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.

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:

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.


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.

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 : 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 . . .

protest friday

Depending on your preferred news source, the “story” in Wisconsin is the ongoing legislative standoff and/or the building national solidarity movement. Here on the ground, it’s that, yes, but a lot more. From a state worker’s perspective and a social services for the needy perspective, there is no way this can end well, and a lot of ways it can end extremely badly. Steep pay cuts for state workers are a given, even though our pay is a relatively small part of the budget. (I’ve discovered that even a lot of the TAs protesting do not realize just how big those pay cuts are for state workers.) The bigger dollars savings from pay cuts are the implicit attacks on county and municipal employees; Walker wanted to strip them of bargaining rights because he wants to impose cuts in local aids that will force localities to cut the pay of their workers. Layoff notices for teachers and others are being generated by lots of districts — including districts that have come out officially against the Governor’s bill — because of rules that require adequate notice and the fact that their budgets are going to get cut no matter how this ends.

The one single good thing in the bill that actually saves the state a lot of money and is uncontroversial — restructuring state debt to save $165 million  — is being held hostage by the Governor (who won’t let it be voted on separately) and will, for reasons I don’t understand, apparently become impossible if it isn’t done by today. EDIT: fixed the statement about the debt; the “real” deadline is apparently March 15.

And the University has its own internal mess. Part of the bill includes a provision to semi-privatize the UW Madison campus and separate it from the rest of the Wisconsin system. The general idea of this is actually something that a majority of Madison faculty (including me) have wanted for a long time for a lot of reasons, although the TAA opposes it and it cuts a lot of complicated ways in terms of broader social issues like access to education. There are accusations that our Chancellor cut a secret deal with Walker about this, and has been called before the Board of Regents today. Students have been protesting at that meeting against the plan, and rumors are rampant among the faculty about what might be going on. Both the Chancellor’s resignation and her firing are likely outcomes.

And the protest just keeps getting more interesting even as everyone who’s been protesting is getting run down and passing around a bug. There have been smaller rallies all week, but a big one is being called for tomorrow. The [Republican] state legislature passed a special bill to ban non-employees from office areas after hours and forcing the TAA to remove its command center from the Capitol to Democratic Party headquarters nearby. The public areas of the Capitol are NOT closed over night. And the union of police officers issued an official statement that THEY will be sleeping over at the Capitol in solidarity with other workers!

And as he has now given a public interview on the topic, I can reveal that our very own Alex Hanna literally WAS “from Cairo to Madison”! Alex is co-chair of the TAA this year. He had already been studying the earlier April 6 Facebook movement and took a leap earlier this month: he charged a plane ticket on his credit card and went to Cairo, where he was standing in Tahrir Square on February 11. He flew home from Cairo and literally went straight to the TAA office from the airport. As Alex is my advisee, I plan to bask in whatever reflected glory I can manage to grab. Of course, as hard as Alex has worked, he is not the only sociology graduate student who has played a major role in this protest down at ground zero in the Capitol command center, and I along with other sociology faculty are both in awe of them and grateful for all their work.

madison, race

Quote of the evening (partly paraphrased): “I know you sat around and let Walker get elected. You-all didn’t think Walker was going to hurt YOU-all, just us Black and Brown and poor people.”

This seemed fitting, as I’ve been party to many political conversations about the narrowing of the protest to the collective bargaining issue. The ranks are not at all happy about their leadership just conceding the financial issues. The proposal will cost state workers a minimum of 6-7% of their salary, more if they are low wage, as the health insurance premiums do not vary with income. But there is a lot of other stuff in the bill that is being completely ignored. It would give the governor the right to kill off Medicaid — a coalition is trying to bring up that issue, but isn’t making it out of the din. Another part of the bill that isn’t being contested is the right of the Governor to sell off state property without taking competitive bids or gaining the approval of the Public Works Commission. And, of course, with so much under attack, nobody is even considering the possibility of improving social services for the most destitute. This year’s deficit could be made up at $32 per adult in the state — it just isn’t that big. But the Republicans are busy cutting revenue via cutting various business taxes.

