Madison Protests: Prologue from Thursday Night

Come August, I will have lived in Madison for a shocking four years.  This fact got downright interesting last Thursday.

I was a little behind the ball on the Protest stuff, what with the part where I was on my way to the airport when the shenanigans started, then in Cleveland, then on my way to the airport again when the story broke and hit national and international news. This entry and the ones following it are the story of how I got caught up, and then what I did with my weekend.

Even if I hadn’t already been tipped off that exciting things were happening by the fact that the Historian sent me an email looking for on-the-ground insight, it would have been obvious something strange was up the minute I hit the airport.  I am intimately familiar with the Madison airport – the TSA people there recognize me.  We have in-jokes.  The crowd at the Madison airport, in four years of constantly flying in and out there, has never been big, and never been giddy.

Thursday night, it was both.

More interesting were the sheer number of people there I did not recognize at all.  Thursday nights are the nights all of the people working for my ex-employer come home from all over the place.  I can tell which ones are those people, vs the consultants who’ve put in their time there and moved on to more lucrative things (like me), the college students, and the American Family insurance people.  That night there was a new category of people – reporters.  Neat.

The mayhem at the airport meant I had to wait in the baggage claim to get my gate-checked bag.  I started eavesdropping on people to get caught up on what had happened.  My favorite quote was one lady, approximate age 25-30 years, catching up her friend who’d just flown in.  “So I trekked over to the Capitol with my sleeping bag and provisions, because I knew once we got in there we weren’t getting back out.  It was awesome.” A few minutes later, “Yeah, sometimes there are issues you have to work through, and you have to take over the square to work through them.”

There were no cabs available once I got my bag.  I broke out my trusty phone which, with its magical connection to the internet has rendered me all-powerful, and called Union Cab to let them know there was a crowd of money people needing rides from the airport, also would they please come take me home?  I’ve used every cab company in Madison many times (except Green Cab.  They’re new, and tiny) and Union Cab is hands down my favorite.  Their drivers are competent and efficient, interesting to talk to, and willing to be ignored when I’m too tired to cope with people.  The other cab companies…fail on one or more of those points.

Through minor manipulation on my part, I got into one of the Union Cab vans with an English professor from the U Cal system, a geology grad student form Annapolis, and a blond North Carolinian approximately 18 years old, who did not think she’d need a coat.  For Wisconsin.  In February.  She was shocked to see snow on the ground.  I was shocked that there weren’t two feet of it anymore.

The Union cab driver fulfilled my wildest hopes and dreams for info-dumpery, and I didn’t even have to prompt him – the visitors with sense took care of that for me.  He gave them the rundown on the situation: Small budget repair bill turned into massive anti-union thing then rushed through the legislative process at high speed with hints of further nastiness to come.

Let me pause to provide some background exposition.

1) There are two kinds of hippies.  (Many people do not realize this.  I didn’t until moving here)  Dirty hippies are the California type everybody knows about who smoke too much pot and love nature without a good sense of what that entails.  Cold Weather hippies are what you get when lack of sense means you freeze to death in January.  It’s the difference between the vegan hippie, and the hippie who eats local organic meat.

2) Madison is full of Cold Weather hippies.  I like cold weather hippies.  We may disagree about things, but they are fundamentally sensible.  I have lots of respect for anybody you can say that about.

3) Madison is absurdly white-collar.  It’s the most white-collar place I have ever lived, and I’ve been around.  Also, Madison has weathered the recession extremely well.  Our housing market did not crash, it whimpered.  Our unemployment is keeping the state averages down.  Some have described Madison as 30 miles of fantasy surrounded by reality.  Post-recession, it’s more like 30 miles of “we’re okay” surrounded by “Oh my god, manufacturing just died.”

4) Scott Walker hates Madison, and the feeling is mutual.  The guy is the brand of scary Republican responsible for me putting the whole party in time-out.  Also, he threw a temper tantrum about our high speed rail project until it moved to elsewhere.  I really want a train  that’ll take me to Milwaukee and Chicago.  Do you have any idea how soul-crushingly dull a 2-3 hour drive through Wisconsin or Illinois is?  There’s a reason the Kansas portions of the Wizard of Oz are in black and white – the prairie is boring.  This is relevant, because he really did make the train go away via temper tantrum.  He was so adamantly foamy about how he would never ever let the project go through, even though work was already getting started and we already had the money for it, that the Feds took the money back before he even got into office.

Re-read the last sentence of the previous paragraph.  It’s important to what I do for the rest of the weekend.  Here’s the  thing: I’ve found unions to be a problem needing fixing since watching the teacher’s union in my school district growing up fail to accomplish a single thing, while the district descended into a text-book case of how not to run a rural school system.  I have never yet figured out how to fix it, but varieties of union-busting have at points been ideas I played with.  I’m still not sure what I think about one thing or the other.  And as far as I’m concerned, that is completely tangential to anything going on in Madison right now.

The problem is this: Scott Walker does not understand, or care to understand, how the legislative process ought to work.  He decides what he wants, then does whatever it takes to get it, whether or not he ought to.  People who call him a dictator give him too much credit.  Scott Walker is a child.  The protests in Madison are his constituents coming together to administer a much needed spanking.

And since a significant portion of the people doing the spanking are hippies, they’re stopping every third breath to say, “Now remember, this is peaceful, and you should pick up your trash.”

To be continued, with pictures…

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