Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tales from the recall effort - WIAA Boys B-Ball Tournament

Inspired by the Daily Kos post on the recall efforts in Alberta Darling's district, I thought I'd share my own experiences from circulating recall petitions for three days at the WIAA tournament this week. There were a number of people out helping, so some of the stories are from others, or exchanges that I witnessed.

All three days were lovely spring days, and the Kohl Center isn't far from my house, so standing around outside in downtown Madison was no hardship. I wanted to feel like I could do something concrete about the situation i Wisconsin. After all the days spent at the Capitol, or supporting others up there, I didn't just want to give up after the bill had been passed.

So Thursday I headed down to Dayton St after getting an email asking for help. My first shift there were only one or two other people circulating petitions, but we got into a rhythm of announcing why we were out there, holding up our signs, and encouraging people to approach us to sign. Not only did I get a lesson in the spectrum of feelings about our efforts, but I also learned how the WIAA tournament was structured and saw people from all over the state pass by on their way to cheer on their teams.

One of the first issues we encountered had nothing to do with politics. The two hours that I had been assigned, the two teams were not from districts that we were targeting for recall. And the game tickets are sold for a set of two games, and we had arrived in the middle of the two-game set, so not many people were coming in and out.

When people finally started streaming out, we got what would come to be a typical mix of reactions. About 80% of the people walked by with absolutely no reaction whatsoever. They looked through us like we were the cement bollards nearby. This sort of confused me. Did their team lose, and they were in the mood for interaction? Were they so disinterested in the recall efforts? Or completely unaware of why we were there? Or maybe, being from smaller communities, they just weren't used to the sort of political actions that we in Madison see every day. On the other hand, maybe they just don't like talking to strangers.

Of the 20% that acknowledged that there were human beings standing on the sidewalk with some sort of purpose, there was a mix of reactions. Some people shook their heads, obviously not in sympathy with our efforts. Other people at least nodded or smiled, not stopping, but perhaps amused or in too much of a hurry to stop. Other people stared or paused to read our signs, then went on their way. We also got some thumbs up.

Of the small number of people that interacted with any of us, a few mumbled, "Get a job!" to the one young man sitting on one of the bollards. He actually has a job - he works for a Dem. Senator. Why do people think we don't have jobs? We also got plenty of "Hell, no!" or "Walker for President!" shoots.

Some people wanted to know where the petitions were for "Those Dems that ran away and didn't do their jobs." By the third day I wondered the same thing. There are actually recall efforts for a couple of Democratic  senators - although I'm certainly not going to give those efforts any support. With all the people in from all over the state, the recall efforts against the Dems was nowhere to be found, even when teams in those districts were playing.

On Saturday, we had enough volunteers that another woman and I walked up and down State St, trying to catch the throngs there. A number of people asked, "What does this have to do with high school sports?" I found this strange in two ways. First, I wasn't necessarily claiming it had to do with the WIAA. We were just trying to catch people as they visited. For the same reason, the people that suggested that I should be at the Capitol seemed to miss the point that the people we were looking for were at the Kohl Center. The question about the connection with high school sports also struck me as fairly naive. When state funding to schools is drastically cut, and local communities are legally prohibited from raising property taxes to make up the difference, sports will be endangered as well as art, music, and advanced placement programs.

And finally we had a fair number of people stop and talk, and most of those wanted to sign our petitions. But then the political details got in the way. Even though these people were supportive, many were unsure of the process. We had maps of the senate districts, because most people didn't know who their senator was. We had a lot of people want to sign, but they lived in districts held by Dems. "So I have to live there to sign to get rid of them?" Yes, that's the way it works, but we thanked them for their support.

A surprising number of people came by and said they had already signed a recall petition. These were mostly teachers, spouses of teachers, or family members of other union workers, but not all. We had lots of people thank us for being out there, and others saying, "I wish I could sign, but we have one of the good ones!" By their team colors, I could tell they lived in Dem districts.

A few other random observations:

Without a doubt, the crowds that hailed from districts represented by Democratic senators were friendlier than those from districts represented by Republican senators, even when the voting for those areas was fairly evenly split. The people from Merrill were far and away the nicest and overall most supportive. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that this is the first time in 46 years that Merrill has made it to the tournament.

