, although the national attention has turned elsewhere. At least 8 state senators (5 Republican 3 Democrat) will face recall elections. The “collective bargaining bill” and our 6-8% effective pay cuts (by way of deductions for retirement and health insurance) are delayed by a court case.

One of the ugly elements of this struggle that has not been national news is the part relating to the University. Part of Gov. Walker’s infamous budget bill bomb was a restructuring of the University of Wisconsin to separate out UW Madison as a public authority. He had met privately with Chancellor Martin* to get her proposal, and included it in his budget bill along with a huge funding cut. UW System cried foul, as they’d agreed to bargain in a block and accused Chancellor Martin of bad faith — a claim she disputed, saying that the Governor had asked her not to talk to others and telling her that he would talk to the System people, and that the System president had also had private meetings with the Governor that he did not disclose to others. The Chancellor’s story sounds plausible to me — there is other evidence that Gov. Walker’s plan was to take all opponents by surprise with a blitzkrieg.

Politically, Walker’s agenda is pretty clearly to sow dissent among those who would otherwise be united in opposing him. I don’t think even Republicans are arguing that the inclusion of the proposal in the budget bill was a good-hearted effort to do what is best for the University. They way it was done was obviously calculated to embarrass Chancellor Martin.  However, Chancellor Martin and a lot of faculty do think that the public authority is something they have wanted and worked for for a long time, and support the bill.** Other faculty are lining up against the bill. Some argue that the whole public authority idea is a bad one, and basically argue in favor of continued populist control of the university. (It is my impression that most of these are fairly young, as I personally have a hard time imagining how anybody can say with a straight face that the rules we’ve been living under could possibly be good for us, but there are some older people who say this who seem to be guided primarily by ideological principle.) Others who basically agree about the need for a different structure argue that the proposal isn’t the right one to go to, that a major restructuring at this moment in history would put too much power into Governor-appointed regents who cannot be trusted to defend academic freedom and other moral virtues. Former chancellors and provosts are coming out on different sides of this issue.

All of these discussions among faculty are occurring in an extremely dangerous and conflictual political context in which the one thing that is certain is that there are few in state government who have the university’s well-being as much of a priority.

Some background. In the 1970s, the University of Wisconsin – Madison was merged with other state colleges and universities into the University of Wisconsin system. The system includes a half dozen universities and another half dozen two year schools. There are a scattering of vocational master’s programs around other campuses, but only Milwaukee and Madison have PhD programs. There are longstanding grievances among UW-Madison faculty about our status in UW System and our treatment in state government, with many older faculty feeling that state resources have been unfairly diverted from Madison to other campuses and that the state government has materially hurt UW-Madison with politically-motivated meddling from the state legislature. Among the things that have particularly galled me are having our raise pool explicitly voted on in the state legislature, having the legislature successfully mandate the creation of new programs and so-far unsuccessfully threaten to abolish others, and having the legislature on three different occasions that I know of (and possibly more than I do not know of)  seize money from a  university account that had been set up as a no-state-tax-dollars-involved profit center and put it in the state’s general revenue fund. University budgeting has become defensive and obscurantist as a consequence — money cannot be accumulated into any kind of reserve for fear of seizure, and bookkeeping becomes an exercise in money laundering and money hiding to prevent the state legislature from finding it. Also we get to be a political football. In previous years, when the legislature was of a different party from the governor, it was common practice for one side to try to “get” the other by throwing a political bomb at the university.

As I have debated this issue with grad students (who are mostly lined up in opposition to the plan), I have been trying to unravel the threads of interest involved. The students tend to emphasize concerns about tuition. Issues of access and affordability are real ones. They are issues now, as state funding continues to decline. All predictions about how this issue would play out under different structures are entirely hypothetical. One group argues that to change from being a public university is to give up forever on the idea of more tax dollar subsidies for tuition. Another group argues that the only way to increase affordability is to raise tuition simultaneously with raising financial aid — effectively to charge a sliding scale that depends on family income; people who advocate this disagree about which structure is most likely to do this. As that is all hypothetical, that particular debate is solely one of opinions.

