Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Backward Walker in Forward Janesville

Solidarity flag waves at the Janesville Protest of Scott Walker. Photo by Craig Gibeaut
I would have posted this last night but since I was among the very last of the people to go home, I was too exhausted to put words together in a coherent fashion. My throat is pretty much still thrashed, my feet and back are sore from at least five hours of standing, but to be honest it's the best kind of sore to be in my opinion. I wouldn't trade these minor inconveniences for the world.

While many people were in Madison's Rotundaville exercising their First Amendment Right to Free Speech, we were in Janesville fighting a different fight. After weeks of dwindling numbers, thanks to the citations given to Jeremy Ryan of Defending Wisconsin PAC and Dane County Supervisor Melissa Sargent for refusal to remove protest signs from the first floor of the Capitol Building (Melissa was cited when her children refused to remove their sign) (see that video here) the Capitol is filling once again. Despite citations given to protesters over the last week for violating Department of Administration code, the Capitol Police did not issue a single citation to the protesters in the building yesterday. Here is a picture of that turn out.

Protesters at the Capitol Building carry signs and wear shirts to defend their First Amendment Right to Free Speech. Photo by Michael Dee.

I think that the best part of being in Janesville last night was the turn out. I was surprised only because when I went to the Holiday Inn in 2004 to protest President George Bush's speech about Education, the crowd was not this large. People from all over Wisconsin descended on the Forward Janesville event in order to protest Scott Walker. A head count at about 5:00 pm came out to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 people, while the Janesville Gazette estimates around 800 and later changes the number to "over 1000". According to Mike Southers, a Janesville resident and one of the creators of the event, "I arrived at 3:45 PM, and at 5:00 PM, I walked from one end of the rally to the other counting heads and counted 1,532 (no, I didn't count babies being carried or in strollers)." Parking spaces at four pm were at a premium (I walked almost a mile from my car to the event) so many people were just driving by, hanging or waving signs out of their cars and honking their horns in support.


There were crowds of protesters gathered in groups around each of the entrances to the Holiday Inn parking lot. Chants were different from group to group but one thing is certain, all of those gathered would like to see Scott Walker recalled and most if not all plan to vote for JoAnne Kloppenburg on the 5th of April.

Protesters near the Batteries Plus entrance to the Holiday Inn. Photo by Merry Evans
Another picture by the Batteries Plus entrance. Photo by Julee Seeman
Protesters line the street from the stop sign at the corner all the way to the last Holiday Inn entrance.
The crowd that stayed at the entrance that all the guests arrived at. Police were checking each vehicle for tickets to get inside the building.
Guests of the Forward Janesville event were arriving up until around 6:30 pm when the protesters outside started to dwindle due to the temperature drop but many waited to see when Governor Walker would arrive. Due to Walker running late, guests inside were running out of things to say at the microphone so Theresa Carroll got up and sang the Star Spangled Banner (see the video here). A friend of mine who was at the event (and wished to remain anonymous) took a picture at around 7 pm of the guests that had been near the Batteries Plus entrance who stayed to make their message heard. From what I understand, they had been farther back, but Attorney Tod Daniels of Janesville argued that the line the police had drawn was still keeping them from public property so a new line was created to allow the protesters closer access while remaining on public property. Here is that group.

Photo from inside the Holiday Inn. Photo by Anonymous.
When Walker finally arrived (at the farthest parking lot entrance with the fewest people at it... coward) to speak, Janesville City Councilperson Yuri Rashkin decided to make a stand and walked out to join the protesters outside. If you would like to know why he walked out, I think he said it best on the Defend Wisconsin Blog.  (UPDATE!) Yuri Rashkin received and email from fellow Councilmember Frank Perroto (running for re-elect April 5th) stating that he should "apologize to the citizens of Janesville" for his behavior. Read the whole email here.

From what I understand, the representatives from Dean Care also walked out but they did not join the group of protesters that I was standing with, and because I can't find confirmation of this anywhere, it remains hearsay until further notice. 

