A Description of the Protest for Unions at the Wisconsin State Capitol Today

I like lists! And I love Wisconsin.

1. You park in a nearby neighborhood and walk. People are walking away with signs, walking towards the capitol with signs. There is something unusually polite and orderly about these people. (Or did I imagine that? We used to live down in the neighborhood where I parked, and I remember it being quite the motley crew down there, generally. Not so today.) You pass by a "parking ramp" as we say in Wisconsin, and the attendant is telling someone, "I'm sorry. It's all the protesters," and you infer that the lots are all full.

2. There are people marching, round and round the capitol square, chanting, "Kill the bill, Kill the bill!" Holding signs. Holding flags.

3. You decide to see what's going on inside. You join an orderly procession filing in. A policeman guarding the entrance is taking signs on sticks away from protesters and putting them in a neat pile by the door, to be retrieved later. This, in itself, is not entirely out of the ordinary. It's just like they take your umbrella at the museums. What is unusual is that this police officer, at the same time as doing his duty, is chanting along with the protesters, "Kill the bill. Kill the bill."

4. On a normal day, the capitol is one of the most beautiful buildings in America. The capitol building is made mostly of marble. It's probably one of the most expensive buildings in America. There is art painted in gold on the ceilings. In the middle of the capitol is an area shaped like a circle that is open all the way up to the dome, which I believe is the second or third largest dome on this continent. There are sculpted badgers on the walls big as your couch, and if that sounds silly, it's not. Not when it's done right. It is truly something to behold. If you haven't seen it, you should. There are five stories of balconies that look down on this circular area, the Rotunda. Normally, this view might take your breath away.

5. Today, squeezing through the crowd, I make it into the rotunda and see the stories above me full of people with banners hanging off of the balconies, with signs held high. They are chanting. A giant drum is in the rotunda, keeping the chants in sync,

"Union busting..."

Boom Boom

"Is disgusting..."

Boom Boom

"If you have a spine..."

Boom Boom

"you should resign..."

Boom Boom

6. This alone would not have gotten to me, I don't think. But when I read the signs, I was overwhelmed. Not only were people holding signs, but it seemed like whenever someone left the building, they had stuck their sign onto a marble wall, so that the whole building was this massive collage of voices over voices over voices, penetrating the psyche of anyone who could read, and many of them were about unions, and many of the signs were about Scott Walker, and many were about the Bill itself, but the thing that got me was

so many

were about

how much

we all owe



And I confess I sort of teared up a little. Teaching can be so thankless. It was amazing.

6. I want to emphasize that the capitol building was very tenderly, very lovingly decorated by the protesters. We love our capitol.

7. I went to the bathroom, and each stall had a little hand written sign stuck to the door,

"Fellow protester: Please do not vandalize the state building. Thank you."

As far as I could tell, everyone had followed this direction.

8. This was a most polite group. After all, even the police guarding the place are state workers, right? Everyone is united.

9. Cheers rise up, randomly.

10. Children color in the corners. There's a little booth with a sign, "We have earplugs, crayons, and toys for your child."

11. At some point, I realize, this is the most spectacular performance art I have ever seen.

12. Some people have ukuleles. Comically, I never see any guitars or more "normal" instruments, just people singing and playing ukeleles.

13. I'm marching outside, now. The weather is unseasonably warm at 45. I've gotten in with a group who is chanting, "MPI... MPI..." Since I don't know what "MPI" is, I stop chanting.

14. The woman I am marching close to has a sign that says, "REMEMBER: I PROTECT YOUR FAMILY FROM THE CRIMINALLY INSANE." I compliment her on her cleverness. "Oh, I didn't come up with it myself," she says. "My wards did."

15. I still don't know what "MPI" means, and we're marching past the MSNBC truck, filming us. Terrified of being found out as ignorant, I hide behind the, "REMEMBER: I PROTECT YOUR FAMILY FROM THE CRIMINALLY INSANE." sign.

16. Call me a wild hippie if you will. I don't care. The energy in the Wisconsin capitol today was beyond words to describe, and I mean that in a good way.


  1. You make me miss living in Iowa. People are nice, organized, and civilized there, too.
    I got a little teary eyed myself.
    Good luck!
    We teachers don't have unions in Virginia.
    Virginia doesn't like unions.
    Maybe you folks in Wisconsin will do our work for us, union-wise ...

  2. What a cool way to spend a day! I wish I had been there to see. :)