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Thursday, March 5, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 12.0° F  Fair
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Emily's Post: An open letter to the #wiunion movement
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Credit:Emily Mills

Dear #wiunion

I headed to the Capitol Monday around 11:30 a.m. just in time to catch the firefighters, nurses, teachers, and supporters march up State Street. Former Sen. Russ Feingold showed up and was walking at the front of the procession, his mirrored aviator sunglasses reflecting the already oppressive sun.

It was sort of strange to find myself once again running around, cameras in hand, covering a protest downtown but this time drenched in sweat instead of snow. Day 113. I don't think anyone anticipated that things would go on for this long.

More than just the weather has shifted since this movement began, of course. Strategies and attitudes have definitely evolved as the struggle to push back against the almost overwhelming tide of legislative attacks on the Wisconsin Idea continues.

It's not just the attacks on public employee rights via the decimation of collective bargaining-some of which has now been extended to police and firefighters, too.

They're attacking the very constitutionality of the Open Meetings Law itself.

They're attacking sunshine in government, by doing away with a GAB program that allows the public to request a politician's financial disclosure form via email or regular mail instead forcing them to travel to Madison to pick those forms up in person. It would also likely do away with an online database of what stocks are owned by public officials.

They're attacking education in the form of $700 million in cuts statewide K-12 programs, including the "elimination of school nurses, Advanced Placement courses and extra science, technology and math classes." The budget also includes another $250 million in cuts to the UW System.

They're attacking technology and connectivity by forcing the UW System to return $37 million in federal funds meant for the extension of broadband internet access across the state. The same provision would also "prohibit UW System campuses from supporting WiscNet, a cooperative that brings high-speed Internet to most schools and libraries across the state." Read more here about why this is such a terrible idea.

They're attacking health care for women and men by gutting programs like BadgerCare and cutting off funds for crucial health services centers like Planned Parenthood, among other things.

Heck, they're even attacking our very right to vote.

I understand, then, and also feel the growing frustration of the protest movement. In the last week we've all seen that frustration on display in disruptions at Joint Finance Committee meetings, and Monday when several demonstrators were arrested variously for blocking a street, protesting at an M&I Bank branch and entering the Capitol building.

I don't for a minute blame anyone for the anger and passion they feel over these issues, nor would I dream of denigrating them for wanting to undertake more serious acts of civil disobedience.

Our Capitol has been illegally shut to us ever since a court ordered it reopened back in March. The lockdown has created numerous fire code violations, and makes public access to legislative meetings and hearings incredibly difficult.

So when several dozen protesters made it into the building Monday via a door that has otherwise been locked, it was hard to fault them for it. The police response to the breech, however, was wildly inappropriate. Jesse Russell and others took video of what happened, and Nick Nice wrote about it:

I walked in the King St. doors and just as I entered I saw a wall of about 10 or so officers running towards the entrance. They were all primarily State troopers & Capitol police, I recognized a few of them as people who had been working security the past few times I'd visited the Capitol. I sort of scooted over to the right-hand side and stopped to watch what they were going to do. As I was watching, I saw them grab a girl and violently throw her against the marble wall and arrest her... They were being so rough with her that myself and others started yelling at the cops to leave her alone. While I was trying to get some shots I asked an officer what she was being arrested for and she told me that 'she was trying to run away from them.' I couldn't believe what I was seeing just a few feet away from me. The whole scene was quite chaotic but there weren't that many people observing it. I'd say maybe a dozen to 20 people at most. One guy was so upset by it that he went right up by the officers arresting her demanding to know what was up. At this moment a female officer came up to me and told me that I had to leave the building. I told her that I had a right to be there and she had no right to remove me. She left me alone as a few seconds later a burly bald-headed cop violently grabbed the man by the neck. The officer who was talking to me joined her other officers in violently assaulting this man for no reason whatsoever. They slammed this guy so hard into the hard marble walls that I thought they were going to kill him.

Shortly after these incidents two documentary filmmakers from Vermont were arrested as well (videos at the link above). Why? Not entirely sure.

There's little excuse for the way the situation was handled by certain police Monday, but that doesn't mean it can't be understood. The massive increase in security at the Capitol over the last few months has undoubtedly put serious stress on individual officers and whole departments many of whom now face the same attacks on their rights as their fellow public employees.

DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch's stubborn refusal to return access to the building to some semblance of normalcy has resulted in that stress, along with a some $7.5 million price tag. None of it's necessary. There was no violence during the initial protests, and the only conflicts now seem to be stemming mostly from run-ins with police forces given ill-defined duties.

That said I can't condone the tactics of all protestors. There are those who would resort to interrupting and shouting down public officials and those people with whom they disagree, claiming that it's just civil disobedience and necessary to further the fight for justice.

Shouting people down is hardly civil, though. And getting dragged out of a meeting at the beginning so that there's hardly anyone left when the real meat of the issue comes up doesn't seem to me like it would do much good.

I would simply urge better organization and planning and more respect for one another, even for the people with whom you disagree. Our movement is about recognizing and defending the common good for everyone. That means we all have to rise above petty name calling, personal glory, and the kind of rude, strong-arm tactics too often employed by the very individuals whose ideas we're fighting against.

Direct, non-violent civil disobedience has long been used as an effective way to bring about change but only when it was well thought-out, concerted, and patient. The success of any major movement depends largely on winning over more middle-of-the-road folks who might not normally consider themselves terribly political.

That's what made the first few months of this so singular the diversity, the stirring up of those who don't normally get stirred. But get too riled up, overreact, and decide to say fuck 'em to everyone who maybe doesn't quite agree with or understand what you're doing, and you've lost.

We can do better than that. We have to. There's simply too much at stake.

Worth watching

Speaking of what's at stake: One prong of the protest movement the recalls of six Republican senators is under threat by a particularly insidious GOP strategy. After a secret recording surfaced of a meeting of La Crosse County Republicans revealed a plan to find spoiler candidates to run against Democrats in order to force primaries, the party has just cold come out and admitted to it. Why run these "protest" (i.e. zombie) candidates? It would turn the July 12 recall elections into Democratic primaries, for one, giving the proper Republican candidates more time to campaign and get their finances in order. It would also force the Democratic candidates to spend more of their own resources campaigning. Most importantly, however, it would likely give Republicans more time to vote through Gov. Walker's no good very bad budget.

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