But the whole tuition debate — one I am sympathetic to as a progressive — cuts entirely differently from the issue of what is good for an elite research university. If my goal is access to high quality education for youth of modest means, wouldn’t I just stop funding an elite research university entirely? Wouldn’t that access goal be better met with an institution staffed by lower-paid faculty teaching three or four courses a semester than by an institution staffed by higher-paid faculty whose major interest and time commitment is to their research/scholarship? The trend at elite schools is toward inequality: higher and higher salaries for the high-performing research faculty, and more and more teaching done by lower paid adjunct faculty.

One core value question is whether you support the idea of an elite research institution or not. Should there be major public research institutions at all?  And if so, what does it take to maintain them? Can an elite research university survive with an egalitarian ethos in the face of competition from the unapologetic elitist private institutions? The “public” schools that are thriving  that I know of have gotten some kind of independence from their state government oversights. Are there any models out there of thriving public elite universities that have not half-privatized? Chancellor Martin thinks this change is needed for UW as a research university. Political critics here argue that this allows for growing corporate control of research. The trouble is that that train has already left the station. There is essentially zero state funding for research. Research funding is federal, or corporate. As public money — both state and federal — have declined, the university has been increasingly reliant on private donor fundraising. Read corporate influence. That is happening now, has been happening for the past twenty years. Public money dries up, corporate money fills the void. This is a real issue, but debates about the current bill (in my view) are irrelevant to it.

To the graduate students reading this, I ask you: are you advocating the end of research institutions and the idea of graduate training that is associated with them? Just where do you think graduate school is going to come from, if not the elite research institutions? What exactly is your model?

Another interest group — one whose interests have been glaringly absent from all the public discussions — are the staff of the university. They are currently part of the state civil service system and are mostly unionized, except for managers and some professionals. The bill calls for “flexibility” in staffing, and is utterly silent on what that would mean for staff. In the short run, I think they are supposed to be guaranteed to stay in the state retirement and health care systems, but I know nothing about what would happen to the rules about bidding on jobs, job security, etc. It is not clear what would be good for them. Private universities do not have a good track record for treatment of their staff. If I were staff, it would look to me like a possible choice between the frying pan and the fire.

I find myself getting angry at students who are organizing anti-chancellor rallies around simple-minded slogans about tuition or privatization/corporate influence that seem to me to be more oriented to building up their sense of themselves as radical activists than to any real interest in what is actually happening at the university. This is doubtless unfair, as I think many students are scrambling to get themselves up to speed on this tangle of issues. And, I remind myself, we don’t all have the same interests. For that matter, my own interests are conflicted around these issues, and I suspect many students are in the same boat. In a very complex, volatile and dangerous political environment with a lot of different interests and interest groups, it can be very difficult to chart the best course of action.

*I am pointedly calling her Chancellor Martin and not Biddy because I see some sexism in the way her first name is used where just the surname would typically be used for a man in her position.

** It seems pretty clear that the faculty or regents who wanted this change were the ones who gave Chancellor Martin her “marching orders” three years ago, and that she did not have enough background to be able to plug into the diversity of opinion on the campus. She ran into a buzz saw a couple years ago around reorganizing how campus research is administered, where it was evident there were similar problems.

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Republican cop tells his story

This is a pretty interesting read on a lot of levels. The Republican police officer tells his story about how he watched his plumber friend get rich while he just got by on his much lower public police salary, then watched his plumber friend go broke in the housing bust, and how his plumber friend is now blaming HIM (the cop) for his (the plumber’s) financial woes. Here’s a short quote from the much longer piece, which lays out a lifetime of financial ups and downs for both of them.

Then February 11th came. Governor Walker, the man I voted for. The man who was going to put Doyle to bed and turn the ship around, spoke. His budget repair bill was announced and it was the shot heard around the country. He was now calling ME the haves, for being a public employee! I was the problem that the state is broke from my huge amounts of income and my retirement account. ME?? I thought. All of a sudden, I am the bad guy because I work for “the big bad government”. For 25 years, I was the “have not” while Kevin was the “have”. In a matter of days, I was now the reason that Kevin lost his house. We talked about the situation and he became upset that I still had my little house while he did not! He cried “foul” that “his tax dollars” padded my pockets while he had to work for all his money. “I didn’t work for my money?”, I thought.

