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Monthly Archives: February 2011

24/7 Solidarity Vigil Event March 3–The Battle for Madison: Reports from the Front Lines

As part of the ongoing 24/7 Solidarity Vigil, the following event has been added to the growing list of events on and around the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

Thursday, March 3, 6 PM University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St. Wahl Room

Hundreds of thousands of workers and students have descended on Madison, Wisconsin over the past two weeks for protests, rallies, and an ongoing occupation of the state capitol building to fight Gov. Scott Walker’s draconian cuts to collective bargaining rights. Come hear from graduate students and undergraduates returning from the front lines of the struggle.

Sponsored by the International Socialist Organization. The event is part of the Graduate Employees Organization 24/7 Solidarity Vigil to support Wisconsin workers. Call 415-713-6260 or e-mail iso.champaign@gmail.com for more information.

This should be an exciting event, and is a great opportunity to hear many first-hand account of this unfolding, inspiring fight against Governor Walker’s draconian anti-union, anti-worker legislation.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

Labor and the Law: Lunch With the Indiana Democrats

Labor and the Law: Lunch with the Indiana Democrats

Tuesday, March 1 at Noon in the Law School Auditorium, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Democrats of the Indiana General Assembly have taken refuge in Urbana as they fight for labor rights. Come listen to lawyer-legislators discuss why they are here and what they expect in the future. Please come with questions and comments!

Pizza will be provided.

Special thanks to Sam Qiu for making this event happen.


 

24/7 Solidarity Vigil and UIUC Campus Events

As part of the 24/7 Solidarity Vigil that GEO #6300 is conducting in solidarity with Wisconsin workers, there will be two films showing tomorrow, Tuesday March 1 at the campus YMCA. at 12 p.m., The Cradle Will Rock will play, a film directed by Tim Robbins about the efforts of John Houseman and Orson Welles to present the play “The Cradle Will Rock,” a left-wing play in 1937 sponsored by the Federal Theater Project whose funding the WPA later cut. The second movie, at 5 p.m., will be Harlan County, USA, Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning documentary about the union organizing efforts of miners and their families of the Eastover Coal Company’s Brookside mine from 1973-1974 in Harlan County, KY–a site of some of the most violent repression of organized labor from the 1930s onward. Both films will show downstairs at the Y, are free and open to the public as usual, and will be followed by a group discussion.

Also tomorrow, two AFSCME locals will hold a solidarity rally from 12:15 to 12:45 at the Alma Mater statue at the corner of Wright and Green streets on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Come support Wisconsin workers and those occupying the capitol building in opposition to Governor Walker’s draconian anti-union, anti-workers legislation.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

GEO #6300 Member’s First-Hand Account from Madison, Sunday 2/27

This was written by U of I English graduate student and GEO #6300 member Michael Verderame, and comes via Kerry Pimblott and e-mail listserv. Great and inspiring stuff. It also speaks to the mood in and around the capitol, with considerable support for public-sector workers and growing animosity toward Governor Walker.
This Sunday Zach Poppel and I traveled to Madison to support the occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol. I want to share some of my experiences.

We had both been energized by the previous day’s experiences—Zach had organized the Springfield rally, which had several dozen GEO participants, and I had gone to Madison with several dozen other GEO members. We both wanted to build on that energy.

By the time of the departure, we knew that it was uncertain whether we would be able to get into the building, and therefore we were ready to support our colleagues inside who may have faced potential arrest. Amy Livingston and Anna Kurhajec had arrived last night, and Leighton Christiansen came with another labor group this morning.

By the time we parked, walked to the capitol, and got into the line for entrance, it was about 3:20, and the police had promised to close the doors promptly at 4:00. The line was moving slowly (police were allowing one person in for every two that left), but we knew that Leighton was inside. Sometime around 3:45 we resigned ourselves to the fact that we probably wouldn’t get in, though we stayed in line. Shortly before 4:00, we got word that Amy and Anna had been among the last people to make it in after waiting about two hours. When the doors closed at 4:00, the outside crowd chanted “Let Us In” for 15 more minutes.

You all can see what happened on the inside on TV feeds.  (I’m sure Amy, Anna, and Leighton can fill you in as well). On the outside, we saw an energetic protest that still had the spirit of Saturday’s rally. Despite the bitter cold, people were in good spirits.  We kept hearing conflicting reports about the status of the people inside.  Earlier in the day we had heard promises that there would be no arrests; later on it seemed like arrests were a likelihood.  While still waiting in line, I had scrawled Kerry Pimblott’s telephone number on my arm with a permanent marker in case of arrest—a surreal experience for someone who’s never even had a speeding ticket. I had to eplain what was going on to my (borderline hysterical) parents.

