Resistance: Wisconsin Style

After receiving a message Saturday night that a Walker and his clan had ordered for law enforcement inside the Capitol to remove all the protesters Sunday evening and that folks were organizing civil disobedience in order to stand their ground and assert their right to assemble, I took that as my que to lend a hand by, if nothing else, being another body on the inside.

I reached the Capitol right around 1:30pm on Sunday. Already law enforcement stationed at the doors were imposing a 1:3 ratio–1 person was allowed entrance to the Capitol for every 3 who left. I got in after not too long of a wait and spent the next half hour orienting myself within the Capitol and trying to figure out what sort of game-plan was in place for when we were ordered to leave. A little before 2 the first announcement came over the intercom instructing us to vacate the premises. The following are the updates I posted while I was inside the Capitol the next three days as well as some additional commentary:

Sun, Feb 27th 1:49pm: Holding strong in the Capitol–rumor has it the police have stopped allowing people to enter the building. Folks preparing for civil disobedience.

One of the most incredible experiences of my life occurred shortly thereafter. Following an update announced to everyone from the ground floor rotunda, one of the medics got on the PA and gave some tips for folks. After encouraging people wearing contacts to remove them in the event that pepper-spray or tear gas were used, she instructed people to make a fist as they were being handcuffed and explained that when you make a fist your wrist gets slightly larger allowing just a little more wiggle-room beneath the handcuffs or tip-ties. As she explained this, I looked around from my vantage point on the 1st floor balcony and a shiver ran up my spine as I saw dozens of people–middle aged women my mom’s age, union workers, parents with their kids at their sides–make a fist, visualizing what it would feel like to be arrested. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud to be from Wisconsin as I was at that moment.

Sun, Feb 27th 5:48pm: Occupation of the Capitol is still going strong. There’s about 1000 of us with no arrests and people just staying strong and standing their ground.

Sun, Feb 27th 6:30pm: Victories are taking place–republican Dale Schulz who had been on the fence has decided to not support the bill!!! We’re making a ton of noise in here right now. Goosebumps!!! And the night’s not through!

Sun, Feb 27th 6:55pm: Latest good news: we’re allowed to stay tonight, doors open to the public again at 8am and dinner’s being brought in!!!

As we now know, the doors did not open to the public the next morning at 8am. Consequently, after this announcement our numbers dropped to about 200 people staying the night, those that left thinking that they’d be able to gain access again in the morning.

Sun, Feb 27th 11:25pm: Laying down getting ready to fall asleep under the Capitol’s dome. Feels a little magical.

That was my first of three nights sleeping on the marble floor of the Capitol. The first night Brian (pictured on my left) was kind enough to lend me his scarf to sleep beneath yet that was a cold night!

Mon, Feb 28th 9:13am: ANOTHER CRITICAL DAY AT THE CAPITOL! There’s a lot of police presence in here and more friendly faces would be great to see. There’s a rumor that police are at best letting people in on a 1:1 ratio as folks exit but they may not even be doing that any longer. COME TO THE CAPITOL–help keep the pressure on for folks to be able to enter/exit the building and relieve folks who have been here for a few days.

Mon, Feb 28th 1:07pm: We’re going to try broadcasting live interviews on the half hour–1:30, 2, 2:30, etc.

For the duration of Monday I helped to set-up our own Media Center where we tried to establish information flow from the outside on in and vise-versa. Inconsistent wifi really limited our ability to get information out and consequently we had to rely mostly upon people with “smart” phones. As one with one of these phones, I took over the livestreaming account that had been created the night before which at its’ peak broadcasted to over 10,000 viewers. For the rest of the day I began documenting events that occurred and interviewing people; this footage can be found here: Occupation of the Capitol Live Feed

Mon, Feb 28th 2:25pm: While being searched and passed through metal detectors, folks are starting to trickle into the Capitol. People on the inside are organizing to gain access to the public hearing on the 2nd floor.

Mon, Feb 28th 6:59pm: 1) Rep. Cory Mason’s staffers are still able to get people into the Capitol. Contact 888-534-0062. We need more people committed to staying the night/multiple days.

