Madison Protest: Anecdotes from the Occupation

I was a touch busy during the occupation, and didn’t have a good internet connection, so there were lots of great anecdotes I wanted to blog but just couldn’t get around to.  I did take notes, so I’m going to dump them here.  I’ve withheld some stories that could get people in trouble with their jobs, and obscured details from others to protect the awesome.

I woke up at 7:30 on Monday morning.  I’d shared and alcove on the ground floor with two gentlemen there to help with union organizing.  They had flights to catch that afternoon.  I had things to do, including paying my mortgage.  As we packed up, commenting on how there were an awful lot of cops, somebody knelt down next to us.  “Can you hang out a little while?  We don’t think they’re going to open the doors.”  I shrugged.  I’d borrowed a friend’s car to get to the Capitol and needed to have it returned by 9:30.  I decided to hang around for an hour or so to see what happened.

My phone battery was dying, so I took up station next to the only powerstrip I could find.  It was in the alcove shared by a men’s room and the one unisex bathroom on the ground floor.  There was a steady stream of cops who would walk up, go “Oh,” then start to walk away.  I reassured them that I was just there to make them uncomfortable and they were in the right place.  The capitol us functionally a round building.  Watching new people come through and become completely disoriented was a constant source of amusement.

While I was nursing my phone battery, I overheard one of my favorite quotes.  I don’t know who was talking, he was on the other side of the wall, but I suspect it was one of the guys from the drum circle.  “I’ve been contacted by all these people inviting me to workshops and conferences to network and develop my leadership skills.  And I was like, ‘That would be awesome if I wasn’t busy leading the revolution.'”

Needless to say, the doors weren’t opened.  The two gentlemen and I rearranged our plans and decided to spend the night – if no public could get in then by gosh the public who was there was going to stay.  This was easier for me since it mostly consisted of wishing I’d kept my laptop and hoping I’d be out in time to pick up The Wise Man’s Fear when it came out the next day.

Monday night I gathered a group of bored people to play Provocateur.  It’s played the same way you play Mafia, but instead the premise is that you’re a group of peaceful protesters who’ve been infiltrated by planted trouble-makers.  During the night, the trouble-makers get somebody arrested and dragged away.  During the day we try to find the trouble-makers and expel them from the group.

Eventually the “one-to-one” system was developed whereby if a protester left the building, made it explicit that they were a protester, and that they’d like it if somebody came in to replace them, there was a ~90% chance somebody would be let in to replace them.  One of the first protesters allowed in stormed the circle of people having a logistical meeting in the middle of the rotunda.  “What are you doing talking?  This is going to fail because you’re a bourgeois movement.”  He continued ranting from there.  Me, I’m okay with a bourgeois movement – I’m bourgeois – but the fact remained that the very first guy in the door was tromping the circle, inciting people to stop their civilized planning, and ranting like a madman.  In the first of many utterly surreal moments where life inside the Capitol divorced itself from reality, the crowd responded by spontaneously chanting, “Nice try Walker, Provocateur.”

Lots of things have gone out about the drumming.  My favorite line about it is this: I’m a tactical percussionist.

I was not the only U of C alum in there.  (Ding, surreal) “Finally I have found something that combines my love of political activism with my love of Scav,” he declared.

“You must have been part of the F.I.S.T.,” I said.

“Of course.”

“I thought I recognized your anarcho-leadership style.”

I tried getting a press pass.  I’d already written two articles about the protests for the FromForum and was willing to write more if it meant I’d be able to go home to take a shower and get my computer.  I was denied, not because I’m using a pen name and the byline didn’t match my ID, or because this was an obvious ploy to get a shower, but because the FrumForum didn’t meet their bylaws for a legitimate publication.  My editor there was amusingly offended when he found out.  “Those bylaws are BS and this is why print media is dying.”

An activist who lives in Hawaii stopped in to spend the night on her way to New York.  By this point I was organizing people on the inside in order to plug the slow leak that was dwindling our numbers.  “Welcome to the most hardcore, bad ass slumber party you’ll ever see,” I said to the newcomers.  “We’ll have to see about that,” the Hawaiian activist said.

I checked in with her before she left the next morning.  “Did we deliver?” I asked.

“Well, I was part of Camp Crawford, where we slept in the the ditches outside of Bush’s ranch for 27 days to stop the war in Iraq.  I think this probably ties with that.”

Remember when I was worried about how I was going to miss getting to buy the Wise Man’s Fear when it came out on Tuesday?  Not one, but two people got copies to smuggle to me, without any prompting on my part.  I suspect more might have tried but I put out the word that I had one already.  My friends, they are awesome people who understand that books are my weakness, and then take action to plug it.  (No, I would not have left just to go get a copy, but I was sad over missing the release.  THe smuggling made up for that in spades)

The cops brought us donuts.  I won’t say which cops, or which night.  But I ate donuts purchased for me by the cops.  Awesome!

Also awesome on the food front, all of the people who independently decided we must not be getting enough fruits and vegetables, then smuggled in a glut of them.

You’ve all seen the Fox News video where Madison suddenly had palm trees, right?  It took us two hours to find a spot where my phone had a signal strong enough to get it buffered and play it.  It was worth it.  The sign makers switched to drawing palm trees after that.

“Lebanon is having protests to kill the bill,” I said blearily one morning.

“That’s awesome,” one person replied.

“Wait…Lebanon, Ohio, right,” a third says.

I force my brain to focus on the rest of the news article.  “Oh, yeah.  That’s less awesome.  Still.”

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