This evening I went off to a long-scheduled meeting of a group seeking focus on racial disparities and form a local branch of WISDOM, Wisconsin’s Gamaliel Foundation group. I wasn’t sure anyone would be there with all the ruckus at the Capitol, but a fair number of folks did turn out, although I think everyone either already has some tie to the issue or has a direct tie to one of the organizers. Although the organizers were White (and spoke at the beginning and end of the program), all the invited speakers were Black: a lawyer who heads the racial disparities implementation team who gave an inspiring speech about hanging on, addressing the things we’d rather hide, and God’s calling; a former financial professional who provides job coaching for returning inmates (who stressed that he took the job because of his relationship with Jesus); and a former self-described gangster and drug dealer (quoted above) who told us how his life was turned around by “old white ladies” visiting him in prison. The fourth speaker was another former inmate who runs re-entry programs: he was a last-minute sub for the guy who was supposed to speak, who is currently being held in jail on a parole hold. The substitute speaker and another (white) person who is in his circle of support were talking later about how the parole agent won’t return calls and about what to do next to try to get him out. I also met a diversity specialist who was at the Law School forum earlier this month (about which I did not blog, but the recap is it featured the Black newly-appointed DA who will have to stand for election doing his best to talk the disparities issue into a muddy swamp) who wanted to connect.

The Madison protests are still going. A nasty storm kept the crowds small and indoors on Sunday; there was a rally Monday I did not go to.  Tuesday was another big rally day and the campus was asked to walk out in solidarity and march to the capitol. On the way back, I heard the guy behind me say: “This is Walker’s physical fitness program for the University. Walk up and down State Street every day.” The Steelworkers and Firemen are sleeping at the Capitol. Crowds are smaller. The police have told the protesters that they will try to clear the Capitol of sleepovers if the crowd gets small enough, and blog posts indicate that the sleepovers are being confined to smaller and smaller areas. The word I get is that the out-of-town union people are frightened of the police and keep spreading [false] rumors that the police are massing in riot gear. The locals think the police are acting friendly. Knowing how local police work, I’m pretty sure that if the Capitol is closed, they will be told to disperse and given time to do it, and then will have to face the question of whether to stay and risk arrest or confrontation.

The State Senators’ absence blocks passage only of budget bills. So the Republicans are setting about the business of passing all the other noxious legislation they can, including repealing the recently-passed requirement to collect racial traffic stop data and requiring voters to show ID.

And I finally started collecting personal email addresses so we can do protest support without violating the law. It is explicitly against the law for state workers to use state resources to lobby about a bill before the legislature. As you may imagine, a lot of people are ignoring this law, and there are a wide variety of interpretations about just what it means in this context, as workers do have the right to express opinions about their work conditions. Anyway, the personal email list removes this ambiguity, although it is cumbersome to use. I had to explain to people how to set up a gmail account.

On Wisconsin!

wisconsin nice

One more Madison protest post. I thought some of you who are studying repression and such might enjoy this local news report (source: ):

MADISON, Wis. — Madison police estimated that crowds on the Capitol Square peaked at about 60,000 people. That’s not much less than a Wisconsin Badgers football game at Camp Randall, but police reported that despite the crowds there were no arrests made.

“On behalf of all the law enforcement agencies that helped keep the peace on the Capitol Square Saturday, a very sincere thank you to all of those who showed up to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Madison police said in a statement. “(Protesters) conducted themselves with great decorum and civility.”

The national spotlight was shining brightly on the state of Wisconsin. Saturday was also the first day that Tea Party members showed up in support of Gov. Scott Walker, but despite opposing views there were no incidents to report.

As of 5 p.m., police said there were no major incidents and no arrests. Police said discourse and discussion was, at times, loud and heated.