2) People connected with any sort of media are also still being allowed in as long as they have some sort of badge identifying them. This includes college campus reporters.

3) Lastly, there’s a tent encampment set up outside the Capitol for those wanting to show their solidarity and help keep the pressure on to allow public access to the Capitol.

This is what democracy looks like: hunger striking to take a stand.

This is what democracy looks like: our own media broadcasting, medical stations and info centers.

This is what democracy looks like: sleeping on the floor of the Capitol to make your voice heard.

Mon, Feb 28th 11:30pm: People are keeping up the resistance Wisconsin style tonight. About 50 folks are attempting to sleep outside the Capitol at the King St entrance though police are not allowing any tents/structures. They could use some extra sleeping pads, blankets, hats, etc to help them brave the cold!

Tues, March 1st 7:25am: Just woke up from the most realistic zombie dream ever. Good news is, I survived.

8:26am Not even 30 seconds after waking up a line of a dozen cops marched right past my head and up the stairs in front of me, presumably for a shift-change. Reality is odd right now.

Tues, March 1st 8:24am: Update: not even a half hour after a bunch of us posted the call for help above, a line of cars formed at King street dropping off supplies. A message from one of the folks sleeping outside confirmed they were staying toasty under the warmth of six blankets. Thank you everyone!!!

Tues, March 1st 11:19am: Walker is currently being served an injunction (by the ACLU) stating it’s unlawful to restrict the public’s access to the building. Expecting the flow of people to start coming in the doors momentarily!

11:56am: So far they’ve ignored the order–no one being let in still.

Tues, March 1st 12:20pm: State corrections officers here in support just asked info table where the poster is with the list of Koch brothers businesses to boycott.

Tues, March 1st 4:14pm: Huge rally and ruckus going down right now from the few hundred who are inside!

Tues, March 1st 9:46pm: The few people that were inside the room that Walker made his address said that not only could they hear us, they could literally feel the vibrations from all the ruckus we were making!

Unfortunately being in the the Capitol on Tuesday meant that I missed the rally I worked with a few others to organize in Milwaukee. That said, the rally was a huge success! Estimates on numbers range between 300 – 500 people with a great showing from all the coalition partners: AFT Local 2169, AFT Local 212, SEIU, Voces de la Frontera, One Wisconsin Now, Wisconsin Citizen Action, Peace Action Wisconsin. We also got some good media on a couple of local TV stations and a live broadcast from Wisconsin Public Radio!

Wed, March 3rd: Wednesday morning started off with everyone breaking into five groups to discuss the goals and strategy of occupying the Capitol. I facilitated one of the groups and for an hour we each went around and introduced ourselves and told why were had come to help occupy the Capitol. We then brainstormed our goals for the occupation of the Capitol, the terms under which we would claim it successful and end the occupation and what we needed to do in order to sustain the occupation. With a few pages of notes, myself and two others from my group met up with the other four facilitators and a handful of other participants to condense all of the input into a solid statement the entire group could support. I must say, one of the most surreal moments of my life occurred when I found myself writing “Goals for Occupation of the Capitol” in marker across the top of a sheet of butcher paper and realizing that it wasn’t an exaggeration.

Wed, March 2nd 1:46pm: UPDATE: Sen. Larson’s staff just announced that the republicans are taking over their office in order to assert their control. It’s likely happening with all the other democrat offices in the Capitol. It’s unbelievable and outrageous that this is actually taking place.

I spoke with the staff person about an hour later, connecting them with a lawyer from the ACLU and confirming that their office had in fact been turned over from the authority of Senator Larson to the control of a republican Senator. The staffer was fearful that a pink slip could make it’s way to his desk as a desperate tactic to get the 14 democratic Senators back in the Capitol.

