(Note: If you haven't seen my first post on the protests in Madison, check it out here.)
Yesterday’s events in Madison, WI were quite the sight to see. And thankfully, I saw them. First-hand. At just before 9 a.m. (Central Standard Time), my friend Brandon (aka The Young Evangelical), his girlfriend Kaiti, and I carbo-loaded up my intrepid Dodge Intrepid with bagels, donuts, and enthusiasm and began the two-hour trek to Badger-country. After enjoying a delicious pre-game meal at the Madison Sourdough Company – one comprised of entirely cage-free and freely-traded ingredients (I assume Rob Long will be happy to know) – the three of us strolled over to the town square where the action was already in full-swing.
The first thing I noticed was how utterly shut-down the entire downtown area was. The town square and capitol building are at a higher elevation than the rest of the city and so as one began the ascent into the heart of the protest, you felt as if you were entering another (political) climate. The air itself was different by the time we reached the top of the hill.
My initial emotional reaction was that feeling of being overwhelmed you get when you walk into a giant sports arena or stadium. So many people. So much noise. So much excitement. At least here I didn’t have to worry about the Cubs blowing a late-inning lead.
Since I’m not an actual reporter, let me make things easier for all of us and simply give you some general impressions (i.e. quotes, mental pictures, etc.) from what I saw and heard on each respective side of this contentious issue.
My friends and I immediately joined the union-backing protesters in their meandering march around the four corners of the town square. I suppose I got a little taste of what it was like to be among the Joshua-led Israelites as they marched around the city walls of Jericho way back when. I don't think it is unfair to say that many in the procession would have liked to see a similar fate for Governor Walker and the Republicans inside the building.
We wanted to be “in, but not of” this crowd and see up-close-and-personal what their grievances were (and what the grieved looked like). With chants of “Don’t Drink The Tea” and “The Tea is Tainted” ringing in our ears, we proceeded to take pictures and ask questions of the people we walked with and passed by.
For all of the talk about how “angry” conservatives and Tea Party people are, I don’t think it any stretch to say that the union supporters and protesters cornered the market on mean yesterday. But, unlike the Left’s hand-wringing about the (exaggerated) demeanor of Tea Partiers over the past two years, I think the tone was appropriate. If I truly believed that the government owed me free stuff, and then I learned that the free stuff was going to be less-free, I’d be upset and vocal about it too.
We talked with a number of different people about why they had come to support the teacher unions. One was a state prosecutor who was already upset with his low-paying job (I apologize for the poor quality of the video, but I'm about as good with technology as Charlie Sheen is with staying sober):
As you can tell from the clip, the guy was cordial and well-spoken. Agree or disagree with his conclusions (or the brand of politics he supports that is itself the cause of his complaints), but this man came to Madison yesterday to protest in a civil, thoughtful way.
Later we came across a UW-Madison student with a creative sign who was also there to support the unions:
The number one reason people gave for being at the protest in support of the unions was family-related. Nearly everyone we encountered either worked for a union or had relatives that did. The prevailing sentiment among them was “This is important to me and no one’s going to convince me otherwise.”
Moving on to the Tea Party rally…
The pro-Gov. Walker crowd met on the east steps of the capitol building where a sound system had been set up and, as I said earlier, what looked to be about 10,000 people congregated. The first and most prominent thing I noticed here was just how similar-looking, in all respects, the two sides were. Certainly there were more college-age supporters in the pro-union crowd, but other than that the opposing forces were nearly identical in appearance and age.
I point this out both because it is a constant accusation from the Left that Tea Party folks are shills for Big Corporate, and because of a series of (from what I could tell) isolated exchanges I witnessed yesterday. All of them involved large men in the pro-union march screaming things like “Corporate whore” and “You’re a slut for big business” in the faces of soccer moms who were holding signs that read slogans such as “Governor Walker is doing the right thing” and “We’ve run out of others peoples’ money.”
All I will say in defense of my Tea Party peeps on that matter is this: If there was any corporate sponsorship of the event yesterday, based on the humble fashion sense and blue-collar manner about them, it could only have come from Cracker Barrel and Lands' End.
The fact that Democratic lawmakers had bolted for Illinois, and that the teachers in (predominantly) the Madison area had called in sick and not shown up for work last week, were the biggest sore points for the Tea Party speakers and attendees. One of the better lines of the day came from the podium when someone said, “Apparently cutting pork causes liberals in Wisconsin to catch a nasty bought of Swine Flu.”
The speeches given all focused on the need to support Governor Walker so that Wisconsin can get healthy and so that other Republican governors in other states can take heart in their respective stands against run-away spending and budget deficits. There were rumors in the crowd that Sarah Palin might make an appearance, but those proved untrue. However, a letter from Mrs. Palin was read aloud on her behalf by Dave Westlake (a 2010 senatorial candidate in Wisconsin) and was well-received.
My final thoughts from Madison are as follows:
- The fight for fiscal discipline is alive and well.
- It never ceases to amaze me how neighbors, living right next to each other, sending their kids to the same schools, and even attending the same churches, can have such divergent views on the role of government.
- As best we can, we need to match the Left’s activism. Not necessarily their fanaticism.
- We’d be better off as a nation if people were required to read Thomas Sowell and Paul Johnson instead of Paul Krugman and Howard Zinn in our public schools and universities. Economics and history are two of the most important, and most neglected, areas of study. This was evident even from casual conversations with those there in support of the unions.
Thanks for indulging me, Ricochet. I look forward to your comments and questions!
(I didn't write about the people handing out fake doctor's notes, but you can read all about it here).