a capitol transformed

2 Ayyam-i-ha 167 B.E.
Soundtrack in my head: Steve Earle, “The Revolution Starts Now”

It has been amazing to see this little town of Madison become the center of the nation’s attention as people have stood up against the drastic and controversial measures being pushed by Wisconsin’s new governor.  Little time goes by when I don’t hear people talking about the latest developments with the standoff over the right to collective bargaining for state employees and I often overhear people talking about it on the bus.

The Capitol has been occupied by peaceful protestors 24/7 for a couple of weeks now.  I know many people who have chosen to sleep over at the Capitol as part of the occupation effort.  The Capitol has always been open to the public, and people routinely cut through the Capitol to get from one side of Capitol Square to the other.  But I’ve never seen it look like this before…

Signs like these were all over the Capitol.


A resting place for someone sleeping in the Capitol.


Ian’s Pizza has two locations in downtown Madison–one just a block or two from the Capitol.  Orders of pizza for the protestors have reportedly come in from donors in all 50 states and several foreign countries, including Egypt and China.  Ian’s pizzas are for their inventive toppings, such as macaroni and cheese.






The budget bill would reportedly slash public transportation. 


One of the banners hanging from the balcony reads “Stewart and Colbert:  We came to your rally, now come to ours.”


Protestors staying overnight at the Capitol worked with Capitol staff to keep the building clean.

battleground wisconsin, madison’s capitol square ground zero

13 Mulk 167 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  Thievery Corporation, “Sound The Alarm”

Last week, I found myself constantly checking the news on my Android phone to keep up with the latest developments with the revolution in Egypt.  This week, I’ve found myself constantly checking the news on my Android phone to keep up with the latest developments here in Madison.

If you have been living under a rock haven’t been following the news recently, here is a brief synopsis of events:  Republican Scott Walker was elected governor of Wisconsin with 52% of the vote in November 2010.  Last week, he announced his plan to curtail the collective bargaining rights of state, county and municipal workers.  His proposal would have limited collective bargaining to wages, though even then, raises would not be able to exceed the Consumer Price Index.  Benefits, working conditions and other issues would be off limits for discussion. Gov. Walker put the Wisconsin National Guard on alert, though later said this was because of the possibility of walkouts at state prisons. 

This has resulted in four solid days of protests by state workers and other citizens at Capitol Square, where tens of thousands of people have flooded the Capitol Building and the Square. Schools shut down in a number of municipalities as teachers called in sick and joined the protests.  Some of them traveled from as far as Wausau and Green Bay–both about three hours from here.  Yesterday, Democrat state senators shut down the State Senate by walking out, resulting in the Senate falling one voting member short of quorum.  The standoff continues, as does the 24/7 presence of protestors in the Capitol Building and on the Square.

It’s been an interesting time to be in Madison this week.  On Monday and Tuesday, my cell phone was flooded with calls.  I thought it was because I was a day or two late on my credit card payment, but it turned out to be different organizations calling me trying to mobilize people to come to the Capitol.  I also got a number of emails and text messages from friends trying to get me to come out, too.

Yesterday, the Isthmus ran a cover story that depicted Gov. Walker as King Kong, clinging to the Capitol Dome, holding the gilded bronze statue on top of the Capitol as if she were Faye Dunaway, and the headline is entitled “Rampage!”

Buses have been routed from Capitol Square all week.  It is normally a central transfer point for buses, but the buses are now using the “Capitol Loop” which is a series of streets that circle Capitol Square from one block away rather than on the Square itself. 

One of my housemates works at a restaurant in the US Bank building right across from the Capitol.  The building is constructed entirely of glass and steel, and there is a very clear view of the Square.  She remarked that she’d never seen so many people gathered before, characterizing it as “almost scary.”  She also said that she was extremely busy due to the booming business that the protestors brought. 

National and international coverage of our fair little town has been growing.  The New York Times weighed in with an editorial on the subject. The protests were the lead story on CNN this afternoon.  Even BBC News has given significant coverage, including a photo montage of the protests.

The series of events have been a hot topic of discussion at work–starting late last week when Gov. Walker announced his radical plan. The overwhelming majority of voices I have heard have been supportive of the Democrats and protestors.  It’s not surprising given that we’re a union shop, but even people who normally are more conservative seem to feel that the governor is a bit off his rocker.  Today, I was hearing a little bit more support for the governor from a couple of quarters, and concern about the missed school days due to teachers attending the protest and the difficulty of arranging day care.

Today I overheard a rather heated debate between two co-workers over the issues. I was glad I had my music headphones on.  I no longer really like hearing political debate.  The level of political discourse in this country has been going steadily downhill over the last few decades.  Concerns become slogans and facts can be bent at will. As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

I tend to fall solidly in the left side of the political aisle, with a few Green, anarchist, and libertarian streaks, and even an occasional conservative opinion here and there.  One of my best friends here in Madison is a conservative who usually votes Republican.  We totally respect each other’s opinions even if we don’t agree, and when we do debate, we listen and learn from each other.  This seems to be an increasingly rare thing. 

good reasons to root for the packers in the super bowl, eh?

18 Sultan 167 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Horace Andy, “Zion Dub”

You know you live in the most lefty-radical part of Madison when you get a Super Bowl invitation that says “Come commiserate over the fallacy of community that is NFL Sports.”  It’s worth a chuckle but I’m hardly miserable.  I’m a Packer fan and I plan on cheering them on in tomorrow’s Super Bowl XLV.

