In the cold and ice, a crowd to rival the attendance at last Thursday's noon rally came out to hear protest songs and national union leaders speak on the steps of the State Street side of the Capitol. The mood was one of remarkable good cheer. A couple of boys about ten years old tossed a football back and forth on the icy lawn across from the Wisconsin Historical Society Museum, while on the Mifflin Street lawn, younger kids were sliding down the hill on green cardboard "It's about freedom" AFSCME signs.
Pro-Walker sentiment was not much in evidence, although there was a photocopied sign taped up in one of the ground floor Capitol offices supporting the bill.
The crowd got warmed up -- metaphorically only -- with Chicago protest singer Tim McIlrath of the group Rise Against, who played "Ohio" and "Who Will Stop the Rain?" in between dropping a few unnecessary F-bombs (this will doubtless become known as the salty speech rally, as there were more to come) before introducing Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. Morello declared that history was being made in Madison, Wisconsin, before "dropping a fighting song" on our "collective ass." Okey-dokey.
Morello announced he and McIlrath would be playing a free concert tonight at Monona Terrace, doors open at 6 p.m., concert at 7 p.m. "Guerrilla Radio" and "This Land Is Your Land" followed, and Morello asked the crowd to sing along to the Woody Guthrie classic, loud enough "so that they can hear us in Cairo."
The speakers reiterated many of the same messages conveyed before. President of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, Phil Neuenfeldt, told the crowd that the issue is worker's rights, that the elimination of collective bargaining contained in the budget repair bill has nothing to do with the budget. John Sylvester ("Sly in the Morning ") then took the mic, speaking about his parents, a school teacher and a public employee, and getting the loudest cheers when he commented on Governor Walker's "Eagle scoutishness" and suggested that "You don't earn a merit badge by busting unions."
United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard spoke next. More with the spicy language, here, although Gerard apologized for it in advance. He noted that the five states that "ban unions" are ranked lowest in ACT/SAT rankings: South Carolina (50), North Carolina (49), Georgia (48), Texas (47) and Virginia (44). He also got in some jabs against "latte-drinking, Lexus-driving, pick-pocketing bastards" (not that I've seen many Lexuses around, true, but he should see the line at Ancora every day before he picks on latte drinkers again) before, quite frankly, my feet and my hands were so cold I went inside the state Capitol to get warm. It was almost 1 p.m. anyway, time for the rally to wrap up.
Inside, the drumming and the chanting continued. The firefighters and the bagpipers marched through. As I exited through the King Street doors, I stopped to talk to the state trooper stationed there. He told me that Friday, structural engineers came through, to make sure the building wasn't too packed with people and was still safe and structurally sound. Since that time, entrance to the Capitol has been limited to both the Hamilton Street doorways, so officials can keep better track of how many people are in the building by trying to count heads as people come in.
But you're still free to leave through any door.
"Stay warm," he said as I headed back out into the sleet.