After three days, people seemed to have figured out why we were there. There were fewer blank stares, and more interaction, other positive and negative. These people had probably walked by us a few times coming and going to games, and we had more people and bigger signs. Most people still just walked by, but there were more people likely to show some reaction, such as frowns, smiles, waves, thumbs up or down, a few words, etc.

Saturday's finals for Divisions 1 and 2 - the larger schools - were definitely the most productive times for us. We knew that there was at least one school playing in each of the finals that was in a district we were targeting, so we had plenty of people out. Although we knew these people had walked by before, now they were willing to stop and sign. Maybe the pressure of the semi-finals was over, or they knew this was their last chance to sign with us. The lead organizer also posited that many people from larger communities felt more at ease talking to us.

There were a couple of notable positive and negative interactions. On Saturday, a guy walked by a middle-aged male volunteer and pointed at him with these words, "You people should be shot!" Even though we had experienced people swearing at us - at times in front of their kid! - this really shocked me. Physical threats jut seem like such an overreaction, and really disturbing in light of the shootings in Tuscon.

Another man stood in front on me, towering over my 5'3" head and yelled at me, expecting me, I am sure to physically back away. All I could think was, "This guy really doesn't know me." I never felt physically threatened, and I stood my ground until he was done. I can't even remember what either of us said, but I know I didn't really try to argue with him, but also didn't let him believe he had intimidated me in any way.

Several volunteers were asked at some point for ID, not by police or anyone official, but by people who seemed to think that all this recall dust-up is cooked up and staffed by hired agitators from out of state. All the volunteers I spoke to were from Madison, although there might have been a Middleton or Verona person thrown in.

Sometimes you couldn't tell what a person was going to say when they approached. One older gentleman appeared to be ready to confront us, and then whispered, "Yeah, get rid of those bastards!" He told us he was a union worker for 40 years, and went on to impress on us all the things the unions had fought for that now benefits all workers. We had been bracing for a negative interaction, and the only problem we had was ending the conversation without being rude.

My favorite interaction of the three days occurred with a woman from Merrill. I was holding up a sign on my clipboard that read, "RECALL REPUBLICAN 8 SENATORS!" She apparently only saw the word REPUBLICAN, and frowned as she went by. "We're Democrats." she stated. When I pointed out that we were trying to get rid of the Republicans, that we felt were hurting our state, she turned around and apologized profusely. She hugged me and explained that she was very upset about the Governor's bill, that she was a teacher, and her husband a union man (forgot what field.) She thanked us profusely for being out there, and even agreed to be interviewed by a local TV station. When the interview was over, she came over and hugged me again.

I also want to thank the UW Police for their professionalism. One day we had a bullhorn, and an officer came over to very calmly tell us that we were welcome to be there, could collect signatures and do our thing, but we couldn't use the bullhorn. No amplification. We said, no problem and put it away. Another day, as we were getting volunteers organized, another officer approached us and just gave us an FYI that we were welcome to organize and such, he just asked us to not block people's movement as they came and went. Since we were mostly standing in front of or behind the flat-topped cement bollards - they are the perfect height to use as writing surfaces - we left the openings clear for the throngs.

So, overall, an interesting few days. It's good to be reminded that there are a variety of opinions out there, that some people fully support the Governor's tactics and budget, and others are completely apathetic or unaware of the issues. But it also feels good to be outdoors talking to people, fighting the fight for what we we feel is right. Each signature we collected is one more to add to the thousands we need in each district. We were told by many people that we'd never get enough, but as I responded, "You can at least try."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fish Hatchery Rd rebuild in 2012: Will bike and pedestrian conditions improve?

A quick post about a projects that could improve bicycling south of downtown and the campus significantly, or could just lay new pavement over a crumbling section of roadway.

Below is an email conversation about this project. In the initial email to the Bikies list, I had cc'd a few people who I thought could either provide answers, or should be aware of problems in this corridor. The second email is from Tony Fernandez, of City of Madison Engineering. I'm not sure if he is directly involved in the project, but he at least has knowledge of it, and was trying to provide some info. Much appreciated.

The third email was my response to Tony, which also got cc'd to the same group, plus Christy Bachman, who Tony had identified as the person taking the lead for the City. This is a Dane County project, so the City of Madison neither planned the project nor has direct authority, although I'm assuming they had significant input because the majority of the roadway is in the City.

I haven't heard anything from the County yet, so maybe things are better than I think.