Once the doors were closed, of course we were worried about Amy and Anna (the labor group Leighton had come with had him covered). We received a blessing from GEO HQ (to leave if we wanted, that other people could come up to bail them out, but Zach and I were both firmly resolved that we wanted to bail them out—it would get them out much faster than if someone new had to drive up from Champaign. The plan was for us to be their first phone call if they were arrested.  There were ACLU people available to bail people out, but they would be responsible for all the protesters.  The difference between us bailing them out and the ACLU bailing them out could have meant a difference of several hours or more in jail time for Amy and Anna.

The crowd was lively and many were in constant contact with people inside.  At one point we formed a human chain around the building.  People made a commitment to stay until either everyone was out of the building or until the police had announced there were no arrests.  Driveways, entrances, and exits were blocked. Some of the people inside chose to leave voluntarily upon police requests, and were cheered by the crowd outside as they left the building.  Others (several hundred) stayed inside, understanding that they were risking their own liberty to do so.

As the temperatures dropped, people climbed up to the second floor to get a sight of the people inside. We also held a candlelight vigil. Chants and drumming continued.  Of course, as basically an unplanned event, it was a much smaller crowd than the massive Saturday rally, but it still maintained tremendous energy. For me, the most thrilling part was hearing the car horns of supporters driving the streets around the capitol.

Throughout the day there had been constant supportive car honks.  At some point, though, they fell into a regular pattern: a call-and-response chorus version of “this is what democracy looks like,” which was surprisingly well-coordinated.  This kept up for well more than an hour, as each successive wave of commuters picked up on the game and kept it going.  This will be one of my favorite memories.

Though none of us could get in the building, we were heartened to see food and supplies go in, as well as additional press.  By 7:00 we had received word that everyone inside had been guaranteed they would be able to spend the night peacefully and would not be arrested.  Leighton, Amy, and Anna are still inside as I write, along with hundreds of other protesters.

Once the outside protest dispersed and we knew Leighton, Amy, and Anna would not need bail, we headed home.  Stopping to warm up at a local bar, we  overheard the news that Sen. Dale Schulz had switched his vote on the bill. We now need only two additional senators to kill Scott Walker’s budget bill and allow the Wisconsin 14 to come home.

When this was announced in the bar, there were cheers throughout.  Talking to our people inside, I was glad that they also had learned about Sen. Schultz’s switch and there was cheering inside.

One thing you notice in Madison is that just about every local business has a sign supporting public sector union rights.  Many of the people I saw both days had signs proclaiming that they were “private sector workers,” “small business owners,” “non-union members,” and “taxpayers”—the groups Walker claims to represent—who were coming out to support their union brothers’ and sisters’ rights.

Right now, Walker is thoroughly despised in Madison.  Over both days I was there I saw one right-wing counter-protestor, against approximately 120,000-150,000 of us. What I did see was a massive group of people (and their dogs), diverse in their race, ethnicity, age, economic background, sexual identity, religion, and even in their professed politics (it was surprising how many “conservatives” believe in union rights).  All of them have had enough of Gov. Walker, after he’s been in office less than two months.  An incredible proliferation of clever signs lambastes Walker and his multi-billionaire benefactors, the Koch brothers—punning and the double entendre are very alive in the Badger state.

But there is a serious tone as well. People here profess their disgust for Walker’s willingness, caught on tape, to plant agents provocateur in the crowd to try to cause violence and discredit the movement.  What kind of governor, the Madison Chief of Police asked, would consider risking the safety of law enforcement officers and protesters, including their children, for his political gain? And more to the point, backed down from the idea only because he decided it would hurt him politically.

It was also a crowd that connected the dots, and demonstrated precisely the kind of critical self-awareness that Left intellectuals often claim to be unable to find in the American working and middle classes.  These were not people marching, as the Right charges, just to protect their own benefits. The people marching understood the connections between war spending, corporate welfare, and tax cuts on the one hand, and cuts in education, health care, and social programs on the other.  They understood the ridiculousness of a governor who claims to have to crush unions in order to plug a $140 million deficit, right after he signed $140 million in corporate giveaways and tax breaks.  They understand that the divisions between skilled and unskilled, middle and working class, union and nonunion, and private and public sector, are meant to divide working people against one another.  They were committed, as sign after sign showed, to a politics that was anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic. These were people who believe in the public good and the public sphere, and are trying in every way they can to recreate it.

