Rallying Around the Capitol
I got there about 15 minutes before both the rally and counter-rally were scheduled to start. It really felt like a big event, with all the TV cameras and elected officials milling about. There were hundreds of people there - the anti-taxers on the sidewalk in front of the East Wing, with the union demonstrators held back by police tape. Hundreds of union folks were all decked out in their green t-shirts, identifying them as AFSCME members. Union members flooded the Capitol square in their pickup trucks, driving around the loop honking their horns and blowing air horns in order to drown out the speakers (I fully expect the ACLU to intervene to protect AFP's free speech rights.) Apparently the joke going around the Capitol before the demonstrations started was "looks like the government shutdown started already."
In fact, most of the union crowd was from local government - firefighters, cops, etc. All decked out in their work uniforms, of course. Let's just say it would be a bad day to be a kitten in a tree in Greendale today - Buttons better pack a lunch. As a side note, most of their state funding comes from the shared revenue program - which Governor Doyle froze in his most recent "compromise" budget. I eagerly anticipate the union anti-Doyle rally forthcoming. I think that's scheduled on the same day that Michael Vick is elected president of PETA.
I walked around both sides of the crowd, just people watching. I spotted a news reporter of whom I had been critical in a WPRI post last week, and I felt kind of bad. (Would I have felt bad if she was a man? See the end of this post for the answer!)
I spotted some friends of mine and stopped to chat. Of course, these guys were all wearing ties. As you may know, wearing a tie at a union rally is like wearing a Boy Scout uniform at Neverland Ranch. You're immediately a target. So these guys had some insults hurled their way, since everyone assumed them to be Republicans.
When the speakers started, I wedged my way up to the front left part of the stage, outside the ropes. It looked too cramped in the anti-tax crowd, so I just laid back in pro-union territory. A woman came up to me and said "can I make this real for you?" I was hoping she had drugs, but I wasn't that lucky. She started in on her medical problems, how Wisconsin Republicans are trying to repeal the Family and Medical Leave Act, and on and on. Never mind that FMLA is a federal law - what really mattered was that this lumpy guy in the sweater vest was going to hear her damn story, whether he liked it or not.
It wasn't until Owen Robinson started speaking that the union-led "BULLSHIT" chant really got going. And you wonder how stereotypes get started. I guarantee that at no point anyone thought to chant "we beg to differ!" or "your facts are in dispute!" No, they had to go low. As P.J. O'Rourke once said, "freedom of speech is their own punishment."
The most puzzling chant I heard from the pro-tax crowd was "DO YOUR JOB!" Naturally, this was in reference to lawmakers having to pass a budget. Yet none of the speakers on stage was a legislator. They started chanting it when Reince Priebus, chair of the state Republican Party, was speaking. Actually, I'm pretty sure Reince was doing exactly what his job entails at that very point. So it's good that he took their advice.
Someone walked by me with the sign: "BUSH AND HUEBSCH: GASSHOLES." (Brian Fraley has a picture here.) You are free to come to your own conclusion about how such a sign was formulated, and the self-gratification felt when it was finally completed. Probably much like when Louis Pasteur invented the first rabies vaccine.
The speakers were difficult to hear, but I stuck around to hear Vicki McKenna - knowing she would be unnecessarily provocative. Sure enough, she started out by firing directly at the union crowd - suggesting that they should be thanking the taxpayers for paying them to protest today. Sure, her facts may have been a little "loose," but she achieved her intended effect, which was to jab a fork in the eye of the counter-protestors. As noted Gasshole George Bush said, "Mission Accomplished."
After the rally ended and the cameras left, protestors of both sides were left to mill around. Some union folks climbed up on to the stage to have a smoke - which left the ironic image of green-shirted union activists standing in front of a 10-foot high sign that said "NO NEW TAXES."
(Note that many of the messages in this summary are in all caps - needless to say, protests aren't necessarily warm to nuance.)
As I was leaving, I noticed one of my friends having a discussion with a female union member. The two women were discussing whether an unflattering picture had been taken of her by my buddy. The union woman was discussing the need to be civil and fair. Oh, and she was wearing a button with a picture of Mike Huebsch that said "AND YOU THOUGHT JOHN GARD WAS AN ASSHOLE."
Upon reflection, I really thought it was a great event. I'm a big fan of political theater, and there was plenty of it. Despite some of the questionable tactics of the union folks to shout down the speakers, I really don't mind bare-knuckle politics. I enjoy a good fight - and there it was, for everyone to see. Naturally, the people whose paychecks are dependent on increased taxation were vocal, as they think their jobs are on the line. They will always be more strident than taxpayers, who are more diluted as a group. But this was an old-fashioned confrontation - something I'd like to see more of in the future.