Email #1 - from me.
There was an article in today's Cap Times about the 2012 planned rebuilding of Fish Hatchery Rd from Wingra Dr south to West Badger Rd. 
Most people on this list recognize that this stretch, although equipped with bike lanes, is an unpleasant ride, and often downright scary. Much of the problem stems from potholes and cracked pavement on the far right (the bike lane), but also the amount of trash, debris, sand, and general junk that lands in the bike lane. 
I also think that, given the amount and speed of traffic - normally far over the speed limit - the current width of the bike lanes is too narrow.
Did anyone attend the meeting mentioned in the article? Will the current conditions be improved when the project is done? Obviously, new pavement will be a huge improvement, but are there any other changes planned? 
And while the project is ongoing, will there be some accommodations for those bicyclists that still need to use Fish Hatchery to get around? Due to the Arb on the west and the lack of north-south routes to the east between Fish Hatch and Park, Fish Hatchery Rd is often the only option in this area. 
I have cc'd a cross section of City of Madison, Dane County, and Bike Fed folks. The road is in the City (mostly, although there are sections in Town of Madison), but Dane County is doing the project, since it is a county highway. 
Thanks for any info. I'm sure many people on the list would be interested in any insights.

Response from Tony Fernandez
This is a federally funded pavement replacement project. Dane County is the lead agency and Matt Rice is doing the plans. My supervisor Christy Bachmann is the main liaison for the City of Madison. My understanding is that the type of funding pretty much restricts the project to replacing the existing pavement, and the current plans call for bike lanes for the full length of the project, but no significant widening anywhere. To get the latest information about the current design and any planned public involvement activities or other opportunities for input you should probably contact Matt or Pam Dunphy at Dane County Highways.

Email #3 - from me
I didn't expect widening, but perhaps a change in the location or width of paint? Don't know the width of the curb-to-curb, but since traffic is consistently well above the speed limit, I would imagine the MV lane widths are pretty generous. Might a little narrowing of the other lanes - by even 6 inches - allow a slightly wider bike lane and also slow the average speed? As Mike Rewey has repeatedly pointed out, just making sure that the 6 inch bike lane marking starts in the MV lane, and does not cut off 6 inches of the bike lane makes a big difference.
I also posted the questions to nudge the folks in charge of maintenance (sweeping on a road next to the Arb, anyone?) to perhaps be more diligent when the project is done. The Fish Hatchery corridor suffers from a multitude of issues that make it a crappy bike route, but there is really no alternative. Fast traffic (law enforcement and engineering); higher traffic volumes; ugly, car-based land use (planning); and a multi-jurisdictional roadway leads to poor maintenance.  Because Fish Hatchery is so huge south of the Beltline, and also a major exit off the Beltline, it feels like a fast highway, but it is actually an urban roadway - one that passes through several neighborhoods with a high percentage of low-income resident. There is also a middle school, the Arb, and a large health care facility in this stretch. 
Because it feels like a highway, drivers are less sympathetic to bicyclists and pedestrians in the area (and public right of way), because they wonder why anyone would be on foot or bike on this big, fast road. Well, there really isn't much choice.
So, I think with a rebuilding project, even without changing the curbs, there are a few things that could be changed to make this road more bike and pedestrian friendly. Hey, how about painting the few crosswalks with wider markings too? I hear from lots of kids and parents trying to cross that street to get to Wright Middle School. 
Sorry, this really isn't a rant against anyone in particular, but more a plea that maybe something can still be done to improve the situation. I was really hoping to hear, "Yes! We are doing those things. We know it sucks, and we took all that into consideration, and here's how it will be different when the work is done." 
Still hoping. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

This is not what I would consider an "open" Capitol

For those not following closely, the Wisconsin state Capitol was been closed since Sunday night, Feb 27. People had been sleeping in the building to protest the Governor's "budget repair bill," and the Capitol Police decided that they wanted those people out - likely to spiff up the place for the Governor's formal budget address on Tuesday. Don't want to have any pesky opposition in there, with their protest signs, when the newly purchased puppet governor speaks to his masters and wealthy followers the public.

When people left peacefully on Sunday night, they were promised that the building would be reopened on Monday at 8 am, for "normal business hours." Well, come Monday morning, the building has remained shut. People lined up outside, but they couldn't get in. Because the state Capitol is required to be open any time state business is being conducted, and because it is a public building, a judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to force the Capitol Police and Department of Administration (DOA) - who oversees all state buildings - to allow people in.

