Erixon is a sophomore rhetoric and communication studies major and can be contacted at email@example.com
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.