The plumber is now even more right-wing, the cop now sees himself as moderate and feels betrayed by Walker. In the middle is the gripe about the “welfare leeches” who don’t want to work for anything, which justify the Republican politics. Race isn’t named, but it sure is a subtext. “I didn’t think you’d come after ME, just those lazy poor people.”

http://www.greenbayprogressive.com/progressive/story.asp?storyid=3540

gentle repression

The sociology grad students who occupied the Capitol have been writing some great analytic reflective pieces on police-protester interactions. Capitol Police Chief Tubbs formed personal relationships with the protesters and followed the principles of negotiated management of the protest. The police were generally on the same side as the protesters, but never refused to follow orders while on duty. The protesters (correctly) saw themselves as having cooperative and friendly relations with the police. This made a huge and at times rowdy protest a very safe event for everyone involved. But as the orders came down to shut down the protest, the habits of cooperation and compliance let repression do its work. Here are a couple of the reflective pieces I’ve seen today:

Zach Baumgart: the-elephant-in-the-room-for-our-peaceful-protests Documents the steps that repression took.

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field lessons-of-the-capitol-struggle Critically reflects on protesters’ unwillingness to even test the boundaries of police “rules.” (The picture of Elizabeth being carried out of the Assembly foyer made national news.)

These pieces are important reflections for social movements studies.

And here is some gripping footage of the entry to the assembly chambers being cleared. It totals over 30 minutes but is well worth the time:

http://www.forwardlookout.com/2011/03/sights-and-sounds-from-inside-state-capitol-yesterday-morning/9724

People who spent the night and are blocking the door to the assembly chamber are being removed. Protesters and police are playing by the same script. Both know they have the option of walking out under their own power, being escorted out while walking, or being dragged out. Protesters are varying in their level of resistance. There are  dozens of observers present with cameras. Chief Tubbs is telling protesters he cannot open the doors to the Capitol under they leave — the reason for this is clear. The protesters correctly understand that if they agree to leave, the police will put up a huge guard around the Assembly doors to prevent their return to the area. The police also do not want to deal with any more people until they get the protesters out of the Assembly area. Even legislators are not being allowed in through the doors. Some protesters are trying to persuade the police to refuse orders to clear the area. Notice that the police have overwhelming force. Even if a protester individually resists arrest, they do not have the numbers to hold the area. One thing I notice in the footage of clearing the area by Fitzgerald’s office: one trooper pats another and says, “Slow down. Take it easy. Do you need a break?” I heard from others that Elizabeth said that the trooper who carried her out was crying.

There is also the footage of the Democrat assembly people being locked out of the chamber, and the Republicans magically appearing from a secret entrance.

If you understand both what the protesters are trying to do and have been trained to do, and what the police are trying to do and have been trained to do, you can see repression in action, even as the police themselves are trying to be as gentle as possible about it. If everyone follows orders, the outcome is determined.

I also wandered around later in the day and noticed all the doors tied shut from the inside. Fire hazard.

lent

After insisting for three weeks that smashing public worker unions is a necessary “budget repair” measure, the Wisconsin Republicans went into Executive Session this evening to delete the fiscal parts of the “budget repair bill” (which lack a Constitutional quorum without the absent Democratic Senators) and voted to pass the non-fiscal parts, including most collective bargaining rights for public workers. Reports are that a thousand people converged on the Capitol and that protesters inside the Capitol opened the doors to let in other protesters and the police could not stop them. The Capitol is now re-occupied and Facebook is full of calls to people to head to the Capitol, although the twitter stream seems to say that Madison teachers are being advised to go to work tomorrow. The Assembly is scheduled to vote at 8am tomorrow. Twitter feed seems to say that the Assembly hall has been occupied by protesters. Part of the rush appears to be that the legislature plans to recess for a month beginning tomorrow.

form and content, protest and repression

Warning: this essay is partly a personal religious reflection although it also contains significant sociological content. In it I reflect on a sermon calling protest a spiritual exercise and a meeting about training Black young people to avoid challenging or talking to police and the significance of the juxtaposition of these two events.

The Madison protests reconvened this weekend without me. A friend estimates 20,000 at Saturday’s rally featuring Michael Moore – a large crowd by any normal standard, although a decline from last weekend’s high of somewhere between 70,000 and 120,000 (depending on whose estimate you believe). Today the pro-Walker and anti-Walker protests were said to be a few hundred each. The real action is out state, with recall efforts and other attempts to “flip” Republican Senators, as well as the escalating pressures on the Democrats in Illinois – their pay is frozen and they are being fined $100 a day, among other attempts to force their return without any concessions. Walker’s refusal to negotiate on any point is both alienating the state’s moderates and raising his cachet in national right-wing circles.