Later on in the afternoon we reconvened all together in the rotunda. We presented the following goals of the occupation to the group:

1) Stopping the bill (by slowing down the legaslative process and supporting the 14 democratic Senators)

2) Re-gaining public access to the Capitol building (both for the public to be able to enter freely and access to all areas of the interior)

3) Utilizing the Capitol as an organizing hub to mobilize others outside to take action

A member of the community then described the two posters he’d created; one outlining the problems with traditional hierarchy, the second illustrating the alternative model of horizontal organizing. Firefighters, teacher, Vietnam vets, and union workers watched with interest as he elaborated on consensus decision making, privilege and the benefits of working within affinity groups. Folks were then encouraged to form into affinity groups and think creatively about meeting some of the goals we’d agreed upon.

It was at this point that I decided to leave. Not only did I completely trust the leadership that had emerged would undoubtedly succeed in maintaining the occupation, I knew that by leaving I would make space inside for someone who had been waiting in line for hours to join the occupation. Plus, while Wisconsin is my state; Milwaukee is my community and I was eager to get back home to organize on the local-level. With that, at 4:15pm on Wednesday I set foot outside the marble walls of the Capitol for the first time since I had entered on Sunday afternoon.

Thurs, March 3rd 2:45pm (journal entry): I sit here at The Coopers Tavern, pint of Irish cider at my side, waiting to rendezvous with an old friend before heading back to Milwaukee this evening. From inside this cozy bar one would easily have no idea that literally across the street lies the occupation of Wisconsin’s state Capitol. Yet inside the marble walls a group of individuals have joined together forming a community to hold the Capitol as what some have described as the “heart” of the resistance.

While many continue to proclaim that those on the inside are college students–and many are–they community is comprised of people of all ages, occupation, color, sexual orientation and ability. In a planning session yesterday afternoon my break-out group included a middle aged mad from carpenter’s union Local 599 in Wausau, a middle-aged women who was a nurse at UW-Madison, another woman who’s the President of the nurse’s union in Milwaukee, a big, burly guy wearing his hard-hat from Iron Worker’s Local 383, and a father and son who had come out in solidarity from their home on the east coast in a state that doesn’t allow collective bargaining.

Additionally, the legislators and their staff are an integral part of the community. From allowing their offices to be used as meeting space and bringing more people in by arranging constituent meetings to picking up donations of food across the street and smuggling pizza and medical supplies in through their windows, their efforts must be recognized as part of the community on the floor of the rotunda.

Speaking of legislative staff, I sit here now after bidding my farewell to the folks inside thanks to my state Representative, Leon Young’s staff. Outside the Capitol already, I borrowed a cell phone from a guy standing next to me (mine was totally dead since Wednesday night) and, as instructed, called Young’s office to gain access to the Capitol with one of their constituent passes.

Escorted by one of his staffers, I dropped off a backpack full of brownies which I had purchased from the Willy St. Coop as a treat for those inside (when I left on Wednesday there was a jar of nutella being treasured) to the food storage area. Once in his office the staffer and I spoke of the grave state Wisconsin’s headed and our fears for how it’s going to impact my neighborhood/Young’s constituents. After 20 minutes or so and after exchanging contact info to organize back home, I asked if I could sit in their office and write some notes to leave with the folks downstairs.

For the next forty minutes I sat in Representative Young’s office re-writing the goals which had been created by the everyone the day before and elaborating on them with strategies to try. I also wrote instructions for someone else to continue the live video feed from within. On of Young’s staff agreed to make two copies of each (originals to be preserved in my notebook); one addressed to one of the mainstays who has slept in the Capitol each night and been instrumental in providing level-headed decision-making, consistency and commitment to the occupation; the other handed off to another mainstay to be shared with the greater community. As my constituent pass only allowed for temporary access to the Capitol, I was escorted back to the exit by one of the staffer’s but not before I was able to hand off the notes to a trusted confidant.

Nearly at the door, the staffer asked who additional people were being let into the building. “One at a time” I replied as I dropped off my badge and headed to the door. Once at the door I paused and motioned to one of the law enforcement guarding the door that I wanted to witness the exchange. Unknown to them that I had entered with a constituent badge, they fulfilled my request and I watched as one more person was led from the line outside and brought inside to take my place.

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2 responses to “Resistance: Wisconsin Style

  1. Pingback: With One to Grow On | SHEA MKE·

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