In a show of chutzpah that took my breath away, the DOA claimed that they were complying with the TRO, and the building was open. Well, if you want to stand in line for hours on end, tell the cops exactly which office you will be visiting, be escorted by armed officers to and from the office, and even be followed when you use the bathroom, I guess you might say it is "open." But most people would not say that.

Every year for over a decade I have gone to Washington, DC to meet with our Senators and Representatives during the National Bike Summit. We can enter the Senate and House office buildings freely, after a security check. You can walk up to and into the offices of any member of congress, even those that may not represent your state. I cannot imagine busy people - such as those that often want to meet with their elected officials - waiting outside for an armed escort and then going back outside to wait for another escort in and out for each meeting.

I have lived most of my adult life in Madison, and have been in and out of the Capitol so many times that I can't even think if it is hundreds or thousands of times. I have visited friends that work there, taken a tour, used the bathrooms on every floor, attended hearings, made official visits to legislators, taken pictures of this beautiful building, and just walked through the first floor as a shortcut. I know what it means to be "open," and the building is not open.

Yesterday, former Congressman Dave Obey, who represented northern Wisconsin for over 40 years, and previously served in the Wisconsin legislature for 6 years, tried to enter the Capitol, and was told to stand in line. Reps Peter Barca and Donna Seidel came out to talk to him. The video shot of the encounter makes me want to cry for my state. Obey took a very principled stand and insisted that he wasn't going to go in if the rest of the public couldn't also go in, but he had harsh words for Walker.
"I think the governor is a political bully and a political thug," Obey said, adding that Walker "should quit flexing his muscle" and work out differences with Democratic legislators, including the 14 senators who left the state to prevent a vote on the bill.

"I think the governor has needlessly divided the state," Obey said. "I can't think of a bill that will do more to weaken the future of Wisconsin. This is an anti-education, anti-union budget, and people ought to understand that."
That video tells a huge story. I wish the local and national media had given it more play.

Even staff cannot move about freely. Today Vicky Selkowe, a Capitol staffer for Rep. Cory Mason, posted this memo on her Facebook page:

To:                  WISCONSIN LEGISLATURE
From:             CAPITOL POLICE
RE:                  UPDATE:  CAPITOL ACCESS
Date:              March 2, 2011

Constituent Escorts & Badges
We have been attempting to improve constituent access to legislative offices, as best we can, while maintaining adequate security in the Capitol building.  The procedure to allocate eight badges to each legislator’s office has worked fairly well, but there have been problems with escorted visitors discarding their badges while en route to or from legislative offices so they can join visitors in the rotunda.  This defeats the purpose of the procedure and we are asking your assistance.
On Monday and Tuesday we utilized staff to assist with escorting visitors, however we received feedback that some representatives felt their staff members were overwhelmed with escort requests.  So on Wednesday we attempted to use police instead to facilitate escorts.  However, we received feedback that this method also had limitations.  Therefore, beginning tomorrow, Thursday, March 3, we are requesting a legislative staff member to meet your constituent visitors at the King Street entrance and escort them to your office along with a law enforcement officer.
Any of your office’s eight badges that are not used for the purpose for which they were issued will be taken from your office’s allotment of badges for the day.  Continued loss of badges or abuse of the badges’ intended purpose may further limit the availability of badges for your constituents, and after three incidents your office may forfeit its badge allocation altogether until conditions at the Capitol change.
Thank you for your cooperation with procedures that will allow constituents to continue visits to your office and for us to provide a safe and secure environment in the Capitol.

Key Card Access
As you know, key card access for Capitol staff was disabled on Monday.
We realize that Capitol staff members have been inconvenienced by the disabling of key card access, however this step was made necessary because a small number of staff members were seen to be abusing the key card access system by allowing some visitors to bypass building entry procedures.
If Capitol staff members can demonstrate they are willing to follow the procedures for building access that are currently in effect, we will consider temporarily restoring key card access and will monitor compliance to determine whether key card access can be permanently restored.