There was a guest sermon at church today – the pastor’s brother, a Mennonite activist from Pennsylvania who spoke on engagement as a spiritual practice, the idea that instead of separating the spiritual from the world, you should be spiritual in the world. The scripture was Isaiah 58:3-7 :

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.  Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

You find God when you are working for justice and helping the poor and oppressed. His own current political agenda is the movement against gun violence, which is trying to target merchants whose businesses are major sources of the guns that end up being used in urban crimes. The sermon was full of positive comments about the Wisconsin protest and how God is on our side as we challenge authority and work for the poor and oppressed. He wore a “We are Wisconsin . . . And we are winning” t-shirt. During joys and concerns, one congregant stood up to give thanks for her son, who’d been one of the protesters sleeping inside the capitol and then outside in the snow and rain – everyone clapped. If you think Walker’s budget cuts are good or that public employee unions are bad, you’d feel very uncomfortable in that congregation right now. We have a taken for granted assumption that we are all on the same side in this. I couldn’t help but remind myself that activists whose foundation is religious are often on the “other” side, supporting issues I really oppose, and the ways in which their communities surround them with people who don’t challenge their assumptions.

Don’t get me wrong. I think I’m right and the people around me are right. I truly and sincerely believe what I believe. And I truly do believe that we are doing the work of God when we work for justice. But so do the people on the “other side” of issues I care about think that God is on their side. I can’t help but note that God mostly tells people to do the things that a whole system of socialization and experience has taught us are the right things to do. It really isn’t enough just to engage, it matters what you are engaged about, what “side” you are on, and how you go about your engagement. Content matters, not just form. I’m struck every Sunday about how the hymns we sing, the messages we hear, the content of our joys and concerns all reinforce one set of understandings about what Christianity is “really about,” while other people’s churches emphasize other messages from the same core texts.

Or, backing away from religion to the broader context of protest and rebellion – it isn’t enough just that people protest. It matters what they are protesting about, what their goals are. The same vessel of protest carries both the tea party protests and this current mobilization. If you oppose the mobilization, you’d stress that the energy of the effort is union members organizing to defend unions – and you’d be right. It is primarily a mobilization of people through their well-organized channels for the purpose of maintaining the right to have those channels. It’s a defensive mobilization. Can we, should we bring the same concepts to bear on protests we like and those we don’t like?

The way protest and activism are being lifted up, and the comfort we all have with protest, brought me back into reflection about my other weekend activity. I spent Saturday morning at a training session for religious people to work on issues of racial disparity in criminal justice, part of an effort to found a local Gamaliel Foundation group. (I’m an attendee, not an organizer.) There were two choices. One group went off to learn about how to observe court sessions, to be a witness holding the system accountable.

I stayed for the presentation on how young people are being taught to avoid escalating encounters with police. The speaker is the former gang member and drug dealer I mentioned in a previous post. One component of the plan is small cards (the size of business cards) advising young people how to behave when stopped by police. The card contains a (small) color graphic of a tall white person in a police uniform facing a shorter black person. It says (in rather small print, obviously):

“Along the continuum of decision points in the juvenile justice system from initial law enforcement contact through disposition and beyond, the decision to arrest is the first and arguably the most powerful indicator of future impact on minority youth, their families and affected communities. Upon initial contact with law enforcement respectfully provide your name, name and phone number of your parent/guardian and clearly state that you wish to remain silent until your parent/guardian is present.”

The young people are urged to give their true name (to give a false name is obstruction of justice, a felony) and then to shut up. In trying to explain or defend themselves, young people often provide police with the basis for criminal charges. The idea is for the young people to carry the cards on them so they can hand them to the police if they are stopped – the hope is that the police will recognize that the young people have been told to do this and thus, hopefully defuse police anger at the young people for refusing to talk. I’m wondering if youth are also taught breathing exercises or other techniques to calm their anger and frustration when stopped unfairly. Survival here means NOT protesting, not rebelling, not standing up to power. The “protest” is to resist becoming a crime statistic. The adult trainer is very clear that sometimes the young people have done something wrong, but they will make the situation worse if they talk to the police and confess. It is also important for young people to understand who police are and that talking back to police is very different from talking back to other adults. Another card tells them that Educational Resource Officers in schools are real police officers and they must not talk to them without their parents present.

