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Sunday, December 28, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  A Few Clouds
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The myth of outsiders at the Wisconsin Capitol protests
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I was happy to see an article in the La Crosse Tribune on Sunday about Mike Huebsch who, as secretary of the Department of Administartion, is arguably our state's second-in-command. I'm surprised that I didn't know him better than I do, as he has quite a long record of service to the State of Wisconsin. Humanizing the figureheads of what is turning into a truly epic battle is good for everyone wanting to help our state solve its problems.

I want to speak to a specific couple of sentences in the article:

The Capitol was fairly quiet, a sharp contrast to the days in February and March when it hosted rallies against the budget adjustment bill. A small group of labor supporters from Illinois was gathered in the rotunda. Strains of "We Shall Overcome" echo off the granite walls."

I am getting so tired of this myth, perpetrated by both the left and the right, of "outsiders" driving the demonstrations. With rare exception, it's Wisconsinites on both sides who have shown up at the Capitol over the last few months.

I'm a Dane County native and a small business owner (Nattspil, 211 King Street) who has been at the Capitol on my lunch break every weekday for the past seven weeks from 12-1 p.m. singing with the Solidarity Sing Along in the rotunda (sometimes outside if there are scheduling conflicts with other groups). Although the makeup of the group changes from day to day, it's made up of people I know who live/work in downtown Madison. On occasion, someone will show up during our singing and introduce themselves as from one state or another and tell us of their support. There has never been a day when the group has been made up of more than one or two out-of-state visitors; no more than would be randomly expected on any day visiting our Capitol.

I'm certain that the reporter arrived very near noon as "We Shall Overcome" is the first song in our songbook, and our numbers don't really swell to our usual 50-75 (sometimes twice as big as that) until after 12:30 or so, as many workers' breaks don't occur until right at noon and it takes a bit to get up to the Capitol and through the ongoing security scans. It may indeed be true that the way to a person's heart is through their stomach, but many of us who sing fervently believe that the way to a person's soul is through music. Sen. Glenn Grothman is often seen by us quietly listening from the 3rd floor. One can only hope. We are not thugs. We are singers, singing for the lives of all Wisconsinites.

In the past week, I witnessed two incidents that I think illustrate the problem of this false idea that many of the Capitol protesters are from other states. At just before noon one day, a chant of "Whose House? -- Our House!" was shouted by about ten people. A gentleman in a group visiting from Eagle River said, "It's my house, too! I'm 68 years old and I've lived here all my life!" Although not directly stated, it was clear from this man's demeanor and the following debate that he "knew" that all the protesters were outside agitators (which of course, like every day, wasn't the case).

Last Saturday, I read on some liberal blogs that all the Tea Party/Americans for Prosperity/Sarah Palin rally attendees on the right were "bused-in" agitators. I was on the Capitol Square for the rally and I observed protestor after protestor from either side backing up comments with "Well, I'm from Wisconsin…(unlike you)" and smirking comments of, "So where did you drive in from? Was it a long drive?" Green Bay Packers jerseys, Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirts and blaze orange hunting attire screamed the origins of the protesters on both sides of these conversations everywhere you looked.

My business is only a block and a half off the Capitol Square, so I've been at the Capitol as much or more than anyone over the past 3 months. I engage peacefully with people on both sides of the political spectrum daily.

They're all Wisconsinites.

Admittedly, I have a strong dislike and feel anger about the beliefs of those on the other side and would like to have a simple answer as to why they seem so crazy. But it is not because they are wackos brought in from other states. It's a convenient argument, but it doesn't fit the facts at all. The people I've seen on the Capitol grounds are almost all local, concerned Wisconsin citizens from all walks of life.

The La Crosse Tribune article reported that the small group of singers encountered by the reporter and Mike Huebsch that day were from Illinois, which wasn't the case. This only feeds into the "statist" sentiment, which colors the story in a way that discounts these committed demonstrators as "outsiders."

I encourage reporters to keep digging for the real questions and the real answers to the dilemma facing Wisconsin. It's so important to both our own and our children's futures and we really shouldn't accept any less from ourselves.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Solidarity Sing Along (7-plus weeks and still going strong every Monday through Friday, noon - 1 p.m.) can search for the group on Facebook.

Prentice Berge owns Natt Spil, a bar and restaurant on King Street in downtown Madison. He wrote the above piece originally as a letter to the editor and on Facebook. He allowed Isthmus to re-publish it, with some editing.

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