Arrangements for Lobby Days and Similar Events
The following plans for lobby days and similar events have been established to be in keeping with the existing queuing and badging procedures.  Lobby groups that wish to meet with legislators should reserve a hearing room via a legislator.  Lobby group members will queue and be badged at the King Street entrance as are all other visitors, and will be escorted to their reserved hearing room.  Because non-staff are not currently permitted free rein of the building, legislators will need to visit lobby groups in the hearing room (rather than the typical practice of lobby group members traveling from one legislator’s office to another).  Lobby groups may choose instead to visit individual legislators via the Constituency Visit procedures listed above, but must return their original badges to the King Street doors and obtain new badges prior to visiting a subsequent office.  Groups may also wish to consider hosting lobby days and similar events at a location other than the capitol if these access procedures are expected to result in undue inconvenience to attendees.

This is completely ridiculous. My emotions about this situation have fluctuated between anger, outrage, depression, sadness, and pain. The protesters have been peaceful and well-behaved. The excuse that the DOA has given for not allowing people inside is that some people have not come out. Well, if they won't come out, arrest them, and then let others come in. But the Walker administration won't do that, because they know that having peaceful protesters carried out of the Capitol will look bad. 

The building is not open, and the DOA Secretary and Governor are in contempt of a court order. They are the ones that should be arrested. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

WI state Capitol access tighter than airports

I reported on (OK, passed on from person reporting from the scene) a comment the Asst AG made regarding the Temporary Restraining Order to open the Capitol - i.e. the State has been arguing that the Capitol IS open, but access restricted to keep things under control. The Asst AG said that the Capitol restrictions are similar to an airport. “You can't get into an airport without an ID."

My Facebook comment was, "Of course you can. You just can't get to the GATES without an ID, boarding pass and TSA screening." Everyone has experienced going to airports - pretty much anywhere in the US to pick someone up or to catch a flight. You walk into the airport from the outside world - whether you walk, bike, take a taxi, arrive by bus, or drive your own car and park - and there are no restrictions to entering the airport. It's only when you want to get to the gates that the restrictions begin.

Here's a response from Drew Hanson, who entered the Capitol today:
I got into the Cap this morning because I had the printout in hand for a public hearing on some DNR rules. But that doesn't mean it was easy. I was questioned by armed police no less than six times, searched and then escorted to and from the hearing by armed police. When I needed to leave the hearing to use the restroom, two armed police stood outside the door. When I asked if I could stretch my legs after sitting through an hour of hearing testimony, I was directed to walk back and forth between two armed police who could keep an eye on me. It was far more intrusive and far more threatening than anything I have ever encountered in any airport. I cannot believe this is happening in the United States of America. This is not the way law abiding citizens should be treated in this country.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Huffington Post article on unbreakable Wisconsin spirit

I wrote a comment to this article in the Huffington Post, and thought I'd post it here as well. The article talks about how well organized, well-behaved, and steadfast the protests have been, especially inside the Capitol. It made me very proud to see our state and the people fighting to preserve our social justice traditions recognized in this way.

My comment:
I have been at or in the Capitol every day for two weeks now, although I have not spent the night. What you describe is what I have seen every day, and you are right, it is what our Governor should fear. These are Wisconsini­tes of all ages, jobs, areas of the state, and income levels. Most of the people are not even unionized employees. They are simply people that know right from wrong, and they know that Walker's plans are wrong.
Wisconsin has a strong tradition of caring for others, and this tradition is on display, both inside the Capitol and in the opposition to the budget as a whole. 
As several friends have said, "Walker severely underestim­ated us."
On February 13, when this all started, Bill Lueders of the Isthmus wrote, "The governor also knows exactly what kind of reaction -- sustained, militant, disciplined -- might put the kibosh on his power grab." In that same article he said,
Teachers and other public employees, on the other hand, are perfect victims. They aren't used to conflict, and they aren't very good at it. They will hoist their signs and chant their chants and lose their benefits and then their unions. 
Could they fight back and win? Absolutely. But it would take a lot more resolve than Scott Walker and the Republicans give them credit for. It would take all-out campaigns of nonviolent civil disobedience, including a willingness to risk physical abuse and mass arrest, again and again.
So, I think that not only did Scott Walker underestimate us, and specifically underestimated the people that live in Madison - did he forget where the Capitol and his office is located? - but I think that some pundits also underestimated us.

The Huffington Post caught the spirit of what is happening. Wisconsinites are a tough bunch, and they are willing to stand up and fight when they feel backed against the wall. If we can make it through the winters, and put our names on a waiting list for Packer tickets that is over 20 years long, we can keep showing up at the Capitol.