Stories abound about Saturday’s massive protest in Wisconsin. Don’t need to repeat. I’ll tell you a personal story.
We all knew the Tea Party was coming for a counter rally. What to do? “Ignore them,” said some. “Debate them,” said others. Above all be cool—that was universal.
I thought of a truly warm Wisconsin welcome in the spirit of the protests that had been ongoing throughout the week 24/7. Cookies and coffee to warm spirits and bellies, maybe? Logistically impossible given the sheer numbers expected. Authorities here were planning for 120,000 combined visitors.
I opted for Tea Party "welcome" flyers instead (see right). I typed up one quickly on my old clunky desktop, printed one original out of my old clunky printer, then jumped in my old clunky car, went to Office Depot, and printed up 100 slick, brand new copies, then off to Capitol Square with my dear hubby of a zillion years to join in.
He was worried about me getting in the thick of it with TP people. Nothing to worry about, but it was great to have him there. As one of those “greedy” public workers the TP keeps talking about, he had been hard at work all week and looking at one of eight unpaid annual “furlough” days on Monday (part of the concessions unions have already made).
The crowd was huge, unprecedented. One of our rallies had already happened at 10:30 a.m., the TP started theirs at noon to last until 3, our demos inside the Capitol Building were ongoing, and we had another rally outside coming up at 4. Traffic was horrible, garages full, and protesters clogged State Street between UW Library Mall and the square; crowds flowed into side streets. It was about 1 p.m.
My parking karma kicked in; got an open spot a block away. We grabbed a bag with our demo signs and flyers and looked for the TP. They were hard to find. Never such a crowd. Pro-worker protesters marched slowly round and round the streets ringing the square…slowly because there we so many. Everybody was incredibly upbeat; joyous in fact. And the weather was uncharacteristically warm and clear for Wisconsin in the dead of winter.
We made our way around and found the TP in a tight group taking up about a third of a block on the south side of the square in front of the capitol building. They were flanked by our folks on the left, right, and rear, and were listening to someone on a PA. I whipped out my flyers and started passing them around, squeezing between the TP’ers, smiling, and saying in my most warm and welcoming Wisconsin way: “Thank you, Tea Partiers, for being here today and exercising your rights!”
Over and over. “Thank you, thank you for coming, thank you for exercising your rights...” Always smiling, polite. People took them, walked five paces maybe, reading along the way, and then stopped dead in their tracks. “Hey, wait a minute….” Light bulb goes off, and then they scowled and walked away.
A few came back to argue, and as that went on, more came up to ask for flyers. Go figure. It was all very civil. By now they were figuring out I was not one of them. And I wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of our folks mixed in the crowd.
An older gentleman came up to me and started to argue; he had a severe facial paralysis on the right side, the result of a horrible cancer surgery, I learned. We talked about that, human to human. And a shared experience with cancer. His buddy came up and started another argument. No problem; hubby talked to him. In minutes they learned that we weren’t out here because of money, but about collective bargaining rights. When I broke it all down, the guy I was talking to said, “I see your point.”
One person. One victory. One human moment.
Another huge guy came by with a sign calling public workers names of all sorts, and I looked up at him and said, “Ouch. You don’t really mean that do you?” He said, “I’m just making a point.” I said, “But it hurts our feelings. That’s not nice and not true.” He looked down at his shoes, took a flyer, and walked away.
I went up to another guy with a sign about union "thugs" and the public employee "mob." I asked said, " Really? Thugs? Mob? Where? Anyone here resemble that description?" He growled, "Grrrrrr...." and moved on.
It was about a half hour of mingle time in there. And though there were some arguments, it was fairly respectful, and some TP'ers even shook hands. I hugged the cancer patient. He looked like he needed it; and I hugged his buddy, who didn't. They looked a bit surprised.
I talked to one of the TP organizers, a guy from out of state. He had to admit he was impressed by the people in Wisconsin—our turnout, our civility. I wondered but didn’t ask about the kind of confrontations he’d been involved in before. But why go there, you know?
What jumped out most to me was how pissed off most of TP’ers looked and how different they seemed from the people that had been out here, day after day after day, in all kinds of weather, night and day, getting tired, getting hoarse, and getting absolutely high on the joy and solidarity of standing up for our rights.
As I wrapped up my conversation with the TP organizer, I winked at him, smiled, handed him a flyer, and said, “Give my regards to the Koch Brothers.”
Hubby and I went off to other activities, staying well past the end of the 4 pm rally, another amazing event. By that time, the TP was long gone. We mingled among students, teachers, nurses, firefighters, police, snow plow drivers, librarians, social workers, teaching assistants, ironworkers, steelworkers, electrical workers, carpenters, laborers, IT workers….you get the idea. And they brought their families, friends, and, in some cases, pets.
We all talked about the Tea Party counter-protest with amusement. It was civil, barely distinguishable from everything else that was happening on the ground, and most likely the second biggest reason for THE biggest turnout of our protesters yet.
As hubby and I headed back to our car, we came up on a Fox News truck and saw three young men and one older one lined up on the curb alongside it, facing the truck, feet spread apart, sort of leaning forward. People started rushing up to them, taking pictures and laughing. More and more converged. What the…??? OMG! They were peeing on the truck! Rivers of warm urine washing away the road grime, leaving the side panel slightly steaming.
They stopped in unison, zipped up. turned around and greeted the appreciative onlookers, us included. It was hilarious.
A news crew started taping near to the truck. People surrounded them, “Tell the truth, tell the truth.” Poor guys; they were from a Fox affiliate in Minneapolis. “We’re not Fox News, we’re not like them, we’re union!” They responded. “That’s not even our truck!”
A Fox News reporter came out to see the ruckus. He must have been sorry he did. People chanted, “Fox lies, Fox lies.” By now there were about 100 and more coming from the rally. I gave him my last flyer and told him they’d better stop telling the world there is violence going on here.
He was calm but taking it all in. “That’s not us,” he said. “We’re just reporters” He promised he’d tell the truth and relay our message “to those other guys.”
Perfect street theatre with a perfect punch line to a perfectly “warm Wisconsin welcome.”