What are all these people doing here?

The Capitol crowds thinned during the week, but today was something else. Teachers, public employees and unionists from all over the state and beyond overfilled not only the Capitol and its grounds, but all the streets surrounding. At work we kept a live cam tuned playing, hours of swirling snow descending on the black-and-white flow of people as they marched around and around the Square. It looked a little like the Bolshevik Revolution.

This morning I got to the bus stop on time, but the bus, squeezed past capacity, just drove right on by. It had a sign on the front saying “Bus Following,” but it took 15 minutes for one to show. That bus soon became packed as well. It was a festive crowd. The man across the aisle from me wore a Madison Metro uniform, and I asked whether bus drivers were getting a lot of overtime. He didn’t know exactly how they were getting paid—indeed, who’s going to pay for all this should keep us supplied with controversy long after the protesters go home–but said they were running plenty of extra buses, both for all the people coming downtown and to move cops around. That’s the world of many public employees right now—they’re needed for work, needed for overtime because of the crowds, and then come the protests themselves when they’re off.

When Ashley and I went to catch the bus home, a row of empty city buses lined the block by the temporary bus stop, all being coordinated to transport police. The supervisor was about to send a bus eastward, so he let up hop on for free, and the driver took just right to our stops. The only other people aboard were a couple on the first leg of their trip back to Sheboygan. Their son is a teacher. With all the turmoil their district can’t finalize any kind of contract, which means he’s probably about to get laid off.

Everybody’s having a great time. Everybody’s talking politics. Everybody’s carrying signs. One woman had a dog-sized Star Wars toy with a picture of Governor Walker on it and a sign saying “Stop this Imperial Walker.” Another wore a hat with a band around it that read “Proud teacher of history,” with a printed “Police for teachers” sticker attached. There was a reunion between a couple old friends, though it took them a couple minutes to recognize each other under all their winter clothes. Unlike last weekend when it was warm, we’re back to normal today with a high of maybe 20. We didn’t sell all that much stuff in the store today, but a lot of people came in to warm up.

Along with packed city buses, a steady stream of charters converged here from all over the midwest—everything from a swanky “Windy City Limousine” to road sand-splattered school buses, all pouring people onto the square. That’s turned into a city-within-a-city, with strings of porta-potties, union hot dog tables, first aid stations, etc. Ian’s Pizza has received so many donations from throughout the world that they aren’t even charging for pizzas, just baking them up as fast as they can and either handing out slices in their store or taking whole pies up to the Square.

Well. This is different. National attention and all that goes with it, that’s supposed to happen somewhere else. If anyone thinks about our town at all, it’s usually as a bunch of hippies sitting in the middle of a cow pasture. Now we’ve got people from California and Florida coming to Wisconsin in February and standing around outside all day in the snow.


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