So young Black people need to be taught not to challenge authority as a survival strategy, just as they were taught in the South before 1960. It is a necessary lesson if these kids are going to make it out of adolescence with their hopes intact, but I reflect again (as I have so often before at these kinds of meetings) just how much self-control African Americans need to be able to get through the day in a racially-stratified society. How bad White kids are allowed to be and to get away with it, and how little tolerance Black kids are offered for misbehavior. And I cannot help but reflect that all this energy devoted to avoiding confrontation with police and avoiding arrest limits the capacity for Black protest mobilization.

And it is not just children. As I mentioned before and confirmed in further conversations, one of the Black parolees who was supposed to be speaking at these events has been picked up on a parole hold each time he asks his agent for permission to go to an event addressing issues of racial disparity in criminal justice And “driving while Black” stops – endemic in this community, as elsewhere, constantly force Black adults to endure disruptions to their plans and the self-control to remain calm in the face of unwarranted surveillance: Where are you going? Where are you coming from?  Why are you here on this street at this time? Account for yourself. Do you have any drugs or weapons?

I need not to over-do this, I need to put it in context. Black people are agents, and there are lots of Black folks challenging political structures as well as trying to protect young people and provide help to those damaged by our system. As I have mentioned before, there is constant attempt by Black adults to create a sense of personal and political efficacy among young Black people. In fact, the speaker in our group came with his wife (who is also his business manager) and his small children. He said he makes a point of bringing his small children to meetings because he wants them to see him doing his work. Another Black attendee also brought a small child. People are working hard to train up their children for active, engaged citizenship.

But still, the contrast is looming. Tea partier or unionist – the carriers of protest in the past few years in this country have been overwhelmingly White. Look around at who feels entitled to protest. Look at who feels safe enough to turn out into the streets in large numbers. And then look around to see whose voices are missing from the public assembly. Look around for who teaches their children they are entitled to speak up, and who has to teach their children how to survive repression by keeping quiet when confronted with police.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? “

Madison – now what?

Preview: I wrote this chronologically. At the bottom I give extensive discussion to an incident in which a Republican was surrounded by an angry crowd, an event that is likely to get circulated in some arenas.

Quite a day. Despite a court injunction issued this morning that the Capitol should be open, the Capitol stayed in lockdown all day today. Wisconsin’s Capitol building is normally open to the public. The Constitution says that legislators cannot bar citizens from the Capitol, and another law requires that the Capitol be open to the public when the State Supreme Court is in session, which it is now. Walker’s Dept of Administration challenged the injunction and argued that they were in compliance because a small number of protesters were allowed inside and assembly members could escort 8 people at a time to and from their offices. A court hearing on the matter began at 2:30 this afternoon and was still going on when Walker delivered his budget speech at 4.

As I have tried to convey, and you should be able to see from many first-hand accounts by participants and reporters, the mood of the protest before the Capitol was locked was largely celebratory and well-ordered. This account a Huffington Post is one outsider’s experience of several days inside the Capitol. There are dozens like it to be found. People brought their children to the protests. There was a lot of intentional crowd-management going on all along. The regular “thank you” chants to the police and cleaning crews and the ubiquity of “peaceful protest” signs and exhortations to ignore people you disagree with were all part of the emergent culture. The crowd last Saturday was pushing 100,000 in a heavy snow storm! It was the place to be if you were not sick like I was. You should try to locate a cache of photos from they day. Amazing. From a high like that to the crash of the locked Capitol.