As previously indicated, the goal of law enforcement has been to provide a safe environment for democracy to take place. That goal has been realized for yet another day, police officials said.”

Edit 1: Just so I don’t sound like I’ve completely lost my capacity for sociological analysis: (1) Protesters are White, Continue reading “wisconsin nice”

madison protests saturday morning

My spouse and I were downtown this morning for part 1 of today’s events but couldn’t spend the day. We decided to do our part to inflate the pro-union crowd before the pro-Walker rally and then head home. Given what we saw as we left, I think it will have gotten a lot bigger after we were gone. Folks actually on site will have to fill in the details.

There were mixed messages on Facebook again about when to show up. From the TAA sources the plan was one rally at 10, another at 4:30, with the TeaParty rally scheduled for noon. But another Madison Facebook site linked to by a lot of my non-TAA friends gave the rally time for “our” side as 10-2. I know there was 2 hour non-violence training last night and a marshals’ meeting at 8 this morning.

The crowd wasn’t large when we arrived at 9:30. Police presence was much larger and more visible today — only two of the entrances to the Capitol are open, the rest are closed and guarded. (This in contrast to the wide-open Capitol all week.) Also prominently displayed but not visible earlier were signs saying “no guns allowed in the Capitol.” There’s more security checking going on as you enter today. I spoke to a TAA marshal inside the Capitol, who said that the King Street side (easiest for the big protests and where the Wednesday thru Friday protests have been) is reserved for Tea Party. They are getting 25% of the area and the union protesters 75%. The marshals’ job is to keep everyone peaceful and keep “our” side away from the Tea Party side to avoid inflating their numbers. He also said the goal was to keep the inside of the Capitol fully occupied so there would be no room for Tea Party protesters.  Lots of protesters — especially the young ones — are wearing or carrying xeroxed signs that say “this is a peaceful protest.”

We went back outside at 10. Labor groups were starting to arrive in larger numbers. We stood for a while down on the sidewalk at the State Street side of the Capitol, where you could only sort of hear the speakers. People were milling about in groups, some discussing the political issues, some chatting about local gossip. We ran into friends from church: mother, father and two children. They said they’d been unable to attend the protests during the week because the family had all had strep. She’s a nurse and was wondering where the nurse contingent was. One child borrowed my ball point pen to write a slogan she had thought up on the way over. After a while, I decide to move in the King Street direction, to see how things looked over that way. I discovered you could hear better over there and that the crowd was much larger than I’d thought. One union man told us he’d heard there were doctors giving people medical excuses for missing work and asked if we knew where they were. Sorry. I overheard one marshal tell another that the goal was to turn everybody up the driveway and back towards the north to route them over to East Washington for a rally. Nobody from the speaker’s stand asked the union protesters to stay out of the Tea Party area. As the rally ended and the crowd dispersed, the marshals  were trying to turn them as instruction; many complied but a lot of union protesters went in the King Street direction. There appeared not to be enough marshals at that specific location to manage and communicate with a  crowd of that size if the goal was to persuade folks to avoid the King Street area.

The rally turned into a march and the line of marchers going by and being turned up the driveway was a lot larger than I had expected. People had clearly kept coming into the area. The crowd started to look to me like maybe it was as big as yesterday.

We got cold and had to do other things, so left shortly before noon, walking back toward campus down State Street, which was full of people walking toward the Capitol carrying signs. Judging by the sign balance, the State Street traffic had to be at least 50-1 pro-union. I did see a few small contingents of people carrying Walker signs, and a group of perhaps 50-100 young people marching down State Street behind a Walker banner. If the Tea Party is coming to town in force, they are doing it from another direction.

That’s all I know. I can’t find any meaningful live coverage of events, so now I’m prisoner to the same news sources as anyone else. There is a live aerial feed at but it has no audio and the resolution is too blurry to identify sign content, so I find it impossible to “read” the feed to understand anything about what is going on.  It mostly seems to be shots of people milling around.

Madison Friday 2

Part II of Friday protests. Written later with more leisure.