However much he likes to talk about the silent majority who supports him, I have seen almost no evidence that anyone likes or supports him, let alone a majority.  He literally cannot be seated in a restaurant in Madison. Walker went to one of Madison’s premier fine-dining restaurants, and the owners refused to serve him.

One thing I hope gets recorded, besides the very good behavior of all of the protesters, is the incredible courtesy and professionalism of all of the law enforcement officials involved.  Through their support for us and through their conscientious and nonviolent performance of their duties, they modeled the ideals of public service that Governor Walker wants to devalue.

My overall impression, like the Saturday protest the day before, was of incredible peace and harmony.  I have never seen this many people assembled (for any reason—not just a political rally) without any unpleasantness or violence. People speak plainly and from the heart, in their posters and in their words, about how this bill will affect their lives, how it will take away things they’ve won, not only through their individual effort but through generations of workers who have sacrificed to build their unions.

The symbolism of reclaiming the Capitol for the people against the special interests and Gov. Walker’s attack on democratic union rights was very powerful. Wisconsin’s State Capitol is a beautiful, marble, neo-classical structure, the kind of architecture that was built, at the time of the U.S.’s founding, as a kind of living expression of the idea of the public good.  From the outside, you can see signs in the windows of Democratic Assemblymen/women and Senators’ offices, cheering on the protesters. Sometimes these legislators or their aides would open up their windows and wave. From the inside, the spectacular Rotunda has taken on a new kind of beauty with the thousands of signs, fliers, and banners that have transformed it into a true site of civic engagement. I was able to get in on Saturday, along with many other GEO members, and it is an experience that needs to be seen to be believed. The cameras don’t do it justice.  On Saturday a massive, loud yet somehow completely orderly crowd alternated between cheering and drumming passionately on the one hand, and on the other, listening carefully and attentively to a stream of open-mic speakers who talked poignantly about how the bill would affect their lives.  Periodically parades would march through the center of the crowd—I saw a firefighter’s parade, and a massive parade by the Chicago Teachers’ Union, a union with new, radicalized leadership and a strong commitment to progressive labor and educational policies.

The energy is tremendous. But they will need to keep it up in the next few days and weeks, in order to win over more Republican Senators and finally kill the bill.  I hope to make it back up to Madison (my third trip this week) to spend a night with the brave workers of Wisconsin (spearheaded, I should say, by the unbelievable UW grad local, the Teaching Assistants’ Association). Hopefully some others will be able to as well.  I will say, for those who haven’t yet been to Madison, it is an experience you will never forget.

Two weeks ago I remember telling someone that “Wisconsin is coming to all of America next.” At the time, this sounded ominous and threatening.  Now, it has become transformed into something hopeful.  I’d like to think that the energy, passion, selflessness, and civic engagement that Wisconsin has shown the world can become a model for all of us. Wisconsin is coming to all of America next, but not in the way Scott Walker intended.

Does anyone know how to get permanent marker writing off your skin?

Peace,
Michael

 

24/7 Solidarity Vigil, Champaign IL, Day Six Update–February 27, 2011

Via Kerry Pimblott of GEO #6300

Day six of the GEO 24/7 Solidarity Vigil witnessed two amazing victories for workers in Wisconsin and across the country!

Today several GEO members traveled to Madison to participate in an occupation intended to keep the Capitol open. Police had indicated that at 4pm they would be closing the building and forcibly removing protesters. As 4pm drew close many of us watched on an online live stream as protesters were asked to leave the building. While many left voluntarily, several hundred remained on the first floor determined to continue the occupation and risking arrest.

As the tension increased, the remaining occupiers linked arms and began to sing “Solidarity Forever” and “We Shall Overcome” to keep their spirits up. And then… as the occupation looked like it was entering its final moments… police refused to remove protesters and the Police Chief announced that no arrests would be made! The occupation was successful and protesters were able to secure access to the building for a thirteenth consecutive night!

If that wasn’t enough… reports quickly emerged that Republican Sen. Dale Schultz had switched sides and would now be voting against the bill! This announcement was received with deafening cheers from protesters within the Capitol complex. Now only two more Republicans are required to ensure that the bill will not pass!

Amy Livingston, staff organizer for GEO and an occupier of the Capitol, stated in a text message: “Our Solidarity moves mountains. We kept the Capitol open for the people when the Governor tried to close it. We forced one Republican to do the right thing and we’re on our way to forcing 2 more. We’ll stand with our brothers and sisters in WI until we win. Keep fighting! GEO!” I sent this update to a union rep who is holed up with Indiana lawmakers at the Urbana Comfort Inn. In response I received the following message: “We just announced this to the IN Dems. It helped their resolve considerably.”

