Besides, there was no riot. In fact, there wasn't a single arrest.
Somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000 protesters converged on downtown Madison Saturday to fill the Capitol Square -- and the Capitol Building -- with a determined reprise of our gatherings this past February.
The occasion was this week's launch of the signature-gathering drive to recall Governor Scott Walker, who bulldozed into office this past January with a secret agenda, heavily-funded by ultra-wealthy out-of-state corporate string-pullers.
That secret agenda has since marched forward in lock step with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that secretive organization where corporate representatives and Republican state legislators get together to write legislation to the benefit of the corporations. Then the legislators take the agreed-upon texts back to their states and we get waves of cookie-cutter efforts at:
- privatization of activities funded by tax dollars, such as education and health care -- corporate profiteers want those lovely other-people's-tax-dollars to redound to their own benefit, while paying as little as possible in taxes themselves
- consolidation of political power -- union-busting is a two-fer, as they get workers disempowered both on the job and in the political sphere. But power-grab is also at the heart of the Voter ID laws, which seek to disenfranchise groups that tend to vote Democratic: African-Americans, the poor, people with disabilities.
- rolling back environmental protections -- after all, what corporation wants to pay for that sort of stuff?
- tax cuts for the wealthy and -- of course -- corporations.
ALEC's secret database of agreed-upon cookie-cutter legislation was laid bare this summer by the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy, at the ALEC Exposed web site. The legislation templates are no longer secret -- it's no use to deny the extent to which this legislative assault on the average American (the 99%, if you well) is coming directly from the corporate string-pullers via ALEC.
I've had rather a dry spell of political writing since the summer senatorial recalls here in Wisconsin. That long, exhausting effort did not manage to change the majority in the Wisconsin State Senate, though we flipped two seats such that the Republican majority is a single vote, 17-16. The slightly-swingy nature of that single vote majority has at least curbed a few of the worst proposed excesses, but isn't enough protection against the overall Walker juggernaut.
Since the summer recalls, the Medicaid slashing that I wrote so much about in February has rolled forward toward predictable devastation. The Wisconsin budget bill set the terms -- over $500 million in cuts, to be specified later, and the the full legislature wouldn't vote on the specifics of the cuts even if they went against current law. Those cuts have now been specified and voted in by the Joint Finance Committee, along party lines of course. The proposal agreed to by the JFC is projected to result in nearly 65,000 people losing Medicaid coverage, due to things like changed eligibility or income limits, or higher premiums, or if their employer offers insurance (even if it's expensive and crappy and they can't afford it -- I'm looking at YOU, WalMart.) To go into effect, though, the plan needs to get approved for an exemption/waiver by the feds, because it falls afoul of some current federal requirements. If that approval is not forthcoming by December 31 -- an entirely arbitrary, self-imposed deadline -- they'll implement instead a plan that kicks off a different 53,000 people.
It didn't have to be this way. There was an alternate state budget proposal, called the Wisconsin Values Budget, that called for a much narrower Medicaid cut. And as an alternative to the proposal passed by the JFC, a Madison organization called ABC for Health proposed an alternative called the Pathway Plan for 2012, seeking a sustainable solution that actually expands the health-care safety net instead of devastating it.
Contrary to my initial personal fears, Joy's current services have remained largely unscathed. Her funding through the Children's Long-Term Support waiver has been frozen at current spending levels but not reduced; her Katie Beckett MA funds that cover diapers and co-pays were not cut either. The two-year freeze on enrolling new participants in the Family Care long-term care program may have an impact on her future, but whatever is up with that reality when she needs it is a long ways down the road for her.
But that doesn't mean that I had no reason to take Joy and testify at a Medicaid hearing at the Capitol the other Thursday. (The Joint Finance Committee declined to hold a public hearing, so the only option was to testify before sympathetic Democrats who aren't "in power" right now.) On the one hand, I didn't have personal testimony of impending healthcare disaster. On the other, "then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me..." In addition, I could bear witness as a member of my congregation, who have signed on as members of the Save BadgerCare Coalition (yes, we can do that -- it's issue-based, not party- or candidate-affiliated.) So I spoke my opposition, with my daughter on my lap.
And on Saturday, our whole family took to the streets with tens of thousands of our closest friends!
This was Joy's biggest rally so far. It wasn't until after the largest of the protests in February that we figured out a routine to get Joy downtown with her jogging stroller to protest and lobby. Now we're old pros, and so was she. We drove from our house right up to the edge of the rally within minutes, finding free parking just a couple of blocks off the Square! Then into the jogging stroller with Joy, and off we went, well prepared with stimmy-toys and snacks and Kleenex, along with food-drive donations ("Can" Walker!) and protest signs and camera. And warm clothes, of course. Would it be a Wisconsin protest without coat and mittens?
I had already signed the recall papers on November 15 (Day 1) for both Walker and Lt. Gov. Kleefisch -- if we don't recall them both, there's the possibility that Walker could resign before the election and Kleefisch would move up. Can't let that happen! However, JoyDad hadn't signed yet, and was looking forward to the opportunity. Lo and behold, there were signature gatherers right at the corner of the Square, so we could take care of that crucial business immediately.
Then it was off to circle the Square with the marchers, and revel in the energy and creativity. For example, we made sure to be on the State Street corner at 12:30 to catch the flashmob dance to "Forget You" (I see you causin' lots of trouble in the state I love, and I'm like, FORGET YOU!)
Then there were the signs, from the familiar...
to the artistic ...
... to the potty-humor!
My sign had two sides. I've gotten so experienced at hand-lettering, I don't even need to draft in pencil anymore!
And then there was Rose's sign:
Joy didn't carry a sign, but she did carry the whole event off with class. The entire hour and a half we were out there, she rode uncomplainingly, playing with Mardi Gras beads or pine needles and observing all the ruckus. The few times she tried to reach for someone's long hair or beaded fringe, folks were gracious.
The highlight of the event for Joy was encountering one of her favorite school staffers, along with two of last year's staff. You should have seen her face light up! And then she wanted to go right into playing some of their favorite games. Just a delight to see Joy welcome someone out of context and bring the context right along for the ride.
Overall, it was a remarkably satisfying event. And when we got home, we learned there'd been an announcement at the rally: from Tuesday to Friday, 105,000 recall signatures had been turned in, out of the 540-some thousand needed (though we'll be collecting 700,000 or more to have a cushion.) That's in just four days of the 60-day window, and that's without a weekend!
I think we're going to make this recall happen, and I can hardly wait. Recall Walker!