Category Archives: 24/7 Solidarity Vigil in Champaign IL

Catching Up on Wisconsin and Elsewhere

With all the events swirling around the protests and capitol occupation in Madison, the mounting protests in Indiana and Ohio, the pent-up ferment starting to be released over proposed steep cuts targeting state budgets and especially public education, and the growing union, worker, and I dare say class-conscious sentiment feelings mounting across the country, simply keeping apace of all of it has been no easy task. This is especially so since, like so many of you, I work multiple jobs, have significant family responsibilities, volunteer at local institutions and, when the occasional moment comes, need to catch my breath. And yet these amazing, largely organic but exceedingly well-organized, and intensely powerful movements against the right-wing assault on political and civil institutions on which everyday people rely so deeply have been so inspiring that, even with such busy schedules, standing on the sidelines or being passive observers simply is not an option. There are many events that I cannot attend due to prior, vital commitments. Some of these, such as co-hosting the Illinois World Labor Hour, thankfully overlap with this pivotal moment in history and therefore allow me and my fantastic co-hosts to comment on and share updates on events virtually as they occur. In part to record some of this history of the moment, in part to inform and thus in some small part shape how people witnessing these events understand them, blogging has joined my personal and bulging list of must-do tasks during this brazen assault on workers, organized labor, and vital public institutions.

I distinguish these three groups both to highlight them as distinct groups under assault and to connect them as imperiled groups and organizations. Yet, as this post will discuss, they share more than positions in the rhetorical and legislative cross hairs of right-wing politicians and their financial and foot soldier Tea Party backers. Increasingly, people within those admittedly broad groups see themselves, their causes (if not specific goals, a problem to address later in the post but sooner in the streets and meeting places), and the causes of their misery as intertwined far more so than in recent memory–mine anyway. They are beginning to connect the vast workings of an economy geared toward war funding, tax cuts for the wealthy that reduce their financial obligations to civil society, and eroding basic measures of security for working people to their often desperate lives, and these draconian measures proposed in Midwestern battleground states. This is to be sure a nascent movement and mindset, not shared by all and fragmented by competing agendas of myriad protesters with different goals, unions representing different workers, some union leaders willing to grant concessions, by state, and by economic sector. However, for the moment and despite their differences and still nebulous goals, they have united behind the goal of stopping right-wing anti-union legislation. They have done so with vigor and anger in protests, but crucially also restraint and creativity in tactics. Just as crucially, they have joined as many hundreds of thousands of people positively fed up with being scapegoated for economic crises not of their making, while those who blame them simultaneously support, if not comprise, those responsible for recent economic failures and for the unparalleled gap between the wealthy and most other citizens in the US.

That is, more and more people are seeing and feeling the class divide and the recent stage of open class war waged upon them–and are doing something about it.

The most obvious examples of this have been the mass protests, particularly in Wisconsin, which have involved sustained gatherings in and around the capitol building, related solidarity protests in Champaign, IL as well as other cities around the country, and also mounting protests in Ohio and Indiana. Crucially, these have involved not just those potentially affected by these drastic anti-union proposals, but have drawn heavily from the ranks of other workers in the private and public sectors alike. The conditions, events, and mindsets differ from some earlier times but, in some key ways, this broad-based solidarity is similar to the types of mass support for the 1877 railroad strikes, for the mass strikes in Toledo’s Auto-Lite plant in 1934, the Flint Sit-Down strike of 1936-1937, and more. Note, too, the common conditions of widespread economic privation prevailing upon people, and the resulting stirs of solidarity in popular unrest.

The big question facing the labor movement in particular is how to draw the active interest of the vast array of mostly non-union, often unemployed, contingent and frequently desperate workers cast aside by the free-market economy. Mary Baldassare of Madison, 59 and lacking employment prospects despite her willingness to work and years of experience, typifies both the quiet desperation of millions of American workers in this era of insecurity, and the difficult prospects for American unions and Baldassare to somehow link up. Despite having been to culinary school and worked throughout the service industry in restaurants and hair salons for much of her adult life, Baldassare has a hard time finding work in Madison in such fields, for younger workers frequently land such jobs that are available. As with so many unemployed in our times, it may well be that long-term unemployed such as Baldassare and her friend Kathy Truesdal face the same obstinacy from employers that shun long-term unemployed workers. Her precarious financial position means that she no longer goes out once or twice a week for dinner, as she used to do with her late husband who passed away in 1999. She poignantly portrays her isolation in terms that reflect how deeply imbued consumerist values are in our society, and the assault on people’s self-worth that results from unemployment and privation. Lacking the ability to eat out now and then–to sustain the very industry in which she finds it so difficult to find work–“makes me feel kind of worthless,” she told Huffington Post reporter Arthur Delaney. The result is a neat juxtaposition of Baldassare’s persistent self-perception and self-worth on the one hand, and a deep awareness of her place, her market worth, in Madison’s economy. “I feel like I’m a little piece of lint on the earth. A little dust bunny,” she said. “I have so much to give.”

It is difficult to find a better summation among any academic of the contradictions and frailties within our teetering economy than that sad, succinct testimony from someone who has worked for so long and connected with so many people in her work–with so little to show for it at her age. A human tumbleweed adrift on a barren economic landscape.

And yet she and Truesdal were not out at the rallies unfolding just a few blocks away, despite these dire economic conditions and despite Baldassare’s professed pro-union sentiment and their shared opposition to Governor Walker’s bills. For all the power and potential in the protests against Walker and his bills, this moment also reveals just how far unions and workers need to go to attract and assist workers like Baldassare and Truesdal who have been shunted to the margins.

More about this, what organized labor can and should do, and possible political implications, in the posts to come.

–Jason Kozlowski


Illinois World Labor Hour Saturday, March 5 2011

Thanks to WEFT factotum, technical guru, and all-around good guy Bob Paleczny, the latest Illinois World Labor Hour show from Saturday, March 5 is available here at In it, we discuss labor films, the political fallout from the ongoing Wisconsin protests, local efforts through GEO #6300 and other organizations showing strong solidarity to workers in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, we played music including the great Anne Feeney, and Tom Thomas read his poem “March By the Millions.”

Be sure to tune in next week, when we will update the latest from Wisconsin and elsewhere, and also discuss women in labor as part of Women’s History Month in March. Among others, we will discuss the activist for women’s and workers’ rights, Leonora O’Reilly.

–Jason Kozlowski


Holding the Capitol

An excellent first-hand account of the occupation of the Madison capitol, courtesy of Leighton Christiansen of the Graduate Employees Organization #6300:
On Sunday afternoon, February 27, I joined with several hundred union members and activists dedicated to keeping the Wisconsin Capitol building open, despite Gov. Walker’s promise to clear out demonstrators after 4:00 pm.

The police and troopers were now under orders to only allow one person in for every two coming out, in an attempt to whittle down the number of occupiers.

When I joined the end of the line at one corner of the Capitol square, the line stretched ahead of me for a hundred yards. Yet as the 4:00 pm deadline neared, the line behind me was getting longer if anything.

Out near the end of the line folks were chatting about why they felt the need to be at the Capitol, discussing recall elections, high-fiving picketers that walked by, and speculating on whether the Capitol would actually be cleared tonight.

As we got near the building the scene changed dramatically. Inside the last ten yards protestors were keeping up pressure on the officers, who up to this point have often openly sided with the protests, to “Let us in! Let us ALL in!”

Had they let us all in, there would have been several thousands in the rotunda.

There were also chants of “Whose house? OUR House!” expressing the anger of Wisconsinites at the obvious attack on basic democracy that Walker is pushing.

It became clear as we got near the door that after 2 weeks of protests, there are many strategies and many different ideas of victory.

Some union leaders are still out talking to members about the need to accept the wage and benefit cuts, but fight the attack on collective bargaining. This is despite the fact that, if the cuts go through as part of this manufactured budget shortfall, many union members will find themselves among the working poor. Among the rank and file workers who participated in the protests, the slogan “Kill the Whole Bill” is popular.

In the Capitol among occupiers and protestors, there are also differences in opinion on how to proceed. Some occupation marshalls were seen arguing with chanting protestors to stop trying to pressure the offices with the “Let us in” chant. So far the local officers have been friendly to the protest, but Walker has been hiring officers from outside the area and the state, whom he hopes will have been less affected by the protests and more likely to follow orders. The chanting not only shows our resolve, but forces the police officers to examine their role, and can be effective in bringing some them to the side of the protests.

I was one of the last few to get in before 4:00 pm. Walking in, I found my friend Miranda, a member of the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA), the graduate employees union at UW-Madison. She looked excited, but weary. She has been active in the occupation since the beginning, and has spent many nights in the Capitol.