Together we are fighting a winning battle! Keep up your spirits and participate in the Work-In at the Illini Union tomorrow from 9-2pm or join the GEO for a lobbying surge from 2-5pm at the YMCA! For those that want to support the occupation, I am also receiving word that people are needed in the building tomorrow evening to prevent it from being closed at 6pm.

The news that a Republican state senator, Dale Schultz, has switched sides in the struggle is a major victory for opponents of the draconian anti-union, anti-worker proposals of Governor Walker. Pressure campaigns have begun on two other Republican state senators, Randy Hopper [telephone (608) 266-5300 and fax (608) 266-5300] and Luther Olson [telephone (608) 266-0751 and fax (608) 266-0751], who appear to be wavering in their support of Governor Walker’s proposals. Meanwhile, two other senators Michael Ellis and Dan Kapanke had supported a 2008 bill (SB 353) granting collective-bargaining rights to the University of Wisconsin-system faculty, and pressure on them is increasing as well.

Michael Ellis: 19th Senate District, Telephone: 608 266-0718,  Fax: 608 267 6798
Email: Sen.Ellis@legis.wisconsin.gov

Dan Kapanke: 32nd Senate District, Telephone: 608 266 5490 or 800 385 3385, Fax: 608 267 5173 E-mail: Sen.Kapanke@legis.wisconsin.gov

It has been a day filled with drama and, for protesters in Madison and elsewhere, victory. Stay close to things here at IWLH as events unfold in Madison and around the country. We will do our best to keep you posted.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

Wisconsin Protesters Allowed to Stay the Night

In a major victory for the time being, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) sent messages that protesters inside the capitol building in Madison will be allowed to stay the night. What this means come tomorrow and the allegedly desperate need to clean the capitol (as justification for clearing out those occupying the building), I do not know. I suspect that the doors to the capitol remain locked and wonder what will transpire come morning, and whether or not the police will continue to restrict the access of protesters come morning if they do not follow through with the threat of eviction. However, for now, this is a big victory and a sign that persistent popular protest is working.

Given the support of the police, firefighters, and their unions, this is also a bad sign for Governor Walker and the Republicans, for their proposed anti-union, anti-worker legislation has galvanized people far and wide. Thousands from outside Wisconsin have joined the many thousands of in-state protesters to oppose these bills. Three members of my union, GEO #6300, are in the capitol building refusing to leave, while around 100 GEO members have made trips to Wisconsin in the last week with supplies and to lend their support.

Should anything change regarding the capitol building occupation, I will be sure to let you know as soon as I can.

Update: Eric Kleefeld of TPM has confirmed the WEAC tweet with some additional details, including that some cleaning will be done tonight of the upper floors as people occupying the building sleep on the ground floor tonight. Madison police chief Charles Tubbs said, “There will be no arrests, as we said before, there will be no use of force. We want the people to continue to cooperate and work within the guidelines and the laws of the state of Wisconsin. So there’ll be no one asked to leave the Capitol tonight.”

Kleefeld also reported:

Tubbs said that various rules will remain in force: People who leave the building at night will not be able to get back in; sleeping bags and backpacks cannot be brought in during regular hours tomorrow; and food will only be brought in through an arrangement with representatives of union groups and other organizers to deliver it to the entrances.

Tubbs also commended the behavior and cooperation of protesters, saying that there had been no arrests made today. At the last time he checked, on Friday, Tubbs said there had only been about a dozen minor arrests in total over the past two weeks.

It has thus far been a fairly good relationship between the protesters and the Madison police, with Tubbs acting and speaking reasonably and in measured tones. It is quite likely that there is at least decent levels of sympathy with the protesters among their ranks. In turn, the protesters have done a very good job maintaining order inside and outside the building, especially given how large the protests have become, and of preparing for various scenarios that may unfold. Their communication with those of us observing has been vast and impressive. As before, I will keep you posted when I can should major changes in the status of the remarkable capitol occupation occur.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

Videos from Inside the Occupied Capitol Building in Madison

Ryan Harvey has provided some very good, short videos from inside Madison’s occupied capitol building worth seeing. One includes footage of the Wisconsin police officer about whom I blogged earlier, but will re-post here.

Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW)

Wisconsin Teacher 2/26

Madison Police Officer on Possible Arrests and Support for Occupation and Protests 2/27

–Jason Kozlowski