UPDATE 3/10/2011 @ 10 a.m.: Local radio station WORT reporting that last night as republicans left the capitol building they were chased by demonstrators causing police to intervene by commandeering and evacuating a city bus to take the repubs to the Dane County Airport.
All city buses have video cameras. Police have reportedly sought to aquire the video tape of the incident, but the city-owned Madison Metro has so far refused.
As of 10 a.m., no written reports found online about this latest incident. If you can find it, by all means seed it or post here in comments.
Late yesterday afternoon ones and zeroes went flying in cyberspace sounding the digital alarm that Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate were about to ram through union busting measures Gov. Scott Walker had been pushing in his "budget repair bill." By the time I heard about it, it was ten minutes away from being a done deal. I did my own jamming—out of the house.
The repubs acted swiftly, illegally, without the mandatory 24 hours' notice, a violation of Wisconsin’s “open meetings" law. They "bifurcated" the bill by carving out the antiunion language, and then passed it on its own as a non-budget item—without discussion, debate, or even an available copy of the legislation for public view—thus bypassing Democrats and the necessary 20 votes needed for a quorum. By 6 p.m., they were declaring business concluded and ordering the Capitol closed.
Only problem was, the people that got wind of what was going on and had come to protest had ideas of their own.
Hundreds who had arrived before the doors closed refused to leave, shouting “shame, shame, shame” when word of the maneuver hit the floor. Thousands more gathered outside, demanding to be admitted, just blazing with fury. Repubs fled through an underground tunnel to an exit at a nearby hotel where a group of demonstrators spotted them and chased them down the street. The repubs reportedly scrambled aboard a Madison Metro bus; it's not clear if it had been chartered for their escape. One of the protesters caught the action on video, which I've yet to find on YouTube.
The crowds outside were furious. Protesters were clumped in big groups at every entrance to the Capitol. The streets ringing Capitol Square were packed with cars honking their horns to the now familiar beat of "This is what democracy looks like!" People were rushing to the building with signs, sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, food. Nobody could get in. The largest group had gathered at the King Street entrance, where protesters with bullhorns were rallying the troops.
A young firebrand was calling for a general strike. He said the unions and the dems hadn't done enough, that the people had to take matters into their own hands with a general strike. Others challenged him: Our labor council had approved a general strike and formed an education committee to pursue it... There's a lot of activity going on with the unions, and a lot of planning needs to happen before something like that can be pulled off successfully... It's imperative for individuals, unions, and community groups to work together, whatever they do.
On the State Street side of the Capitol another crowd was rapidly growing. Just as with all the entrances, people were banging on the door, demanding to be let into "Our House, Our House, Our House." Although everyone knew about the senate vote by then, what wasn't clear was if assembly repubs were also going to pull an afterhours fast one to make passage complete and the new bill ready for the gov's signature in the morning. The law states that the building has to be open while the legislature is still there. Not that Walker and the repubs have shown they care about things like that.
Word spread through the crowd that some action was going to be taken to open the doors. In minutes, it happened, and people just flooded in and past the lone remaining state trooper on the inside. Where'd they all go? I rushed in with the others, all of us squeezing through the single door opening; people were great, no one was hurt, but all very intent on getting inside.
As we streamed through the door toward the rotunda, the protesters who'd been in the building just went crazy with joy. Cheering, chanting, high fives, hugs, handshakes, back slaps, singing, drumming, dancing, sign waving...it was electric. Hundreds came through that single door, and kept coming. A few minutes later, the word went around that another door was about to be opened, and in a matter of seconds more people streamed in to cheers and applause. Then another door opened. And more came in. Before long, the Capitol was filled to the top floor.
The battle for the Capitol had been an up/down situation for over a week. But local law enforcement was on our side... the cops and the sheriff. When walker put the building into lockdown mode, lawyers for the unions filed for and got a temporary restraining order, but he ignored it. Appeals, hearing, appeals. Sheriff Dave Mahoney was so pissed off he pulled his deputies from Capitol duty saying he was not about to allow them to serve as "palace guards." The final court order said the building had to be open during business hours but if there is no business being conducted, the building can close.
After the ruling, demonstrators who had been doing sleepovers for the preceding couple of weeks started a "Walkerville" camp outside, but even that was cleared by authorities. Demonstrations during the week saw fewer numbers, but the actions were shape-shifting into communities throughout the state and, most important, to recall efforts of some eight repub senators in vulnerable districts.
Security remained tight at the building, with new security screeners, scanners, and state troopers imported from other areas around the state. Access to the building was visibly impaired and slow.
But tonight was different. Tonight the people took their building back. What remains to be seen is what happens when the legislature goes back into session Thursday morning.
In the midst of the din, I found my way to the office of my assembly representative, where a half dozen staff and supporters had gathered. Though the assembly vote was scheduled for 11 a.m., they had no confidence that there wouldn’t be some other subterfuge by the repubs. I filled out a comment form and commended my rep on the work he was doing for the people of his district.
Finding an open bathroom was a challenge. They were locked. But checking around I found a couple that had been “occupied” earlier to prevent security from closing them. By now it was 9 p.m.; a few calls on my cell and it was time to meet up with friends. It was surprisingly easy.
We talked excitedly and compared notes. We wondered who would have building plans to show where those underground tunnels are and where they come from and/or go to. We talked of organizing groups to “meet and greet” repubs on their way into the building in the morning. We talked about the lack of state troopers at the doors and then came across a union rep who said the Dept. of Administration pulled them after the repubs were long gone and thousands had rallied outside.
We looked around. People weren't so angry. Families had arrived with kids in jammies. A few brought small dogs. Ian’s Pizza was delivering again; others were distributing fruit and water. For some it had already been a long, busy day; others would stay the night. I opted for the former and headed out with my companions—toward the governor’s mansion, just a few minutes by car, where were drove past twice honking our horn, “This is what democracy looks like.”
Back at home, another pile of emails, and now this. Here. Now.
Good morning. It’s almost 8:00. Time to get some sleep!