I begin with the  part of the most general interest first. If you don’t have  a taste for my more personal musings in the middle, you can skip to the end, where I recap my understanding of how  the week’s events unfolded and summarize what I saw when I looked at the TV news coverage of today.

Out at the 5:00 rally, lots of singing, union songs plus God Bless America. Late start on the talks. A Assembly Democrats come out and talk about having a “surprise” for the crowd. Say he’s going to tease a bit, talks about other things. I’m thinking, “Oh, Wow, there’s been a concession.”  Finally says, “The Republicans have adjourned to Tuesday!” I’m certainly confused about why he’s sounding so happy about this. He says “Isn’t that a wonderful surprise?” People around me are saying, “What is the surprise?”  It turns out he’s trying to say (not real clearly) that having the Assembly adjourn to Tuesday is a victory because the process has been slowed down. Then more speeches from really hard working teachers from union families who love their jobs and are worried. Sorry I’m getting a little jaded at this point. I’m cold and hungry and it is already 6pm, the time I thought the 5pm rally would be ending. I’d heard Jesse Jackson was going to speak, but I decided I couldn’t hold out any longer, so I left. Later, checking local news clips, I discovered that this is what had happened according to two local television reporters: The Republicans called a session for 5pm. Then they actually started early, without the Democrats, and took votes on some amendments and were about to vote on the main motion when the Democrats arrived. The Democrats yelled and there were angry exchanges. The result  was that the Republicans agreed to rescind the votes on the amendments out and adjourn until Tuesday, meaning that Democrats can still offer amendments on Tuesday. None of these goings-on in the assembly made it to the national news broadcasts, but the local FOX affiliate covered it, including the Republican confession that it had been a “bull run” and the the print version on the FOX website mentions it. Continue reading “Madison Friday 2”

madison protest snippets

I just happened to be inside the Capitol when Jesse Jackson showed up. It was a pretty amazing site to see him leading an overwhlemingly (but not exclusively) White crowd singing “We Shall Overcome” and reminding them that King supported workers’ rights.

It’s a huge crowd, a lovely day by our standards (sunny and in the 30s), high spirits all around. It’s like a giant party there, inside, outside, all around the town. The Democratic Senators are sequestered out of state somewhere; the Democratic Representatives are wearing orange T-shirts saying something like “Democratic Representatives in solidarity with labor.”  The labor speaker who offered financial concessions straight up and said “this is not about money” was only half-heartedly cheered by the crowd, but everybody screamed in support when he yelled that it is about the right to organize and workers’ rights are human rights.

There’s actually a lot more in that bill than attacks on public unions, including devastating cuts in health services for low income people, but it is clear that the attack on collective bargaining and the idea of unions is what is pulling out the troops. A speaker at the rally said that the Michigan governor has said he won’t go after the unions.

House Reps are keeping testimony going in a rump session of the Joint Finance Committee after the Republican majority declared the hearing closed so they could get on with their vote. I’ve been a little puzzled about why the twitter feed keep exhorting people to sign up to testify in the middle of the night, but apparently this is because the Capitol is kept open if there is a public meeting gonig on.

Again there was a reference at the rally to protests elsewhere. I don’t have time to track them down, but a grad student who saw my previous post said this blog entry links to some of them:

I don’t have a smart phone and don’t have a text plan (texts cost me 20 cents each) so I’m pretty much off the grid when I’m down at the protest. It’s hard to know what is going on without a smart phone now. I’m going to take my wifi-enabled planner back down there to see if I can manage to do anything with the TAA’s set-up.

madison protests later in the day

I’m back from a few hours at the Madison protest and the midday rally.

The galvanizing issue for the protest is to strip public unions of collective bargaining rights over anything but salary. There is a report that the “budget crisis” is a sham, in that the budget was left in fairly good shape by the outgoing Democratic governor (who has been imposing cuts on the public sector, the university, and welfare throughout the eight years of his administration), and the Republicans passed a series of expensive tax breaks for businesses in January. It’s fair to say that this is not a sad response to fiscal crisis, but a calculated attempt to weaken unions.

The midday protest was quite an event. It is a huge crowd that looks a lot like tea-party folks: overwhelmingly white, predominantly middle-aged despite the large infusion of high school kids and college students. Even a few “Don’t Tread on Me” flags.  Labor unions from the private sector were out in force today. The Capitol is packed and huge crowds are outside it. Lots of shops along State Street have signs supporting the unions and/or the teachers. I’m sure they are doing a booming business. The police and firefighters, who are exempted from the loss of collective bargaining rights due to their support for the Governor in the last election, nevertheless turned out in force in solidarity with other public workers. The mood of the crowd was upbeat.

Late-breaking news: State Sentate Democrats finally got a spine with mass support and are in hiding to prevent a quorum which would bring the bill to a vote. The police are now charged with finding them. The rumor is that they left the state.

The is another rally called for 5:30 this evening and more over the weekend. The Ed Show on MSNBC (comes on after Rachel Maddow) gave Madison extensive coverage last night and is broadcasting from here tonight; people were urged to show up to the Capitol Square for the broadcast.

Continue reading “madison protests later in the day”

madison protests

This is a week of protests in Madison over the new governor’s “budget repair” bill that includes repealing most collective bargaining rights for public employees. Someone posted a 30 second clip of the rally on Youtube from Wednesdays  midday rally, estimated at 30,000 people, even bigger than yesterday’s rally that was estimated at 10,000 – 12,000 and  included a lot of labor union contingents. (My impression was that the modal attendee yesterday was middle-aged, not college age.) Hundreds of people spent the past two nights providing 2 minutes of testimony each at the legislative hearing on the bill. Wednesday’s  rally was augmented by the “sick in” of Madison’s public school teachers which led the district to cancel classes. With the schools closed, whole families are downtown at the rally, as well as substantial contingents from all the high schools. This is largely a “company town” in the sense that government employees predominate, so an attack on state employee benefits is an attack on the whole community. Outside of Madison, it seems to be the unions who are stepping up and see this as a continuation of the attack on organized labor. Beyond that, we’ve gotten to the position where government employees have become stigmatized and safe “others” to attack as part of political career-building.

I may post later about feeling like Obama, dithering around, in my case about how to handle class cancellation in the face of the flow of events. Madison finally made the national news after 30,000 protesters were out yesterday. Today Milwaukee public schools have also closed, along with many districts near Madison. After a somewhat confusing series of “assembly instructions” hindered by the ban on using university email for any political activity, it is clear that most university classes will be canceled for the day. This is likely to be a very big day for collective action. The state house passed the bill at midnight last night, the state senate votes today.

National news is still not getting the story right. This state’s “fiscal crisis” is not as bad as most, and most of the deficit is due to a series of tax breaks the governor pushed through for his cronies in January. The mass mobilization is around stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights. This is galvanizing organized labor generally.

Interesting to be caught up in the flow of events.

I’m off to join the masses.

edit:  Milwaukee Public Schools did not close, although many southern Wisconsin districts have closed. They are likely to have a mess there if many teachers call in sick but they refuse to close.

edit #2: State house has passed the bill, the strategy is to delay the vote in the Senate by having hundreds (thousands?) of people sign up to speak at the public hearing. People have been testifying at 2 minutes apiece since Tuesday.

Egypt & other protest videos

I’m posting these links here so I can find them for later classroom use. This is a two-part series produced by Al-Jazeera. Each episode is 25 minutes. WordPress won’t let me embed, so here is a link to their page:

Here’s a 3 minute synopsis posted to Youtube by Al-Jazeera

Two minute video on the Madison protest Feb 15 2011 (re proposal to strip collective bargaining rights from state workers:

Here are some pictures from the overnight sit-in:!/album.php?aid=614511&id=716045233&fbid=10150383401840234