Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Activism returned to Madison, WI, on Thursday as 13 protesters ended up being arrested after refusing to leave the capitol building after another demonstration against Governor Scott Walker.
They were charged with unlawful assembly, and some also were charged with resisting arrest and obstructing an officer, said Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs.
“There is a difference between being nice and docile, between being nonviolent and being used,” said Damon, one of the protesters who was arrested.
“This is the people standing up saying, ‘We’re not going to take it anymore,’ ” said one woman who was also arrested.
“Are you going to sit there and wave signs, or are you going to do something that makes a difference?” said another person before being arrested.
The arrests occurred after about 1,000 people massed in front of the capitol at 5:00 p.m. to protest the fact that Walker’s cuts in take-home pay were actually taking effect today.
Bill Franks, a senior steward for AFT-Wisconsin, told those in the crowd to back their unions.
“We’re going to redemocratize Wisconsin,” Franks said, to loud applause. “The dogs of recall are on the governor’s tail. I say it’s time to release the hounds.”
Labor troubadour Anne Feeney, bald from her fight with cancer, gamely led the crowd in her signature song, “War on the Workers.” She told the crowd: “The world is watching you, Wisconsin. It’s time to send Scott Walker packing and give Wisconsin back to the people.”
Angenette Wilder, secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 538 at Oscar Mayer, told me her union, even though it’s in the private sector and not directly affected by Walker’s cuts, has solidly backed the public sector workers.
“We’ve been here since day one,” said Wilder. “Walker made a calculated decision. He thought we wouldn’t fight together. But we did.”
Shortly before 6:00 p.m., most of the crowd—about 650 people—walked into the capitol and gathered in the rotunda.
People chanted: “This is what democracy looks like,” and “Whose house? Our house,” and “How do you fix the deficit? Tax, tax, tax the rich,” and “Union Power!” and “United we stand, united we fall, an injury to one is an injury to all” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Scott Walker has got to go.”
Feeney led the crowd in a rousing rendition of “Solidarity Forever.”
Chief Tubbs urged the protest leaders to tell the crowd to leave before he would have to make arrests because, under Walker’s administration, the capitol now closes at 6:00 p.m.
“Please don’t ruin what you guys have done,” Tubbs said.
The protesters then discussed whether to stay or go.
Ultimately, 12 adults and one minor decided to stay.
Tubbs and other capitol police and state troopers asked them several more times to leave on their accord, as did a police officer twice over the Intercom, but they refused.
“Attention please,” the voice on the Intercom said. “The capitol is now closed. We ask you to leave at the nearest exit. Thank you for visiting the state capitol.”
Chief Tubbs pleaded with the protesters one final time.
“I’m asking you, as nice as I can, please leave,” he said.
And one of the protesters, sitting down in a circle in the rotunda, responded: “We’re saying, as nice as we can, no.”
The remaining protesters started to sing songs, including “Have you been to jail for justice? Then you’re a friend of mine.” They also sang a few bars of “What a Wonderful World” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
Thi Le, one of the thirteen, called the officers “shameful” for what they were doing. “It’s disgusting,” she said.
Starting around 7:00 p.m., officers started making arrests one at a time. A few of the demonstrators stood up and walked with the officers out of the rotunda. Most went limp and had to be dragged out.
“We had the numbers,” Damon said shortly before being carried away. “But now we don’t.” Still, he said it was important for a few of them at least to get arrested. “There is the option of saying no,” he explained. “The only options aren’t the ones that are socially acceptable.”
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "NYPD and CIA Need to Be Investigated."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter