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Braving the front line of Wisconsin protest

Erixon is a sophomore rhetoric and communication studies major and can be contacted at william.erixon@drake.edu

It’s a brave new world we live in. The political landscape is being defined more and more by the radical fringes of our discourse and the moderating influences that once helped us achieve peace and progress are being shoved out by political purists and ideologues. This is not news, it has been reported on and discussed at length in newspapers and on cable. It’s just a fact of life. Or at least it was.

On February 25 and 26, my friend Sean Conard and I traveled for nearly 10 hours and crossed over 600 miles to join the protests in Madison, Wis. When I arrived, I was completely blown away. The city was so full of energy and spirit I was almost overwhelmed. As we took the bus from where I parked my car to the capitol, our arms full of bags and blankets we had brought in order to sleep in the capitol, handfuls of  complete strangers expressed their encouragement and gratitude. They thanked us for just showing up. It was a powerful experience to say the least.

The scene at the capitol itself was indescribably beautiful. The halls were filled with signs, letters and music as we walked past people sleeping on backpacks and coats on our way to our makeshift camp in a corner on the second floor. We joined the protest as soon as we could, and it was nothing like what we expected.

The leaders, if they could even be called that, shouted to the crowd “tell us what democracy looks like!” and the entire building shook as they replied, “this is what democracy looks like.” And they were right.

The organizers who were in control of the microphone repeatedly emphasized that it was “the people’s microphone” and encouraged members of the crowd to come forward and share their stories. Hundreds of people, including both of us, did just that and we heard from teachers and students, public employees and small business owners, people from the heart of Madison and some from as far as California and Ireland.

What struck me the most was how truly peaceful and calm the protest really was. Tens of thousands of people had come to protest a truly horrible bill and most of them had every reason to be full of rage and anger, and yet there was very little of that at all, in fact there was almost a reverence for what was going on.

I felt it the most during one of the union processions when a group of firefighters with bagpipes stopped right in the heart of the protest and began playing “Amazing Grace.” The entire building grew quite as their music filled the capitol. I was standing just feet away from them as they played and saw many protesters around me begin to swell up with tears as the song moved them.

This protest was filled with love; these people were not out here to greedily protect their pensions and benefits, they were here to make sure that they never lost their right to speak up and be heard. I was down there with them for a good seven hours on Saturday, and by the time I left, my voice was gone and I could barely stand, and yet as I left there were people who had been there when I arrived and were still there as I was leaving, some of them in their 50s, 60s or 70s. As Sean and I walked back to our bags, they stopped us just to say thank you.

This, I hope, is where the future of American politics lies. Regular, working class heroes who don’t see government as the obstacle of freedom or the tool with which to pursue an ideological agenda, but instead see it as a force to do good, a place where reasonable people can come together and find a solution to any problem with out creating class warfare or cultural divisions.

One of the most moving things that I witnessed during my time in Madison was on early Saturday afternoon when an organizer named Bill got on the microphone and asked if there was anyone in the crowd with a decent singing voice who could lead the crowd in the national anthem. As we looked around for someone to raise our hand a man on the second floor balcony just started singing, and the whole building joined in. Cops and firemen, teachers and truck drivers, young college students and elderly retired workers, all united in their belief in fair government, workers rights and a love for America. These brave patriots were there not because they were angry, not because they were greedy, but because they believed that Wisconsin could do better, and that it could eventually be better, and it is that kind of faith is something I would like to see more of in this country.



  1. Joel Gordon March 2, 2011

    Thanks for making the trek and bravo on a moving and well written description of this history making event.

  2. Basia March 2, 2011

    Thank you! Thank you for being a part of this with us – in solidarity! I hope to spread your blog around…I know it will be a source of comfort for many of us.

  3. JuliL March 3, 2011

    Thank you so very much for this …I am so glad to hear something from someone, first hand. While I can’t be there, I am there in spirit! I have sent pizza, and “Ian’s” told me they have received orders from all over the world, imagine that!!! I hope as the days go on, peaceful protests can and will continue. We ALL have a voice, and a VOTE! I am sure we will be looking at record voter turn out for the next election. It’s shocking to me, that the doors remain locked. Sad to think big corps., banks, wall street, etc…are responsible for this economic disaster, and “We The People” are expected to shoulder the burden. We, as Americans, MUST remain steadfast, and believe in the TRUTH. We’ve ALL turned our hearts and heads toward Wisconsin….because it’s coming to our State soon. We can almost feel it creeping across this great Country…we can feel it, hear it, see it…we are simply bracing for the blow . SIGH!!! Thank you again, for putting your readers smack dab in the middle of history! (I think you are a gifted writer!) Your welcome!!!

  4. Joe Thielen March 3, 2011

    This is awesome. Thank you so much for coming to our state and helping us retain our voice.

  5. charles odell March 3, 2011

    Great column. This fellow will go far.

  6. Peaches March 3, 2011

    I was there, I stood shoulder to shoulder with the most diverse group on the main floor of the rotunda, looking up at the beautiful dome and the scene around me, I could feel the drums and the energy of the people and I was moved. One of the people in our group of teachers was a long time hard line republican teacher. This wonderful woman was yelling “this is what democracy looks like” fist in the air and I watched the passion that filled the halls change her. I know that this awful attempt to grab power and money is changing the hearts and will awaken a giant movement. If you haven’t been there in support you need to go. I will restore your faith in humanity.

  7. Rush Beck March 5, 2011

    I am an a retired old codgers in my 60’s who has never been in a union in my life. I support the protest in Madison with all my being. May the Wisconsin 14 stay in Illinois until hell freezes over to defeat this legislative despotism.

    I live in Illinois. They are welcome to stay in my house any time.

    Without the union movement we would not have a middle-class like the one we know it today. The history and sacrifices of the union movement and what the movement has done for our country is an almost forgotten tale. On Wisconsin.

    Thank you Casey for your witness.

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