I grew up a Chicago Bears fan, but always liked the Packers, too.  I was excited when the Bears dominated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX and was also excited when the Packers dominated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI. (I guess I’m not a Patriots fan.) 

(Note to Super Bowl marketers–you really should have ditched Roman numerals for the standard Arabic ones somewhere around Super Bowl 30.  I can read Roman numerals of course, but for any Roman numeral above 30 I have to stare at it for awhile before I’m able to figure out which Super Bowl you’re talking about).

When I moved to Wisconsin I was initially on the fence about whether to switch my allegiance from the Bears to the Packers, but decided to do so after watching a Monday night football game between the two teams at the newly renovated Soldier Field in Chicago (the once-beautiful stadium that now looks as if an alien ship has landed on the Acropolis).  It’s funny, because soon after I moved to Madison at the end of 2002, I began to hear rumors of Brett Favre’s possible retirement and I worried about the possibility of not being able to see him play.  Eight years later, he seems to finally be retiring for good, and Packer fans have all but forgotten him due to the success of new quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

But given that Green Bay is 122 miles away from Madison and that the Green Bay Packers seem to be the official state religion of Wisconsin, it seems like I would have good reason to want to avoid the hype. But the more I know about them, the more I like them.

The first thing I noticed about Packer fans was in the way that they took the “cheesehead” moniker–originally a pejorative label given to them by people in neighboring states–and took ownership of it in a humorous way.  The foam “cheese wedges” that Packer fans put on top of their head may now be an old joke, but it was and is quite funny.  To me it is a classic example of the Wisconsinite sense of humor, which I’ve always admired.

Just as the New York Yankees have a deeply ingrained history of winning championships, so do the Packers. While they’ve only won three Super Bowls (their opponent tomorrow, the Pittsburgh Steelers, have won six), the Pack have won more NFL championships (including pre-Super Bowl championships) than any team, with twelve under their belt.

I also found it interesting that the Packers have remained in Green Bay despite the fact that it is a tiny city half the size of Madison.  They hearken back to the time when the Chicago Bears were known the Decatur Staleys, when small-town football clubs like these were common.  There are several reasons the Packers have been able to stay in Green Bay.  One is the depth of loyalty Wisconsinites have to the team–deep enough that people are willing to road trip from all over the state to attend a game.  The Packers have one of the longest waiting lists for season tickets in professional sports–the number of people on the list exceeds the number of seats in Lambeau Field.  The fact the the NFL shares TV revenue between franchises also helps–this way the big market teams (like the New York Yankees) aren’t more likely to dominate. 

But another big reason is that the Packers are the only non-profit community-owned major league sports franchise in the country.  The amount of stock in the team that someone can own is limited, and if the team were sold, all of the proceeds after expenses would have to go to a specific charity, so any financial incentive for stockholders to sell the team is erased.  Stock sales funded the building and later rehab of the Packers’ home stadium of Lambeau Field, and there are currently over 100,000 shareholders owning between 4 and 5 million shares of stock in the team. 

In an era of big money and huge profits in professional sports, this is deeply refreshing.  Of course, player salaries are no lower than other NFL teams, and tickets and team merchandise are no less exorbitant than elsehwere–as much as I’d like to wear a Packers jersey for tomorrow’s Super Bowl, I’m not willing to pay $70-80 for one.  But the fact that the team is non-profit organization owned by the fans is admirable.

It is also fitting for a Wisconsin team to be organized in this way.  Wisconsin, like Iowa and Minnesota, have very deep-rooted histories of cooperatives, which is why they were ranked third, second, and first respectively out of all U.S. states in total co-op business volume (California is ranked fourth) despite being ranked 18th, 30th, and 21st in total state population. 

So it is with enthusiasm that I will be joining fellow cheeseheads in rooting for a Packer victory. The Capitol Dome in Madison has been lit green and gold.  While some people (like the writers of the invitation I mentioned at the beginning this post) might get sick and tired of all the Packer hype, I’m perfectly fine with living it up.

nothing like a blizzard to motivate me to say hello

16 Sultan 167 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head:  Seals and Crofts, “Summer Breeze”

It’s easy to have the best intentions about keeping a blog updated.  I was doing a pretty good job at it for a while (i.e. December).  Then the new year hit like a whirlwind, and it was all that I could do to take a breath and get enough bearings about me to even figure out where I was.

But today I’m snowed in. A huge storm stretching from New Mexico to Maine dumped 18 inches of snow on Madison over the last couple of days.  Madison Metro buses are not running today, which means I can’t get to work. I don’t know if anyone in my department was able to get to work–I called in this morning, and was on hold for a half-hour before I gave up–because no one was picking up the phone. 

So, hello.  It’s been a busy time.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted an application to the master’s program at the University of Wisconsin School of Social Work.  It’s an idea that popped into my mind late last summer and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  I feel like I’m at my best when I’m listening to and offering support to others, and I’m very interested in providing counseling for individuals and small groups.  I’ll find out within the next couple of months whether I get in or not. 

There’s a lot more going on, too.  I feel like I have clarity in my life as to my priorities and where things fit in my life–more clarity than I’ve had in almost a decade.  I’ve actually mapped it out visually.  More on that in subsequent posts…