She hugged me, saying “If you are gonna stay, we need to go up to the second floor.” And so we joined the TAA group up the stairs. At first I though we had left the first floor as part of a strategy to avoid being swept out in the first wave and putting up a stronger fight. As it turned out, a Democratic State Rep. Brett Hulsey, gave a speech and organized a good number of people to walk out of the occupation rather than force the police to act first, cutting our forces down. (

They were more than 100 officers inside, and many more outside. The last thing we needed were fewer protestors! If there are enough occupiers inside, the police will find it difficult to find to the resources to arrest and hold everyone, even for a short period. I have been an activists for going on 25 years and I have yet to be arrested. And while I was willing on Sunday, I sure wasn’t hoping for it.  Hulsey’s actions, by cutting our numbers, actually made it more likely that those who stayed would get arrested or at least a citation.

If you watch the video of Hulsey’s speech, you will see that his call to leave was far from universally embraced. However, even the sisters and brothers leading the TAA efforts were telling members, rather than holding a wider discussion, that they should leave when asked, but make officers escort them in order to make them right a citation.

Comrades from the ISO and other folks were arguing that we need a strategy to hold the Capitol and resist the police efforts to clear it out.

Clearly, there is a political leadership vacuum in the occupation right now, and there is a lack of space to debate these things out in the occupation itself.

Despite this vacuum, the energy remains high. Sitting with the TAA on the second floor, we chanted and sung from the 4:00 pm deadline to past 5:00. “Whose house? Our house!” was popular, as was a slightly rewritten chorus from the 1980s pop tune “Our House” by Madness. “Solidarity Forever” rang out a number of times.

The creative energy of the tens of thousands of people is clear. One call and response chant that went on for 20 minutes or so was:
(call) Power;
(response) Power;
(call) Power;
(res) Power;
(call) Power to Wisconsin;
(res) Power to Wisconsin;
(call) Wisconsin Power;
(res) Wisconsin Power!

With each repeat a new group of workers or citizens was substituted into the “Wisconsin” spot: workers, students, nurses, teachers, fire fighters, waiters, and dozens more. Folks called out their favorite groups for the next time around. There was good natured laughter when the caller fumbled and could not come up with the next group, or came up with something rhythmically challenging.

This was a great antidote to the rising tension in the rotunda: each minute after the 4:00 deadline occupiers were increasingly nervous that the cops would move. Plus, being on the second floor, it was not easy to see or hear what was going on on the ground floor, where more of the officers were located.

I got up to stretch and realized that the TAA group was the largest organized group, of 50 to 75, in the Capitol. And although we numbered 500 to 600, we looked small, in comparison to the thousands that normally occupied the Capitol. Among the occupiers was a state fire fighter officer, willing to get arrested.

Around 6:30 pm, it was announced that Republican state senator Dale Schultz was withdrawing his support for the Walker budget bill. The rotunda rang in celebration.

Shortly after this good news, our victory was was made clear. Though we looked small, we were large enough, and our energy was great enough, to convince police officials not to try to clear us out. Just before 7:00 the announcement came that we would not be forced out.

Again the rotunda echoed our triumph!

For the next couple of hours we moved down to the first floor, started claiming floor space, stood in line for pizza, gave interviews to local media, talked strategy, and celebrated.

Those who have been to Madison have talked about the new level of solidarity. I want to add that there is a new level of class pride.

My favorite moment of the night came after our victory: remember while thousands of us are occupying the Capitol, the janitorial staff are still in there working among us. The floors still need to cleaned! Around 9:00 pm, a janitorial worker drover her industrial floor scrubber (think zamboni without the ice) into the middle of rotunda, to clean it before we laid down to camp. As she was making her first circle, a chant of “Thank you!” started up.

The janitor started to smile. I cannot imagine that she has ever had 300 people watch her clean the floor on a Sunday night.

The chant continued, and as she came around a third time, she high-fived my comrade Ashley.

Now any worker who has worked with heavy machinery or industrial vehicles, my self among them, has a little flourish or trick they develop to make the work more interesting, or to show their mastery over the machine. Often we only pull these out when the boss is not around, or we are are alone completely.

As she finished her final pass, a tight circle in the very center of rotunda, the Capitol janitor turned the steering wheel hard over, did a tight 360, and shot out through the pillars, with a smile on her face.

The watching occupiers went wild.

Leighton Christiansen

It’s hard not to be inspired by this, to feel as if we were there, to feel as if what we’re participating in at Madison and in solidarity around the country is more a beginning than a path toward a conclusion.


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 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?