Friday, Feb. 11, the day one tyrant [Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak] fell, we learned the governor plotted to strip our collective bargaining rights and bullet-train his bill through the Legislature. My politico-blogger friend asked how state workers would react. I wasn’t sure. Would we resist or just take it, a frog in a pot, the heat having been turned up gradually in recent years with sacrifice after sacrifice? There’s nothing gradual about robbing workers of their rights. There must be a breaking point. Was this it?
Tuesday, Feb. 15, when I approached the Capitol and saw tens of thousands of hard-working Wisconsinites, I had my answer: We HAVE reached the breaking point. We will not tolerate this. Pride swelled in my heart.
That pride has grown over the days, now stretched into weeks. I’m touched by the daily rituals that have developed over the course of this peaceful resistance movement: marching into the Capitol led by bagpiping firefighters, unfurling a huge American flag, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
I’ll always remember: legislators hanging a sign in the window on day one that said “Solidarity”; 14 courageous senators fleeing Wisconsin at huge personal sacrifice, to defeat the bill; inspiring speeches; food donations; teachers and students; Capitol campers (I survived one night); overwhelming support from police and firefighters; a woman in stage 4 cancer, whose treatment would stop if the bill passes, who was prepared to be arrested.
Sights and sounds engraved on my memory: musicians and drummers lifting our spirits (Listen to the beat of OUR drums, governor!); chants of “Kill the bill!” and “This is what democracy looks like!”; yoga classes and nonviolent resistance lessons; our beautiful, austere Capitol cozy with artwork and signs of “Home, Sweet Home” in sleeping nooks; posters and Post-its everywhere (hung carefully to avoid damage); depositing trash, mopping floors; in the noisy brouhaha, a quality of peace; signs encouraging nonviolence; a tranquil utopian feeling of people caring about one another and about justice; “thank you” said frequently.
Our protesting has been loud and passionate, but we have not been violent. Law enforcers express their astonishment, remarking they’ve never witnessed peaceful demonstrations in such large numbers. The mutual respect is tangible.
My parents, former union teachers, taught me justice for all, persecution of none, and that every line of a union contract is written in somebody’s blood, sweat and tears. To undo that collective effort is unthinkable. When I needed protection to resolve a workplace crisis, my union gave it. My cousin, a second-generation Los Angeles firefighter, expresses gratitude for everything his union has done for him, from benefits to safety equipment.
Injustice outrages me. I value myself and the work that I do far too much to tolerate injustice for myself, my family or my community. If you think tyrants are ever satiated, think again. If you’re not yet affected, you will be. Collectively we bargain; collectively we can stop the injustice of tyranny.
Today is day 18 (March 4). I believe that today will have victories. Each day does. One day longer, one day stronger, as the motto goes. This is OUR moment! We’re here to stand another day.
Laura Madsen works for the Department of Natural Resources as a ballast water coordinator, regulating international ships that come into the Great Lakes to protect the lakes from aquatic invasive species that could destroy the state’s recreational and commercial fisheries. Madsen has worked for the state for more than 10 years. She has a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont and a master’s in international environmental policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif. (Photo by Brent Nicastro)