battleground Wisconsin, Madison’ 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 phone to keep up with the latest developments here at Madison’s Capitol Square.

Madison's Capitol Square protests
Joe Rowley [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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 Wray, 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 Madison’s 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.

Madison’s Capitol Square protests 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. 

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