An Essay: Madison,Wisconsin then and Now
This photo is not from Iran, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia or Egypt:
On the afternoon of October 18, 1967, my brother Steve and I with about 30 other students crammed into a bathroom off the main corridor of the University of Wisconsin’s Commerce Building. We did so to avoid being clubbed by police who had entered the building to clear out protestors who had come to demonstrate against Dow Chemical’s on-campus recruiting efforts. Dow manufactured napalm, one of the cruelest weapons ever developed, a jellied form of gasoline that adheres to the skin burning and often killing its victims. Napalm was being dropped onto Vietnamese villages (presumably controlled by Viet Cong) by American and S. Vietnamese war planes. (See movie clip, discretion advised).
The photograph to the left shows the hallway as we entered the bathroom (it was a woman’s rest room). When a policeman with raised billy club came into the bathroom, we assured him we would leave peacefully. Fortunately, he allowed us to do so. I will never forget what I saw as we left the building – police were kneeling over and beating students lying on the ground – nor will I forget the sharp cracking sound of a police club when wacked against someone’s skull.
News of what was happening quickly spread across the campus and tens of thousands of students came and witnessed the brutality of the police against their fellow students. Spontaneously, the crowd with arms extended in the Nazi salute shouted “Sieg Heil” at the police. Before the Dow Demonstration, the students were divided in their opinions of the Vietnam War. However, this event in a single day “radicalized” the student body. Tens of thousands of students got a taste of America that they never knew existed. The war had come home.
The event left me deeply distraught, enough so that I downed a pint of whiskey that night. Longer term, it propelled me to become more active in the anti-war movement on campus and beyond. The Dow Demonstration also deepened my understanding about the willingness of authorities to use brute force to quell challenges to their power. But most importantly brought to me an enduring realization about the the human spirit; it’s indefatigable. When those in power overstep their bounds, citizens will arise to reclaim their rights, their economic well being and their dignity.
This is exactly what is happening now 42 years later in Madison, Wisconsin where Governor Scott Walker and Republican legislatures (with majorities in both houses) have put legislation that would remove the collective bargaining rights of public workers. The response by workers, students and many others has been inspiring. Tens of thousands have flooded the Capitol building in Madison for more than a week. Three cheers for the state’s 12 Democratic Senators who have left the state to prevent a quorum and vote on the bill. Walker (who like Qaddafi and Mubarak before him) says he won’t budge. However his claims that stripping bargaining rights is necessary to cut the state’s budget deficit is at best disingenuous — the state’s education unions have agreed to accept generous concessions (give backs) so long as Scott is willing to come to the bargaining table — rather than smash it.
My friends Wendy Miller and Gary Wood are faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where I was an associate professor during the 1970’s. Along with other Parkside faculty they traveled to Madison to join yesterday’s protests. They called by cell phone to provide a close up report on the demonstration which was massive despite freezing rain, snow and bitter cold. They report that both the area around the Capitol Building and the Capitol’s rotunda were jammed with protesters carry signs for teachers unions. They report that hundreds of firefighters, policemen and non-public sector workers joined the rally even though they are exempt from the bill’s draconian measures. The fire fighters marched in with their traditional bagpipers. Rather than billy clubs, the police carried signs, “Cops for Labor. Our conversation was interrupted several time with loud cheers and chants, “kill the bill,” “Ho, Ho, Ho Scott’s got to go.” Wendy also described a demonstration held at the Parkside campus by faculty and students and similar events at other campuses. It does my heart good.
The best of all: A beautiful musical collage of videos by 23 year old Matthew Wisniewski, an award-winning photographer and media specialist. (It’s gone viral).
It’s not just Wisconsin: Tea-Party allied Republicans are attempting to do the same in other states. In Ohio, newly elected Governor John Kasich and GOP legislators are pushing a similar bill would weaken the collective-bargaining law enacted in Ohio in 1983, by abolishing collective bargaining for state-level employees and curtailing the items for which local government and school-district unions can bargain. Today in Columbus more than 10,000 people assembled to protest “Bill No. 5.” (See Democracy Now’s Newscast Feb 22). Passage of these bills will not only hurt workers but will have a devastating effect on education. The message to teachers, students and parents is clear, “you don’t count.”
And guess who is funding the union busters? Find out here.