Reports from the Wisconsin State Capitol

Here are a couple of reports from the US Solidarity website. See the Websine. They give a flavour of the Wisconsin movement from inside the Capitol.

Dispatches from the Class War in Wisconsin – Adam’s Story

February 25, 2011

What does organizing on the ground look like?

Adam: We have been having regular Solidarity meetings, which are the best meetings I have ever attended. We have been asking ourselves what we are trying to do and how we can radicalize the agenda and talking points. Obviously a lot of union leaders and people in general are ready to give concessions right away, but we are trying to say Scott Walker gave tax breaks to businesses and now they are trying to give the debt onto the people, and stressing the point that we shouldn’t be so willing to give in concessions.

People clustered with signs have made themselves at home. There are so many unaffiliated people, and they have committed themselves to the struggle. Coordinating between groups and unaffiliated people is crucial, and coordination between groups is starting to happen. Everyone was surprised at how well we have been holding down the capitol and now we are starting to really dig in. The energy could have waned, but we are seeing that this is more sustainable.

Theresa and I organized an open forum in the middle of the capitol with folks that were spending the night at the Capitol. We discussed such topics as why we were there, what are our demands are, and what are the interactions with the police. Medea Benjamin — one of the founders of Code Pink — just got back from Egypt, and she told us her story of the community that developed in the process during the struggle in Tahrir Square. This was perfect timing for Medea to say this because that kind of culture is developing in Madison. People are remarkable. I have been an activist in Wisconsin since I was 14 — that’s around 9-10 years — and I have never seen anything remotely like this.

During the anti-war rallies, you went home after a few hours; it wasn’t sustainable. Being at the capitol at night, having political discussions, and seeing people with kids, people playing instruments or break dancing is a completely different experience. It is becoming more cogent. People are expecting these things now. We have an information center, food donation areas (food is available all the time!), lost and found, massage services and other stress reducing spots. There is a real community that has been forged through these events.

Tessa and I have been attending meetings about civil disobedience: What would that look like? What would that entail? We don’t know when that will happen — or if that will happen — but we need to have infrastructure ready as well as getting different people on the same page. Because direct action can be powerful or useless, we found that is it important for different groups to be asking these questions and communicating with one another. There is legal aid everywhere. ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild have been giving out information about our rights.

Whenever the police have a chance to close down the Capitol, they will do it. We need to negotiate with the police because we don’t want a confrontation, but we don’t want to be pushed out either. People power is our leverage. We need to keep our numbers strong, and keep workers and families there. That is very important. Saturday was very thin, we were nervous. We thought we may get pushed out. Police have already taken over portions of the capitol. We discussed how we need to have a crowd that is both large and diverse. On Monday night, about a hundred Firefighters with families stayed the night at the Capitol; last night many community members stayed there. That is VERY important.

What are some of the changes you have seen this week?

The fear we all had was that energy would wane this week, but that has not happened. In fact, this week we have taken a crucial step towards a sustainable movement. Last week there was an upsurge of energy that peaked Saturday so this week we thought this would be a bad week but on Monday 15,000 to 20,000 people came out. Tom Morello (of Nightwatchman and Rage Against the Machine fame) played, and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) president was there.

It’s important to note that not only the public sector workers, but private sector workers are also showing up. We thought that because Monday was a furlough day, that is why we had the numbers but yesterday we had 10,000 people and more people stayed the night at the Capitol than last week. The energy is still alive. Staying at the Capitol, you just get taken away with the people. Time flies while you are talking, laughing and sharing food with each other. I had this great conversation with this woman about the time when they occupied the Capitol in the 1980s to protest apartheid in South Africa. I never knew that had happened in Madison. It is becoming an organizing space and a new generation of activists is being forged.

The rally in Ohio and Indiana‘s Democrats fleeing the state is heartening to Wisconsinites. Maybe a new workers’ movement is beginning. We could have something new on our hands. South Central Federation of Labor endorsed a general strike. They backed off the language after, but the fact that THOSE words came out is ridiculous in a good way. This is a new feeling.

We are getting creative in strategizing. We are not only focusing on the Capitol, but we are also targeting Scott Walker. We are protesting the M & I bank that gave him a lot of money. Today, I am going to protest the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), a business lobby and one of Walker’s biggest donors. Walker was planning on announcing the budget there – which is unprecedented – but the announcement is postponed. Obviously, this shows which side he is on. Tomorrow we are protesting the Koch Brothers lobbying office. We are keeping the energy alive by organizing a lot. Students are also riding on this high energy by planning protests against the privatization of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Battle for Wisconsin Part Six: War of Maneuver

February 24, 2011

The strategic and tactical assessments of the situation have shifted a few times since this started last week–our goals and objectives have had to change with the developments here, the idea of what is possible and what a win means. Its all changed and changed again. When we arrived at what seemed like a kind of stalemate over the weekend, both sides were digging in and preparing to deal huge blows: Walker and the Legislature were expected to press the police and push the bill; workers had the threat of a general strike, a huge presence at the capitol and a lot of unrest in the state. Monday night/Tuesday early morning, there was a sense of immediacy that broke the interlude–people on the ground were getting ready to defend against a push by briefing each other on direct actions, legal support and emergency support to unions.

