Friday, March 11, 2011

Day 6 Like the mythical phoenix...

Looking back now I should have realised today would be bordering on chaos.  Walked up to the square at the State Capitol building not quite an hour before scheduled opening time.  Arrived at the King Street entrance to a group of about 50 people already lined up awaiting entry.  Some had arrived as early as 4 in the morning, having travelled from central and southern Wisconsin.

Waiting for 8 o'clock to roll around, the winter wind bit into me way more than it should have.  Not sick yet, but definitely getting weaker.  Also needed another belt loop today and I'm sometimes walking around in a bit of a daze, but that's the worst of it so far.  That and the fact that I can't seem to get more than maybe 3 hours sleep for the last 5 nights.

At one minute after 8 a.m. the first of the frustrated start to pound on the doors, chanting.  Nobody was in the mood to be patient and I assumed that meant the police inside as well as the protesters outside, who had now swollen to over 500 in number.  Finally one agitated person kicked in a panel of the oaken exterior doors.  Less than a minute later several officers came out of the damaged door, led by a very angry looking officer who demanded to know who kicked the door.  I almost laughed out loud.  The most secure and secured building in the state, and they're asking who vandalized it.

At the same time several more officers appeared from a side doorway and were kind enough to tell me that they had no orders on whether they were to open the building or not.  Fair enough, they have been very honest and decent so far.  Most people had the resolve to wait for more information; a few of the more aggressive ones yelled and pounded at the entryway but largely contained themselves.  Meanwhile a mobile p.a. was set up--'the peoples microphone'--to give voice to those who chose to speak to the crowd, now over 1000 and growing.

Officers lined up across the width of the entryway to hold folks back and maintain surveillance of the protesters.  One by one folks took the microphone. Some relayed their anger and frustration at the circumstances of the previous night.  Others called for calm and discipline, yet more and more people were getting very hyped up, some beginning to prepare to rush the doors.  For some reason I overcame my fear of microphones and public speaking (I'm a bass player and therefore used to being largely ignored in front of crowds) and surprised myself by delivering the best speech of my life.

I told them the quick tale of The Bascolm Coalition and our U.W. campus protests against exclusionary policies tolerated at the university.  I told them how in one week we had gained tremendous momentum and national coverage.  We had the law, the student body and righteousness on our side.  And then we got stupid!  We became too aggressive and decided to seize and occupy the Board of Regents office, which we did. About an hour later the cops came in with little fear of busting heads and tossing people around.  I suffered a broken arm that night. The next day we were all at home in physical recovery, watching on t.v. how we had lost everything we had striven so hard for, and waiting for the hospital bills to come in.

In closing I reminded everyone that the officers lined up behind me were our union sisters and brothers who had been good to everyone so far.  I asked all present not to force their hand and make them take actions they had worked so hard to avoid. This seemed to strike a chord with most of the audience and as I finished my little story, the applause grew continually louder.  I didn't think I was that great an orator.  I turned my head and saw the Reverend Jesse Jackson approaching to address the audience.  So much for anyone remembering my best speech ever! Don't get me wrong, it was wonderful to see him back to support our cause.  He delivered two stirring speeches but was unfortunately denied entry to the Capitol.

Thousands now surrounded the square as a host of others headed across the street to rally against M&I Bank and its support of some rather radical right wing causes.  Others went to the city/county building and took up stations there. Another swarm of protesters came marching up from State Street and now their numbers were in the thousands.  Several impromptu areas became stages for speakers and the ensuing rallying cries.  .At approximately 11:30 the Capitol was opened to legally allow the State Assembly to gather to conduct the day's business.  It took until then for the some 200 protesters inside, who had spent the night outside the Assembly doors, to leave voluntarily as most did (though I heard perhaps a dozen had opted to be arrested in protest; I support and respect that decision).  The police did their security sweep of the building.  By the time I left at 8 in the evening, perhaps 20- or maybe 40,000 had rallied around the Capitol building, showing their solidarity and strength.

I know that tomorrow will surely bring more of the same, and I'm afraid to even think about Saturday.  Luckily, so far discipline has kept things 99% peaceful and I most sincerely hope that continues, or once again all will be lost.  If we give them reason to start coming after us it will not stop!  And the media, which has mostly mis-represented us so far, would turn on us completely and all would come to nothing but loss and regret.

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