What are the odds that you’re going to just happen upon a cowbell vs. vuvuzuela competition? And what are the odds that at the same time you will just so happen to have a cowbell in hand?
Right. But that happened yesterday for me. Just one of the moments of absurd noisy joy that I experienced at the Reclaim Wisconsin March in Madison, Wisconsin. Going in I thought there was a much higher chance that either Peter Barca or Mahlon Mitchell would announce a run for office. Didn’t happen. But that’s why about – oh – maybe 300 people crowded around the Paisan’s building where the United Wisconsin office was doing its grand opening. This was one of the small rallies that would feed into the square and a mass of people numbering 35 to 65 thousand people depending on who you ask.
Of course that interfered with the speedy passage of cars in and out of the underground parking lot at the same site. But the situation was quickly resolved by John Nichols, of course, who was able to bellow with authoritative yet friendly volume for protesters to please let the vehicles pass through.
It was completely unlike that weekend rally 1 year ago right after the illegal passage of Wisconsin Act 10. Instead of shivering in a heavy snowfall wondering whether people would hold tight together to fight back, we got a light sunburn and could stand a little taller having turned in over 1 million signatures against Walker. Instead of only mourning the degradation of our state and hoping we had what it takes to take risks, on Saturday we could take heart in how courageous Wisconsinites have been and will remain.
We needed a rally in the sun. We deserved that balmy day.
After we heard from the Forward Marching Band, we heard Mahlon Mitchell, John Nichols and Peter Barca speak as people in the crowd occasionally broke in to respond to their statements with an emotional, “NO!”, or “YES!’, or “Right!”. A few times people began chanting “Run Barca Run!”:
After the speeches we embarked to the Capitol building and the cowbell I had for the first time became amplifiers for everybody’s chants with only small changes in the beat. I have to tell you it’s wonderful for a weak-voiced person like me to carry a Latin cowbell. It cuts through the low-level ruckus to deliver a clang beat on “What’s disgusting? UNION BUSTING!” “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” “Hey hey, ho ho, Scott Walker has got to go!”
I fell in with a group from SEIU who were mostly people of color. [Mary Kay Henry, International President of SEIU, was at the rally. Maybe marching nearby.] I also fell in with flag bearers and firemen and iron workers and grandmothers. The streets were solid with people.
Men and women alike were guffawing when they saw this small sign at a square across from US Bank:
I stood there for a few minutes to enjoy watching people stop, have their moment of laughter, and capture the joke with their own camera. In that moment they were sharing a laugh together at powerful men they’ve been cursing at alone.
That is ultimately a crucial message for any rally: you are not alone. In Wisconsin it is absolutely true. Despite inevitable disagreements over the how’s and when’s, there is a diverse coalition in solidarity to reclaim Wisconsin from the Tea Party.
I rounded the square and fell in with a group of 3 men drumming near the MTI table and then drifted to the street in front of the Veterans Museum to talk with Senator Mark Miller. That was quite a moment for this blogger: circumnavigating the Capitol square and coming upon one of the Dem 14 who was talking to a reader of this blog who’s been coming here “from the beginning”.
I then drifted to the top of State Street to gaze up at the flags whipping in the wind and the protesters covering the steps of that building we’ve called “Our House” and to listen to inspiring speakers like the organizer-candidate Lori Compas when my guy said, “Is it time to stop reminiscing now?”
I joked, “Are you trying to tell me to quit your reminiscing and get to work?”
I refused to wipe the smile off my face and furrow my brow. But you know what the answer has to be very shortly? Right.