Every day for 12 days now. Awesome.
Written on February 28, 2011 by onestraw in Activism, Transitions
So for 12 days now the Capitol of Wisconsin, USA has been occupied by the most interesting mix of college age cooperative living types, “professional” hippies, and other counter culture types – many of whom I recognize by sight, if not name, from permaculture projects and talks I have been to. They are a fascinating group that I have begun referring to as the “freegans” – though they call themselves Freedom, Inc. In 12 short days they have formed medic cooperatives, organized highly effective and informative signage for the protestors to navigate the Capitol (bathrooms, phone charging stations, food), set up advanced and effective live video feeds of the rotunda and coordinated twitter sites. They have coordinated food stations for donated food, cordoned off an entire wing of the capital hallways for a “family” area complete with extrememly well stocked diaper changing stations, play areas, kits for young and old to make signs, and quiet areas for nursing, napping, or just resting. They have slept on air mattresses and piles of coats for a week and change. They have done an amazing job of organizing chaos into a functioning micro-cosm of society based on donations, volunteerism and cooperative spirit. They have also formed the most incredible alliance I have ever seen – with the Capitol Police. More on that in a bit. In the Freegans there is HOPE.
Now, for 12 days there have been 2000-10,000 people marching, chanting, singing, drumming, and yes, sleeping in the Capitol building. They have done an incredible job keeping it tidy – there is literally no trash anywhere as the Freegans are very aware that any provocation could be used to evacuate them. Think about that for a minute – 10,000 people –anywhere- for 12 days and NO TRASH. They are the most polite, the most respectful, young (and not so young) people I have ever seen. Every officer is Sir or Ma’am, every request is a please followed by a thank you! But despite their herculean efforts, you simply cannot have that volume of people together for that long with an, er, aroma developing. The Capitol -not the people -needs a bath. And this fact was seized on last Friday when the department overseeing the Capitol issued a proclamation that today at 4pm the Capitol would be “closed for cleaning” and would resume “normal” business on Monday 2/28. In other words – the occupation would be ending. The statement was very clear that this was not a request – but an order- clearly stating that those refusing eviction would be arrested. A line was drawn in the sand. Off duty firefighters and even police joined the freegans Thursday night, and on, to bolster their ranks. The protest was going up a notch.
So today at 4, tension was high. Fox News, infamous for conservative (and oft times extremely bias) “reporting”, despite its absence so far (even reporting our State as “burning” at one point) was on hand at 3:40 for a live feed in anticipation of footage of liberals in shackles. The freegans issued training on how to be handcuffed without losing bllood circulation and recommended all eye contacts be removed in case of tear gas or pepper spray. 4:00 came. And went. No one left. No blood, no riot. Then, over the Fox live feed could be heard streaming through the -open- doors of the Capitol chants of ”Thank you POLICE!”. which broke into a resounding chorus of “Solidarity Forever!” as the freegan live feed showed thousands of protesters and freegans locked arm in arm around the entire second floor singing in righteous joy. Twitter exploded. Fox cut their live feed (why bother without the violence and spectacle – its only peace and love after all!) Hard news was impossible to find as events were (and still are) happening real time so the rest of this piece is hearsay, but trends were evident in the tweet torrent. The Capitol Police would not force anyone to leave – but they would help the freegans move their supplies so the cleaning could commence. Around 5 the Police Spokeswoman issued a statement that no one would be forcibly removed from the Capitol, and that the situation would be assessed “day by day” to ensure the safety and rights of all participants. The Police had seemingly defied the order, and the freegans could stay. Unbelievable. Solidarity!
The past two weeks have been incredibly intense – the stark corporatization of our government laid bare as we read the bill in horror. What about rights? What about reason and common sense? CAN THEY DO THIS? OMG – what can we – citizens – do? Tuesday 2/14 the freegans and a handful of Democratic insideres answered for us all by “occupying” the capitol. And then the Fight for Wisconsin began. Teachers hit the streets and schools closed. Citizens followed by the thousands – by Thursday my Wife and I were there. Friday we took the kids too. The Media woke up and sent in TV crews. By Saturday 70,000 hit the streets. But on Tuesday the Teachers decided to go back to school so that their students didn’t suffer. What would happen would the protest falter. Hell no! Firefighters, police, steelworkers, teamsters, citizens, retirees, by the tens of thousands flocked to the Cause – by Tuesday Noon the entire square was again closed and throbbing with the chants of thousands. SOLIDARITY! By weeks end a cold front roared in. Temps fell into the teens and snow fell. The bill passed the Assembly at 1:07am in a shameful ploy by the Republicans that left 28 representatives unable to even vote. Yelling their colleagues out of the assembly with resounding cries of “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!” Friday was a day of tears of rage and cries of anger – I was ready to FIGHT (my Celtic blood is STRONG). But the freegan example was stronger – PEACE ruled even through the primal emotions. By Friday, the Police unions were on board with official statements of solidarity. Saturday was bitter cold. And yet, unbelievably, 100,000+ showed up in an amazing display of solidarity. There were protests in solidarity in all 50 states across the nation. And now, still the freegans remain, thanks to the Police. As I write this, the freegan live feed is reporting the freegans cheering the floor waxer as it begins it appointed rounds. This is so very, very unreal.
But through it all – the fear, the rage, the unreality, rings one crystal clear emotion: HOPE!!
This fight is far from over. The is the just start of the beginning. But we have taken our first steps – my state has seen the largest spontaneous protests in over 40 years – not since the fights for Civil rights and the Vietnam War have so many citizens joined together to fight for what they felt in their hearts to be right. I had thought we had perhaps lost this as a country – that luxury and ease had raised a majority generation of indolents. I was wrong. THANK THE GODS I was wrong.
Damn proud of my State. We have much to do- we’ve got an entire future to build. But with consumers becoming citizens again we again have Hope. And with Hope there is a chance; all I’ve ever asked for is a fighting chance. Solidarity is the difference between Lifeboats and Transition. As the scene I saw so often over the past 2 weeks relates: 250# Iron workers nodding to 70 yr old retired teachers over handmade protest signs with a gruff statement of TRUTH …. “We’re in this together.”
Lets do this.
Be the Change.
PS – Here is a great “one stop shop” for twitter feeds on the happenings. Easier than following them all separate