The sneak attack by Wisconsin Senate Republicans on Wednesday in ramming through the elimination of meaningful collective bargaining has not dampened the spirits of protesters at the capital.

A crowd of about 15,000 surrounded the capital and chanted various slogans. "Kill the Bill" was a common one.

So was: "What's disgusting? Union Busting!"

So was "Shame."

So was "Let Us In!" (The capitol police only let one person in at a time when hundreds and hundreds were standing in line -- this despite a court order that required free access.)

Other people held signs that said, "Time for a General Strike."

Some people had made about 25 snowmen out of the heavy five inches we got yesterday. The snowmen held signs. One had the word "plutocracy" on it, with a line through it. Another said, "Don't Take Our Rights."

While I was walking up to the protest, I met a man carrying a vintage banner with the word "Solidarnosc!" on it -- the emblem of the workers' uprising in Poland in the early 1980s.

The man's name is Kazimierz Madej. He's 55, and an unemployed salesperson from Brookfield. He was a Polish coal miner and a member of Solidarity.

"It's the same fight," he says. "You've got to defend workers' rights."

The lessons of the Polish Solidarity movement are simple, he says: "If we're united, we win. If we're nonviolent, we win. And we'll win here."

He's surprised by the attacks on union rights in America. "I thought I was coming to freedom when I arrived here in 1984," he says.

I also met Sadie Coughlin-Prego, 17, who held a sign that said, "I immigrated here to be free from illegal acts." She came from Nicaragua "for a better education and a better lifestyle," she says. But the goon squad tactics of Walker and the Republicans shocked her and reminded her of Nicaraguan politics.

"When the collective bargaining bill was passed, it was illegal," she says. "Walker thinks he can dictate this. I didn't think this illegal stuff would happen in America. I didn't think they could do that here."

Tatiana Katara, 42, of Muscoda, Wis., held a sign that said, "Without BadgerCare, My Baby and I Would Be Dead." She was carrying 4-month-old Quinn.

"I'm a low-income mom, an artist," she says. "With Quinn, I was in labor 14 and a half hours, and the cord was wrapped around his neck twice. He was in fetal distress. They gave me some Pitocin to speed things along. But when I birthed, I retained two pieces of placenta, and my body tried to bleed them out. I was within two minutes of bleeding to death. I got three blood transfusions, all paid by BadgerCare."

Walker's budget would cut Badgercare. Katara says if she didn't have it, "I would have given birth at home, and we'd both be dead."

She came to the rally, she says, "because I want my children to experience freedom and democracy, but I worry it'll be gone. I also want them to have health care and a quality education. That's all at risk now."

Theola Carter is in her 40s (she wouldn't give her exact age, saying, "I'm the same age as my tongue, and a little older than my teeth"). She says Walker and the Republicans "are not representative. They have a disconnect with the people." The passage of the Senate bill crushing collective bargaining was "a cowardly act," she says.

An African American and the chairperson of Madison's Affirmative Action Commission, Carter stresses how crucial the issues at hand are. "Freedom is important," she says. We're not going to be slaves, she added: "No, no, no, not again."

Nia Trammell, chair of the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission, who is in her 30s, adds another point. "We're not only here as proud public employees," she says. "We also see a disenfranchisement of people of color, the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. We see years and years of civil rights being rolled back in a month without a proper process." (Both Trammell and Carter were speaking strictly in their individual capacities, they hastened to add.)

Bob Buss, 55, held a sign that said: "Non-Union, Private Sector, Middle Class, Thanks the Unions for My Wages. I Stand with You." He works at a Walgreen's distribution center. "This whole thing is just one big assault on the middle class, not just unions," he says. "We have what we have as middle class people because of unions: the 8 hour day, breaks during the day, benefits, weekends."

His fellow workers at the distribution center are split on this issue, he acknowledges. "Some just don't understand," he says. "They refuse to acknowledge that."

As I was leaving, I saw a group of Boilermakers chanting loudly: "Hey, Ho, Hey, Ho, Scottie Walker is a corporate Ho."

Meanwhile, people were planning for larger rallies in the hours and days ahead.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Scott Walker Believes He's Following Orders from the Lord."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.


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What's more worrying are those who undermine people with disabilities from behind a veneer of politeness.

It will be good to put all this uncivil discourse behind us.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

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