For whatever reason, that didn’t happen and we have shifted out of the war of position, where we use the entrenched strength we’ve built for large advances, into a war of maneuver where smaller skirmishes are used to approach an advantage. Walker announced that if unions don’t back down and let the bill pass, he will issue layoffs to public employees by the thousands–notices have already been sent in advance. As mentioned before, the UW Hospital is also putting pressure on doctors who wrote medical notes for the teacher sick-outs to try and intimidate them into dissociating from the movement. Walker also revealed in a leaked conversation he thought he was having with David Koch that he is also looking to the courts to rule that once the Senate session has commenced the Senators don’t need to physically be there anymore, which would allow the Senate to vote on the bill. As they’re shifting their strategy, they’re also reigning in the rogue elements who threaten the plan–there’s a rumor that Chancellor Biddy Martin may be fired for her (now) overzealous advance on the New Badger Partnership for the UW.

On the workers’ side, they’ve embraced the war of maneuver by picking strategic targets as well. On Tuesday, workers picketed outside of M&I Bank, a major contributor to the Walker campaign; Wednesday a rally was called on the Monona Terrace to have a presence outside the meeting of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce where Walker was giving the keynote address–and Jimmy Hoffa Jr was also reported to have been in attendance! An action has been called today at the Koch Brothers’ lobbying office in Madison; students are organizing a solidarity response to the UW’s harassment of doctors and a rally has been called Friday at the meeting of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin as they discuss the proposal to split the UW from the system, thereby privatizing the university.

That said, the ground has also shifted inside the capitol where they’ve relaxed some of their tactics and a stable community has arisen, far less dependent on the TAA or other big players. A food table has been erected on the second floor, a departure from the TAA’s table, which had been the central food area previously. A medical/healthcare station has been set up with the generous aid of a local pharmacy cooperative and a hall has been designated for families and children. The information station has of course remained, but people staffing these tables have adopted name tags and are developing a more structured rotation to ensure staffing. Where Tuesday morning police had been encircling the space, tearing down posters and seemed to be making a play for control, as of yesterday it appeared to be much more like the atmosphere late last week–plastered with posters, chanting and sharing, TVs broadcasting the activity of the assembly inside and workers watching closely, responding with cheers or boos. The Assembly is moving slowly through at least a hundred amendments, with Democrats making motions for increased pay for public defenders and other social services as a projection of a different, oppositional spirit of what government should be doing. It is complicated to relate to as independent activists, but objectively necessary.

Backing up for a minute, why has the strategy changed? Quite clearly, the Republicans have no interest in compromising–Walker himself said in the “prank” call that he will not budge and that’s how you win, by breaking the other side. Its undercut the Democrats plan to shoot for a bill without the union-busting and let the rest pass. Its just not a possibility, and hearing Walker say that strengthens the resolve of workers to fight the WHOLE bill. Unfortunately, while the Democrats have been undermined, the labor bureaucracy hasn’t as such. Their signs and language still point to the demand of dropping the attack on collective bargaining, and the sense is that if they get that, they’ll leave. Its uneven to the point that they are willing to harness the power of a general strike to get the Legislature to drop the union-busting aspects of the bill–but if you’re preparing for that kind of power, why not go for the complete victory? Many rank’n filers are arriving at the demand for the whole bill to go, but the union bureaucracy’s printed placards and legitimate power makes it difficult for them to embrace the demand as a collective grouping.

As that’s happening, more layers of the working class have turned out to oppose the other attacks, specifically the attacks on public health, transportation, affirmative action, reproductive rights, sexual orientation, and democratic channels. My read is that if the entire bill is going to be defeated, the alliance between unionists and the layers of the working poor and the diverse public have to be strengthened so that the Republicans don’t offer a concession on collective bargaining and the unions leave the rest of these people high and dry. That in part rests in the common identification as workers, or at least as people who have a similar relationship to capital (though obviously not the same).

A final word: It has become clear that this is a war that is opening up new fronts and developments in other places will affect our chances of victory here. Having 10,000 protestors in Ohio is helping us win here. Having a politician’s rebellion in Indiana, leading to them dropping Right-to-Work (for less) legislation is helping us here. Having solidarity demonstrations across the country is helping us, and its helping us to have people come from around the country boosting our strength on the ground at what both sides are calling “ground zero”. But Walker knows this too and its equally significant that Oklahoma has voted to repeal collective bargaining. Its no coincidence that all these bills are being debated right now across the country, and their language is nearly identical so its obvious that there is a central place that has developed this project and they need to be pressured as well.

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