February 25, 2011

from DemocracyNow! Website

Public employees, labor activists and students have been filling the hallways of the Wisconsin State Capitol for the past 11 days.


Hundreds of people have slept inside the Capitol building each night. So many people are staying here that protesters have begun building impromptu dining areas, a lending library and a medic center.


Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke and John Hamilton receive a tour of the building from an activist whoís stayed at the Capitol building for nine straight nights.









Rush Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to convey to people the sense and the breadth of the people that are here.


Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke came a few hours before we did yesterday to the State Capitol with John Hamilton, and he spoke to the public employees, the labor activists, the students, who have been filling these hallways for the last 11 days, each night hundreds of people sleeping overnight.


During the day, the booming sounds of chants and drums fill the building. So many people are staying here that protesters have begun building impromptu dining areas, a lending library and a medic center.

Letís go right now to just the feel of the Capitol here in Madison, Wisconsin.

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: My name is Harriet Rowan, and Iím a senior at UW Madison. Iíve been here since the February 14th rally, and Iíve been here every night of the sleep-in. Yeah, Iím just a student whoís here in solidarity with everyone and also concerned about, you know, the future of our university and for the future for students all over Wisconsin.

MIKE BURKE: Can you take us on a tour of whatís going on inside the State House?

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: Of course I can. I can show you everything. Iíve been here for nine days.

So, weíre walking right now on the ground floor of the Capitol, coming in the north entrance toward the amazing drum circle thatís been going on for about nine days, I think. I think today is day number 10, maybe.


The inside of the ground floor rotunda is packed full of people. And on the first floor, which is one flight up from the ground floor from the entrances, is also packed with people. And on the second floor, people are looking down.


Really, the focus is right here, the center of the ground floor. Itís where most of the energy comes from.

BARBARA CRANE: Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Barbara Crane. Iím the president of the National Federation of Nurses. We want to stand with our brothers and sisters for what we consider the genocide of the middle class of this country, and weíre not going to take it anymore!



"I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"





As a nurse, I know what a code looks like, and a code red is happening at ground zero in Wisconsin, and itís got to stop now!

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: An injury to one is an injury to all. And I think that thatís a point that a lot of people are getting out of this, that people see Wisconsin as like the focal point of where the attack on unions is starting right now and where it can be stopped. And thatís why itís so important and so many people are giving us support from out of state and coming from out of state to support us.


But at the same time, I mean, 95 percent of the people I talk to are from Wisconsin. So, I think the claims that theyíre outside agitators are quite a stretch, and I havenít seen much evidence for that.

MIKE BURKE: How big have been some of the crowds over the past week and a half?

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: Iíve heard numbers as big as 100,000. Honestly, I spent about 23 hours a day inside the Capitol, so I donít really even see the rallies all that often. But thatís what Iíve been hearing, you know, between 40,000, then 60,000, then 100,000, so...

MIKE BURKE: What else is on this floor?

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: Thereís a lot of stuff on the first floor. Thereís lots of like legislative offices and stuff like that. As weíre walking, the walls are still covered in letters from people. And thereís - it says up on the wall that there are 10,776 messages posted up here.

MIKE BURKE: Who are these messages written to?

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: These messages are written to Governor Scott Walker from various people and brought here through MoveOn.org.

Hereís one of the letters, and it says,

"I am a registered Republican, and I oppose your bill as it is currently written. I would appreciate if during your daily radio addresses you told the whole story and not the biased portion you have been emphasizing. From Cathy Connolly of Grafton, Wisconsin."

Right now weíre coming into the hallway that goes around the first floor rotunda. Letís walk to the right. Ooh, I like this sign a lot.


It says,

"Hey, Walker, my UW education: $39,856. My Wisconsin teaching license: $19,240. Being able to protest your ignorance by sleeping at the Capitol: priceless. If you wonít participate in democracy, I will."

I like that sign.

MIKE BURKE: Now, Iíve seen this little side room. There are several sleeping bags on the floor. Thereís at least one man in there sleeping right now.


MIKE BURKE: Can you describe the sleeping arrangements here? How many people are sleeping every night? Whoís actually taking part in this?

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: The last I heard was two days ago they did a count, and it was about 400, a little bit more, I think.


Itís hard to tell, because there are so many hallways and so many different areas. Really, people just find anywhere they can and put down their stuff. Weíve been trying to collect like bedding donations, so people can have like mats underneath them and sleeping bags and pillows and all that stuff.


We donít know how long weíre going to be staying, but weíre dedicated to stay as long as we need to.

MIKE BURKE: Alright, letís head over to the information center.

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: Wonderful. So the information station is a - kind of our motto is,

"got info, need info, share info. Knowledge is power."

And the idea of it is that the more people - the more things people know, the more organized we can be.


In the first two nights, I realized - you know, on the TV screens up there, sometimes when the Assembly is meeting they show the Assembly and have it on speakers that are around the Capitol. And people canít really hear whatís going on.


So, like, every once in awhile something really important would happen, and no one would know.


And so, that was one of the first things we started doing here was weíd write it up on this, our official low-tech Twitter. We actually have a real Twitter now, that we donít use it very often, just for really important things. But we started this low-tech Twitter over here, which people thought was pretty funny. Itís just a white board, so we write up new updates.


People need to know whatís going on if theyíre going to be informed and really part - strategically part of the movement and really trying to help accomplish the goals.

MIKE BURKE: It sounds almost like youíre running a small little town inside the State House.

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: Yeah, thatís what people have been saying. People really see it as like our own little community. Weíre walking right now up to the food station in the North Gallery. Originally, the TAA was getting some food donations upstairs, and then the information station was getting food donations.


We started getting so much that we really couldnít handle it all.

UNIDENTIFIED: Weíve had a lot of support from the Madison community, around the state, as well as around the country. These bagels are actually donated by an organization in New York. I know the Teamsters have brought in brats.


Weíve had organizations just sort of showing their support to everyone in a very human way.


I mean, everybody has to eat.

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: We also have a list of all the places that food has come from. One of the ones that I think is most interesting, Malawi, from Haiti, from Cairo, Egypt.

MIKE BURKE: Now, youíre saying that people in Egypt have donated food for the people here in Madison?

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: Yeah, apparently, which is wonderful. I mean, I think that most people here agree that the people of Egypt really inspired people here.


You know, thereís this whole issue with equating the two situations, which I think is a false equation, but thereís no doubt that we were - that people here have been inspired by that, to really see that a group of people without any official leadership can really get together and do something.


And I mean, here, you know, thereís the different unions, so each - people who are affiliated with the unions have their own leadership, but thereís really not like one leader for the movement.


And I think that thatís one of the things that makes it really cool.

MIKE BURKE: And what keeps you going?

HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: Just the people, talking to people and seeing how amazing everything is and how people are working together.


This is - I keep saying this is the coolest thing Iíve ever been a part of, and people continuously tell me the same thing, like, "This is the most amazing thing Iíve ever been a part of." And people really feel empowered individually to accomplish things, to do things. They see something thatís not being done, and they do it.


And thatís really cool.

AMY GOODMAN: Thatís University of Wisconsin student Harriet Rowan taking our own Democracy Now!ís Mike Burke around the Capitol.

John Nichols, The Nation magazine, seventh generation Wisconsinite, 10 seconds. Whatís happening this weekend?

JOHN NICHOLS: This weekend, youíll see the better part of 100,000 people in Madison, coming from every corner of the state. And in capitals across the country, people will rally in solidarity with them, all to say, "We want economic justice and democracy now."

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thanks so much, John. Tonight, Friday night, Iíll be speaking at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, the Union Ballroom. Tomorrow night, Iíll be at the University of Alberta in Canada, in Edmonton, speaking at the TELUS Centre.


You can go to our website at democracynow.org for more details.

Additional Information

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    The Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Assembly has passed Gov. Scott Walkerís budget repair bill that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for most public employees.


    The measure has sparked an unprecedented 11 days of protest in the capital city of Madison and across the state. Broadcasting from the Capitol Rotunda in Madison, we speak to The Nation magazineís John Nichols.



  • Despite Exemption from Anti-Union Bill, Wisconsin Firefighters Stand with Public Sector Workers
    Thousands of workers and labor activists have descended on Madison since last week, calling on state lawmakers to reject Republican Gov. Scott Walkerís anti-union bill.


    Although police officers and firefighters are exempted from key provisions of the bill, they have joined the protests in large numbers. We are joined by Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association.


    • ďThere is not one public employee that does their job to get rich,Ē Mitchell says. ďWe donít do our job to get rich. We do our job to have a decent life, to have a decent middle-class family and not have to struggle like a lot of our other people do.Ē



  • "Until We Throw This Bill Out, We Canít Come Back:" Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson Remains in Illinois
    Wisconsin senate Democrats have stalled the anti-union bill by fleeing the state, thereby denying Republicans quorum for a vote. On Thursday, Wisconsin police were deployed to retrieve the absent Senate Democrats at their homes without success. We speak to Democratic State Senator Chris Larson, who has fled to Illinois.



  • Policing & Protesting: Wisconsin Officers Patrol Capitol, But Join in Demonstrations
    Wisconsin police officers have participated in the Madison labor protests, not only on the job as public security, but also as demonstrators.


    • "Law enforcement officers from all across the state are proud to stand with their fellow devoted public employees," says Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. "We have been very impressed by how peaceful everyone has been."




  • "Gov. Walker Needs to Get Over His Koch Addiction": Labor Activists Protest Koch Brothersí Madison Office
    Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the lobbying offices of the Koch brothers in Madison on Thursday.


    • "The Koch brothers have funded a lot of anti-union, anti-worker legislation not just here in Wisconsin, but across the country," says Elizabeth DiNovella of the Madison-based magazine The Progressive. "People in Wisconsin are here to say that Walker needs to get over his Koch addiction and to really respect workersí rights to organize."



  • Teachers, Students Among First to Protest at Wisconsin Capitol
    Teachers and students have been on the front lines of the Wisconsin protests. We speak to University of Wisconsin graduate student Angela Wellman.