first published on WIvoices.org
These bagpipers from the firefighter’s union have not missed a single Madison rally. In the crowd of 40,000, I was fortunate enough to make my way right up next to them as they circled the Capitol. I captured this inspiring bagpipe audio. As you listen, it feels like you are right in the crowd, eavesdropping on side conversations and struggling to hear over the cheers of bystanders. The crowd followed, sang, and played makeshift instruments along with them at times.
I randomly interviewed people in the crowd. I was surprised by the number of people who were at the rally primarily supporting other people. Being minimally affected themselves by recent public policy changes, some people were advocating for the preservation of the legacy of Wisconsin.
Here are 2 of those stories.
Norma and Mike Briggs (Oregon, WI)
Mike’s sign reads: “I signed (the recall) because Walker tried to take the unions, he cut health care for the poor, he slashed education, and he LIED!”
Where are you originally from?
Mike: England, county of Norfolk. We’ve been in the United States for 53 years….we’re both naturalized citizens and we remember something, I think, about no taxation without representation was slogan a couple hundred years ago. Well, we are not getting representation here and now. So we are standing up for what we became naturalized for.
So how have Gov. Walker’s changes in policy affected you personally?
Mike: (pause) Personally, not. We’re both retired (lawyers) and we’re fortunate that we’re reasonably well off. But, he’s hitting a lot of people who are not as reasonably well off as we are.
Norma: We’ve got lots of friends who are having difficulties. A guy who’s 63 and is unemployed now and he is really well educated -
Mike: He can’t get work.
Norma: It’s just awful.
Mike: Cutting money for schools, cutting money for health care, ah, destroying union rights…it’s just not something that I want to see in my home state. The reason I don’t vote Republican is that they are “me, me, me” and that’s not what it’s about. It’s “us, us, us”.
What makes you different than other people? For instance – if it doesn’t affect them personally, they won’t advocate. What makes you guys different?
Mike: Well, I don’t know if we are different. We’ve got a bunch of friends who are geezers like us, and you know, they’ve had decent working lives…they’ve got pensions, they’ve got social security, they’ve got Medicare…
Norma: Dozens of our friends are here, just sitting here like us.
[During this short 5 minute interview, they were greeted several times by acquaintances passing by in the crowd.]
So you have a lot of friends who may not be affected personally, but they’ve decided that this is important enough to get involved to help other people?
Norma: Yes, absolutely. We’re in a Plato discussion group. Do you know what Plato is?
[I shook my head.]
Mike: Plato is a senior citizen discussion group that operates within the university extension. And I’d say 99% of them, hey! that’s a good number there, are for what is going on here today. I don’t think I know anybody who is on the other side…especially the people our age and up. They’re mad, mad as hell.
Ike Edwards (Deer Park,WI)
We’re here to support the public sector workers and their plight. [Ike is not a public worker.] We think it is totally unfair that their collective bargaining rights were taken away and we’re here to let the governor know that we are against him. We are going to walk around this Capitol as long as it takes to get his attention and to also incite other people to get involved.
I have a lot of confidence in our teachers that run this system. And it is one of those jobs that everybody thinks that they can do it better. But unfortunately, nobody wants the job. And I sympathize with their plight. So, some of the people that I have had indirect contact with have basically told me that they have experienced a tremendous loss in pay, like $400 bucks a month. That’s devastating, I mean, people can’t just throw away $400 a month. That’s the difference of a car note, maybe a house note…people can’t afford to lose.
What’s your opinion about the rail line that was proposed to run near your town, from Minneapolis/St. Paul passing through Madison and Milwaukee to Chicago?
I don’t know all of the specifics. [Walker turned down $810 million in federal for the rail system project.] I was very disappointed that it didn’t go through. I mean, just think about it. That would’ve turned Chicago into a suburb of Milwaukee. My wife and I go to Chicago quite frequently, you know, because Chicago is a nice town. It is a nice place to go to socially…a lot of nice theaters, and night clubs, and theaters, and museums. I mean just think about it - you could live in Milwaukee, work in Chicago, think about how that would expand your job searches, your places to live, your places to shop…it would’ve been fantastic if that had gone through.
Have you seen activism like this any time in your lifetime?
Never. Never. I’m glad to see it though. You know, I can’t remember who the pastor was, but he wrote a book about it… and he basically said that nothing was going to change until people hit the streets. Well, they are in the streets.
(Now, spiritual leaders) are more distracted by things like same sex marriage and abortion and things of that nature that they are so sidetracked by that, they forget about something that affects everyone. This affects everybody.
I foresee things like right to work, I foresee us going backwards in time. And I hate to see that….I think we’ll turn into a very backwards, uneducated group of people. That’s not what I want to see. That’s not Wisconsin.
While hundreds of thousands of people are affected personally by the changes in public policy, I was surprised about the numbers I met that inconvenienced themselves in order to advocate for others. This type of mass mobilization has not been paralleled in the memories of anyone I’ve interviewed. When I’ve asked those old enough to compare this to the 1960’s and 1970’s civil rights or anti-war movements, they’ve told me that this is different. 2011 not only has brought a collision of groups that would otherwise have little in common, but an arsenal of minimally affected people who are becoming involved for the first time in their lives. Why? Ike tell us, this is “not Wisconsin.”