Take a second to go read this article.
For those of you who depend on me for context on the Madison stuff, let’s take a moment to introduce you to the venerable Senator Grothman. If Scott Walker is a child, throwing tantrums to get what he wants and incapable of understanding that the rules apply to him too, then Grothman is the smug, idiot teen who thinks he’s faultless and invincible. Were Madison on the same plane of reality as the rest of the world, he’d have gotten himself torn apart by an angry mob several times over by now. The fact that he hasn’t has less to do with Brett Hulsey’s tendency to appear and appease (which he should feel free to stop doing at any moment) and more to do with a strange power whereby whenever things get tense, somebody will say, “Nothing can go wrong. Everything’s been too good up to now.” Instead of provoking the disaster as it should, people start singing and I get hugged by strangers.
I’ve mentioned M& I Bank before. They’ve been one of the bigger targets of anti-corporate shaming and direct picketing/boycott efforts out there. Something about taking TARP money, then donating a ton of money to Walker’s campaign before getting around to paying it back. Can’t imagine why people would be upset about that.
Let me take a moment to catch you up on the police too. Every law enforcement body in the state has been pulled into this. Even with that being the case, some of the crowds on the weekends have been big enough that if the protesters wanted to cause serious trouble, the police would have a choice between tactical retreat and heroic but pointless getting trampled upon. At points the crowds have in fact been so big that the scary public safety things Walker et. al. have been saying would be true, were it not for Madison’s surreal departure from reality. The police know this, have known it all along, and they’re smart enough to do the right thing in that situation. The right thing is to accept the fact that they’re out numbered, the crowd is reasonable, and it’s their job to be a symbol of where the outer boundaries are. People may push past those outer boundaries, but things remain contained and everybody goes home unhurt, not jailed, and happy.
The Capitol police are the guys who were not part of the broad exceptions granted to police and firefighter unions. They’re small, their job is to keep tourists from damaging the Capitol, and they’re uniformly friendly guys. Any other police force operating inside the Capitol has authority stemming from the Capitol police. The rumor on the ground is that when the current budget settles out, they’ll be dissolved and the state troopers will take over. To quote the indecently pleased member of the Cap police I chatted with that first Friday after the doors were (sorta) opened, “That’s like getting rid of the Coast Guard and replacing them with the Marines. Similar skills and realms of operation, completely different missions.” The Cap police are Good Guys, and members of the crowd who think they’re being clever by inciting them to “take off your uniform and join us,” get an elbow in the ribs from me.
The cops from Milwaukee are, individually, often still very nice. As an institution, they look more like the Chicago PD, so I can’t really give them a blanket label as being good guys. They’re still on our side, and their union is one of the few that has refused to make any concessions from the start. “Walker’s from Milwaukee. We know what we’re dealing with,” one of them said, while practically bragging about how his union is refusing to budge even a bit. I don’t uniformly trust the Milwaukee PD, but I definitely want them on my side. They’d be handy in a back-alley brawl.
The Department of Natural Resources guys, again, nice, though they seemed the most uncomfortable with patrolling marble hallways. That could just be me reading into things.
I think the picture I got of the cop with a kubatan was a state trooper, but I’m not sure. He wasn’t standing very still and gave me nasty looks when he figured out I was trying to take his picture, so I snapped one as fast as I could and walked away. If he wasn’t a state trooper, I let this anecdote stand as my summary of them anyway, with the caveat that many of them are still nice guys who support the protests.
Then there’s the Madison PD. They were less prominent around the Capitol during the occupation than you’d expect. For some reason, apparently the powers that be don’t trust them to enforce arbitrary, illegal rules. I can tell you Chief Tubbs has routinely struck me as a stressed out teddy bear who would like to be in anywhere other than where he is, if he trusted anybody else to do his job well. During the occupation several of the organizers were actively discouraging plans that would likely end in getting Chief Tubbs fired because he doesn’t deserve it, and we don’t trust his unknown potential replacement. He has consistently tried to enforce the rules, but with a, “Please, won’t you please do as the bad man says? There could possibly maybe be unhappy consequences for you someday if you don’t do what the bad man wants.” The Thursday night we left the capitol, in the time between Twitter telling us what the court order said and the order actually arriving, he practically begged us to go. He seemed heart-broken when he thought people might insist on getting arrested. Heart-broken, because he would have arrested them if they insisted.
Which brings us back to Grothman and M&I bank. Is the Madison PD reluctant to act against the protesters? Well, yeah. So is every other police force in the state. Way back at the beginning of this, before I learned about the true power of Madison’s plane of alternate reality, even then I insisted we didn’t have anything to worry about from Wisconsin cops. Some of them might be institutional jerks, but they’re institutional jerks who can recognize an axe coming for them in the night. And if you’re going to run a revolution, (this is not a revolution, but that’s another post) doing it with the cops backing you is absolutely the way to go.
This puts M&I bank in an awkward position. They are on the side of wrong. They bet on a bad horse. They’ve committed major fail. This was brought to their attention early on, so they’ve had a few weeks to contemplate it. The location on the square in particular, since when people get locked out of the Capitol, or bored, or want to switch up their tactics, they just have to cross the street and lo, a corrupt bank. Even the capitalist pigs in the movement like me love to hate on a bad bank. The UW credit union must be laughing about this all the way to the…ahem. In short, M&I, which hasn’t been on the strongest of legs (TARP money, remember?) is screwed.
Enter Grothman, the fumbling idiot bull in this china shop of reluctant yet dutiful police and confuzzled bankers. The staff of M&I are definitely annoyed by the protests. I know people who’ve been dancing outside their doors to protest because if they stand still, then they’re loitering. And yeah, I’m not surprised Grothman got hugged. I’ll agree, there should be less hugging. But if I can endure getting hugged, and in one notable instance kissed on the cheek, by strangers, he should be bleeding grateful that he’s in Madison where he gets hugged instead of, say, revolutionary France where he’d get a one way trip to the guillotine.
Instead, he gets hugged. And complains that the police don’t remove the dancing protesters fast enough. Even though the bank’s official comments stop at mentioning that they have, “a long standing and good relationship with the Madison Police Department.” M&I knows the score. They get it. They’ve been bad and it’s time to take their beatings.* Grothman gets it too, or he wouldn’t keep baiting large crowds of angry people. This is a man who is heart-broken that there haven’t been any riots. I cannot begin to imagine how happy he must have been when actual death threats went out.**
In summary, sorry Grothman. As you well know, Madison is not on a normal plane of reality. That’s why you’ve survived despite your desperate efforts to get torn apart. And it’s why the cops aren’t going to violate their own interests in order to stomp on the first amendment rights of people you don’t like. If you want things to work out differently, I’d suggest picking a team that doesn’t piss of their potential gestapo at the outset.
*I almost feel sorry for M&I. They did a bad thing that almost everybody in their position did, and have done for years. Then all of a sudden people noticed it. Since then, they’ve shut up, not saying anything to make it worse, and better yet, not caving in an insincere attempt turn this away from a PR disaster. If they go under, I’ll count it as a victory, but I don’t consider running them out of business a priority just now.
**To the people who have done that, or are thinking of doing that, stop. Death threats from us are, at this point, the functional equivalent of jerking them off. They feel better, and you get sticky.