The Capitol today was surreal. Normally a vibrant part of downtown, it looked more like a scene from a military putsch. A large orange fence cordoned off the plaza in front of the State Street entrance, barring citizens from being anywhere near these main doors. The controlled entrance was at the opposite side of the building. About a dozen officers pulled from police and sheriff departments all around the state stood in a row, “guarding” the door and checking passes. (After I’d watched them for a while, I heard one mutter to the other that two men could have done the job.) When I arrived at 2, there was a noisy crowd of perhaps a thousand people shouting “let us in” and inveighing against the Governor. I wandered to the north side, where there was an exit door being casually guarded by four out of town sheriffs. I asked them what they thought. They said they were not allowed to discuss politics while on the job. I said, “fair enough.” But then they muttered that they thought the situation was a bad thing to see. They got called inside, and the last one left, before leaving, said: “I’m from a union family.” Repeatedly I heard police complaining among themselves. The Dane County Sheriff issued a press release that he was refusing to send any more officers to the Capitol because the Department of Administration would not explain why the doors were locked and he did not want his officers “in the position of being palace guards.”  The Dept of Administration seems to be planning to have the new restrictions in place for the long hall, as they opened up a new web site today to explain their policies. Looks like citizens who oppose the governor are no longer going to be allowed into the Capitol. (OK, I can be slightly balanced. The Capitol is a big place, a lot of people work there, including the Supreme Court and a lot of other groups who are not the Governor. It is true that it must be quite difficult to get work done with drumming and chanting going on all the time and 8000 people crammed in all available spaces.)

The celebratory mood was gone, and there was a lot more anger around today. As it became time for Walker’s speech, the crowd was moved over to the State Street side to make as much noise as possible as close to the assembly hall as possible. I stayed behind to watch the police and door. Mostly things were orderly. At one point, a big White guy was giving a Black officer a hard time, asking “so what would happen if I just tried to walk past you?” The officer kept saying, “I’m just here doing my job,” and when asked how he was, said “I’m fine.” A protest marshal was right next to the guy, repeating “peaceful protest.” I saw a couple of marshals signal each other and I heard one say to the other “that guy is trying to provoke the crowd.” Pretty soon they were both in there intervening, and someone started a “thank you cops” chant. The incident broke up. I left shortly thereafter, while the speech was still going on.

There’s some gripping footage on Youtube of the crowd turning ugly today (after the speech, it looks like) that begins in a way that will be all over right-wing media but as it progresses should also be a training film for nonviolence workshops: a Republican Senator Grothman wanders into the crowds and people start chasing him, shouting “shame, shame.” Some people are shouting the f-word. You can hear the protest marshals shouting “don’t touch him” and “peaceful protest” but it’s kind of noisy and ugly. If you look, you can see the orange marshal shirts trying to get close. Then a Democrat Rep Hulsey in the orange t-shirt appears  and puts his arm around his colleague and the two of them are surrounded by marshals. No police anywhere in sight — they are guarding the doors, although I’m sure they could do no better than the protest marshals. The rest of the footage is gripping. There is an angry element in that crowd and it takes several minutes before the marshals get the situation under control and the legislator can be escorted out of the situation by fire fighters. But it is gradually de-escalated and the chants of “peaceful protest” win the day. Here’s the link. It is 12 minutes and definitely worth watching to the end if you have any research or personal interest in protest. Here’s a local news account of the incident from the Cap Times : http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/health_med_fit/vital_signs/article_14946c20-448b-11e0-9529-001cc4c03286.html Note that it makes no mention at all of the protest marshals, although it does talk about the efforts of the protesters to keep people calm, and the Republican himself says he was not afraid.

And the budget message? Truly horrible and vindictive. Pretty much everything bad you can imagine. It feels like Armageddon. In this state, local government and education get most of their money from the state under rules that prohibit them from raising local taxes: the proposed budget makes deep cuts in both that can only be met by cutting people’s salaries. Job loss for state workers is part of the plan. And much more. And remember, even the Wall Street Journal reports that Wisconsin’s fiscal problems are modest.

Is there hope? I’ve previously noted my pessimism. But I do see a little hope. The Draconian character of the proposed budget is so extreme and so harmful to much of the state that it is possible that some Republic legislators will recoil from some of its excesses. It also occurred to me that all those statewide police who’ve spent the last 10 days in Madison drawing overtime and fraternizing with the protesters — especially the ones putting on “cops for labor” t-shirts when off duty — may influence their friends and neighbors when they head home. Walker has his supporters, to be sure, but right now it looks like the middle, including some Republicans, think he has gone overboard. I’m not sure any of this is enough to break Republican party discipline and prevent most of the damage. But those Senators are still out of state, and the longer this goes on, the lower Walker’s public support.

White-hot mobilization like the past two weeks can’t go on. Something has to shift. People are trying to figure out what is next.

Edit: Here’s a description of the lockdown from inside the Capitol.

Late Monday, as it gets colder and uglier in Madison

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 . . .