Monday, February 28, 2011

Now we really look like a third world country

The People have taken over the legislative building. 
Until today.

The events of the past two weeks in Madison [photos] have been amazing, inspiring, every-changing, and exhausting. To see people rising up, marching, yelling, putting their lives on hold to voice their outrage over Scott Walker's trumped up budget crisis, which is apparently going to be paid for - both figuratively and literally - by the people least able to afford cuts in government services, has been all-consuming for many of  us.

But as the events started, and as the protests progressed, from crowds rallying on the steps of the Capitol to full-scale occupation of the building by people willing to risk not just a bad sleeping environment, but also arrest, I have thought about how wonderful it is that we still live in a place where people can come into the seat of political power voice their opinions so loudly. At times it has been almost unbearable to stand in the center of the rotunda of the Capitol because of the crowds and noise. From 7 am to 1 am (I'm guessing) every day for almost two weeks, there has been drumming, chanting, singing, talking, yelling, and huge crowds inside the Capitol.

Signs were taped up (with carpenters' tape, so not to damage the walls) all over the Capitol: signs of protest, signs with directions on where to find help, humorous signs, emails from all over the state urging the Governor to reconsider his budget, and signs requesting supplies or compliance with rules. I marveled as this whole community developed inside this public building.

The People have taken over the legislative building. 

Where else would that be allowed? I have traveled in Latin America for 40 years, and I have never been inside the building where laws are made in any country. Maybe I could have gotten in on a tour, but I have never been able to just walk in to the building. In many cities, even entry to the local municipal building requires an appointment and an escort from a staff person.

In most of the world, a huge group of people protesting loudly outside a government building would risk beatings, tear gas, intimidation, or even death. But in Madison, WI, we have been able to bring tens of thousands of people to the steps of the statehouse every day, and thousands of people have set up protests indoors. Many of the people have even slept inside the Capitol. This is a true sign of democracy and the difference between a truly oppressive government - those in unstable third world countries - and the US. Despite the comparisons to Egypt that flew around, we are still allowed access to our seats of government and our representatives.

Until today.

The Capitol Police have announced that no further protesters will be allowed in the building. Why? "To prepare for the upcoming governor's budget address to the Legislature Tuesday."
First, does that mean that people not protesting are allowed in? How do they know whether someone is s protester or just wants to use the bathroom? Or maybe wants to see our beautiful Capitol, or wants to say hello to their representative. Are those people allowed in?

Sure, if you have an appointment, a staff person can come out and escort you in, but is that the way we want to restrict access to our elected officials? Even in Washington, DC, you can just pop in to the office of your Senator or Representative with no appointment. You may not get to see him/her, but you can come in to the office. You can actually stop in to any congressional office, even those not from your home state.

And this business of preparing for the Governor's address reeks of, "We don't want to see or hear from those that disagree with us, and we don't want the news media to be able to show them in the background as they come in for the address."

Very suspicious, in my view. Possibly illegal. Definitely a slap at democracy and free assembly. And I have seen real repression up close.

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