Madison: Biggest Demonstration Yet

Today’s news from Madison:

The biggest demonstration yet is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday. The central labor council says as many as 110,000 are expected.

The state Assembly passed the “budget repair” bill at 1 a.m. this morning—a blow to the workers in the building watching it happen (though the senate Democrats remain out of state, so it’s not passed yet). The vote may have been illegal, though, because it broke from established process; there could be a lawsuit.

Legislators say they will close the Capitol Saturday night, ruffling feathers among the protesters. By law, if public testimony is ongoing on an issue, citizens have the right to be in the Capitol. People have been staying up all night to testify. But if hearings are ended, that could be the excuse to kick demonstrators out.

Protesters have been preparing for the possibility of being evicted--and resisting. The Grassroots Leadership College has organized a couple of big nonviolence trainings, and experienced activists are training others what to do if arrested. Contact numbers for lawyers are being given out.

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the police union, is calling for the Capitol to be kept open. Teams of firefighters are also committed to staying in the Capitol.

As an indication of just how widespread support is in Madison, the staff of a knitting store in the suburbs will spend the night inside the Capitol Friday, and hold a knit-in. A Jewish temple is having Friday services inside the Capitol tonight.

The Capitol is plastered in handmade signs, put up with blue tape. Staff inside the Capitol who want to covertly support the protests have given the occupiers rolls of blue tape, since that's the code for building staff not to take a sign down.

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Governor Scott Walker’s bill may cost Wisconsin $46 million in federal transportation funds. This is yet another indication that his bill is not just about saving money this year.

School districts are worried about money, though: across the state they plan to issue notices of big layoffs to teachers Monday. Because the districts don’t know what will happen with the budget, they don’t know how many teachers they can afford next year, so they want to give notice of sizable layoffs to cover themselves. Wisconsin requires that teachers get advance notice of layoffs.

The Capitol is not the only place protests are going on. Disability rights activists occupied Republican Party headquarters in Madison today to protest changes in how Medicaid would be handled under Walker’s bill.

And students demonstrated at the University of Wisconsin’s board of regents, protesting privatization plans. Rumors are the regents might fire Chancellor Biddi Martin to avoid seeing students become as boisterous as workers.

After billionaire David Koch was successfully impersonated by a prankster, a vice president of Koch Industries declared the brothers even more determined to pump money into getting legislation like Walker’s bill passed. They accused “special interests” of trying to stop their crusade for “freedom.”

Supporters are here from all over, including 10 Longshore union members from L.A. When people get here they spend a day just taking it all in. The Capitol is almost like a museum of worker unrest. Visitors need time to take in this fabulous environment--lively, everybody happy to know you and thank you for being here.


Andrew Sernatinger is a baker in Madison.