There is no doubt of the seriousness of what is being protested today on the Capitol Square. "We're about to see 40 years of security gone, in less than a week," a Cherokee Middle School teacher tells me as she waits with the rest of her contingent next to the popcorn cart at East Main and South Pinckney. Nonetheless, she's smiling.
There is an undeniable feeling of uplift during the protest today that was missing yesterday.
I wouldn't have said that yesterday. Yesterday, I thought yesterday's rally was pretty stirring. The roars when the firefighters came through, the swelling cheers when the big teamster semi came and parked on Mifflin Street, the chanting -- What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! Kill the bill!
Baby, that was nothing.
Part of it is spring. The sky is blue, the snow is melting; yesterday's clouds and chilling winds have blown away. Another part of it is the sheer mass of people today. "There has to be more than 20,000 people here," I overhear, but there's no good spot to climb to, as there was on Tuesday, to judge the crowds.
While yesterday's event felt like a well attended protest located at the top of State Street, this is like coming to the Farmers' Market; it's taken over the whole area. Crowds of people are shuffling around the Square counterclockwise, both at the street side and on the ring next to the building, holding signs instead of vegetables. And there are more kids. Kids in strollers. Kids old enough to be talking on their own cell phones. A little beanpole of a girl, about in the third grade, holding an MTI sign, is talking nonchalantly to her father on her phone: "Hi Dad. When are you going to get here?" she asks urgently.
At 11 a.m. groups of teachers are meeting at prearranged spots around the Square, having organized via email and texts, Facebook and phone calls, last night; by 11:15 a.m., most have begun to march. Standing on the stone benches on the Wisconsin Avenue approach to the Capitol, a bunch of guys who really know how to yell are shouting encouragement at the circling protesters. They are without a megaphone -- and they don't need one: "YEAH, AFSCME! Workers, let's go!!! CAPITOL POLICE! That's what I'm talkin' about! UNION BROTHERS!!" They're holding signs that say "Walker is replaceable."
They are with the Local 18 AFSCME and are prison guards at Waupun. They drove to Madison for yesterday's protests, drove back to Waupun for union meetings, stayed up last night until 3 a.m. watching the testimony inside the Capitol, and drove back to Madison today.
Ardis Mahone-Mosley came from Kenosha this morning with two colleagues. She got up at 5:30 a.m. to come to Madison, but that's not an unusual hour for her to be up. She works in parent-teacher outreach, and is concerned about what type of values children are absorbing from this new, tight-fisted America. "America's starting to change," she says. "You can't kill everything. This is not an 'I' thing; it's a 'we' thing."
This thought is echoed by another teacher I talk to, from Beaver Dam: "It's like a sign I saw today said:' Governor Walker, you get an F in civics.'"
As the noon hour approaches, the wandering around the Square begins to coalesce around the King Street entrance. The mounds of snow are starting to disintegrate into mush and mud. Chants of "Kill the bill" are drowned out by music coming over the P.A. A large contingent of students from Madison East High School rush across the snow toward the King Street steps; two climb the lower branches of a tree and, with a megaphone, begin leading the chant in time to the music. "What's disgusting?" "UNION BUSTING!" The kid with the megaphone is Riley Moore, who's been at this since yesterday.
It's momentum that's in the air; power real or imagined, it's crucial to the mood. "We are unstoppable," a young woman of college age announces. "Seriously, we could storm this place and take it over."
Then "Jump Around" comes on the P.A. and the rally gets underway; if you're not right in the line of the speakers, it's hard to hear exactly what's being said: "Brothers and sisters! Monday, two thousand T.A.'s from the university came to the Capitol. Tuesday, 20,000 firefighters and teamsters and SEIU members came. Welcome to day three."