The Solidarity Sing-along, held every weekday at noon in the center of the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, swelled to a large, loud protest crowd today, as hundreds of students and teaching assistants from the U.W. Madison campus marched through the doors chanting and singing and carrying red, heart-shaped balloons (the unofficial symbol of the Wisconsin uprising).
Valentine's Day marked the one year anniversary of the historic protests against Republican Governor Scott Walker and his attack on public employees' collective bargaining rights.
As usual, the lunchtime crowd of activists and downtown office workers sang "Solidarity Forever," and "I'm Stickin' to the Union," as well as the UW fight song and other familiar tunes updated with anti-Walker lyrics.
A new one, for the one-year anniversary, was: "This uprising of mine, it's my valentine."
Speakers from the TAA (the teaching assistants' union) and the South Central Federation of Labor addressed the crowd.
When Capitol police pulled the plug on their microphone, they continued, shouting their remarks and using the Occupy-style "people's mike," until Adrienne Pagac, co-president of the TAA, asked the crowd to disperse to make way for a couple holding their wedding in the Capitol that day. "This is a special day for us, and its a special day for them," Pagac told the crowd holding a sea of red heart-shaped balloons.
As protesters milled about chatting and the Rotunda emptied, Capitol Police Chief Tubbs complained to Pagac that the couple had to adjourn to a private room in the building to avoid the protest presence. "It doesn't sit well," he said, as organizers listened and nodded.
Pagac, in her remarks to the crowd, called for a renewal of the Wisconsin Idea promoted by Fighting Bob LaFollette 100 years ago, which committed Wisconsin to the progressive ideals of "the advancement of human welfare," as Pagac put it--with the first worker's comp, unemployment insurance, and apprenticeship laws in the nation, as well as a close relationship between the state's public university system and state government.
Wisconsin must recommit to the importance of the university to the state's economy and democracy, Pagac said.
Cuts to the U.W. have been a sore point for students, as has Wisconsin's new voter I.D. law, which will make it much harder for students to vote.
The idea that students and labor share goals and aspirations was a theme for several speakers.
Students, the TAA, and Madison Teachers Incorporated, the union representing local public school teachers, were the leaders of the first protests against Walker.
Leland Pan, a member of the Student Labor Action Coalition, explained that students and unions have a lot in common, because the right to organize "is not about money--it's about power and having a voice." The TAA protects the "10,000 student workers" who need to hold down jobs to pay for their studies. "Unions are essential to political democracy," Pan said.
The anniversary rallies continue today at 4:15, with AFSCME and Madison Teachers, Inc. leading a protest on the Capitol steps.
Later this week, the Student Labor Action Coalition will hold its national conference in Madison to organize against sweatshops.
On Friday the national student group will march from the UW's Bascom Hall to the Capitol to show support for organized labor.
Meanwhile, the theme of the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker is shifting more and more to the indictments of his closest aides and allegations of corruption, cover-up, and campaigning on the taxpayers' time.
The state Democratic Party sent out a link to a web site telling the story of the John Doe corruption probe today, under the header "Scott Walker's Lost Valentine's Day Cards":
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Which Way, Wisconsin? How to Compete with Walker?"
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