My friend inside the building said that the main theme of the event was about improving the business climate in Janesville. He reports, "The whole event was geared around supporting the Forward Janesville and Rock County 5.0 initiatives, which are basically to attract businesses to relocate to the area. There were a few protester jokes by the first couple speakers, but nothing nasty. None of the event was about unions or the budget repair bill." He also sad that there had been rumors that a few protesters had gotten rooms at the hotel and had planned to pull fire alarms when the event started, but that nothing ever came of it. He said that the hotel had posted signs on the fire alarms to alert hotel guests that the fire alarms were being video taped. According to him, Walker also gave props to Senator Tim Cullen. I assume this is an attempt to bridge the gap between the parties, but who really knows the motive for it but Walker. Perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he really meant it.

My friend went on to report, "Once the Governor began to speak, he acknowledged the representatives from the area and gave them accolades for their bipartisan support on most of the initiatives that have been passed since the inauguration. This was the only reference made towards the budget repair bill. He mentioned how supportive Tim Cullen was more than once, obviously trying to bridge the gap. The meat of the content was on how the Governor has a plan to attract business to the state, supplying jobs and increasing revenue by doing so. One thing that I found surprising that I did not know, and that the media has not reported, is that Moody's has raised the states bond rating due to the fiscal policies that have so far been implemented, We are now one of the few states with a positive bond rating. Not only does this lower the interest rates the state pays on it's municipal bonds, but it sends the message to the business community that Wisconsin is one of the few states with a stable financial future." I suppose that you can take from that what you'd like, but I am very thankful to have had someone on the inside who is intelligent and can report on events well.

Okay, so I have some gripes about the event (and I wouldn't be me if I didn't). 

Firstly, I really didn't like the protesters chanting "Shame!" at the guests arriving at the event. For their part (well, for some of them at least), they have no political ties to Walker, and they were only there representing their businesses. (This is why my source inside decided to remain anonymous.) That's not to say that some of them weren't there in full support, but they are entitled to that opinion even if I disagree with it. I did, however, yell "Shame!" at the few guests who gave us the middle finger or shouted at us from their vehicles. There's no need to give me the finger, I didn't do anything to you. I don't think that this event should spark a boycott on Janesville businesses, that they should feel shame for attending. It was taking our business elsewhere that got Janesville into the crisis it's in now. The guests arriving in their shiny Range Rovers, Escalades, and Humvee's make me sick (that is not an exaggeration, they really did have those vehicles) only because they don't appear to understand the day to day struggle that the rest of us have to make just to get gas into our piece of crap cars. Maybe they think that the tinted windows hide them from the outside world, that if the tint is dark enough they don't have to look at what is right there for them to see. 

Secondly, I feel like more people should have walked out on Walker. I would have. Vivian from the Defend Wisconsin wrote a wonderful piece pleading with guests of the event to get up and walk out on Walker titled, "Dear Heroes at Forward Janesville". I agree with so much of what she said, but what she left out was that the decision wasn't going to be an easy one for some people. Also, there were people who loathe Scott Walker who stayed merely to shame him by remaining seated and not clapping. That was their choice. I don't agree with the people who decided to stay, but that's only my opinion. Each person must decide how much they are willing to do for their part in this, and force from our side isn't going to help matters. Yelling "Shame!" at them only makes US look bad. Why should they turn on a crowd of 700 who welcomed them to an event with drinks and dinner for 1500 who welcomed them with chants of "Shame!" We need to remember that some of these businesses support us, that they only stayed so they didn't have to make life harder for themselves among the business community. Again, I don't agree with that, but it's not my decision to make. We could all take a walk in their shoes, but then we'd be a mile away in ill-fitting shoes. What we need to have instead of ill-fitting shoes is perspective, and not just our own. 

As the event came to a close, protesters were down in the single digits and I was among the few standing at the barricade waving them off. I thanked them for attending. I thanked them for supporting the man responsible for the rape of my Badgercare. I thanked them for supporting the man responsible for my climbing school loans, the cut to my Pell grants, the cut to my daughters' educations... it's not their fault, I know. They didn't do it. They didn't walk out either. 

Thank you to my fellow Wisconsinites (both present and former) for coming out last night. We are all democracy in action and what we do matters... even if that means supporting the other side of the aisle. 

For more photos, please click here.

1 comment:

  1. Good to meet you last night and stand in the cold with you until the end.