I type this post tonight from Chicago, where I'm staying with my ill mother. Though I've been in and out of Madison ever since this whole thing started, it is the events of tonight have shown me what it feels like to watch what's going on in Madison from a distance and wish you were there. At the same time, in the age of mediated political conflict, getting the distance view is also important to understand in order to better shape the local, on the ground struggle. In Madison, it's a battle for space, control of the Capitol, and a gathering of massed bodies, but at the same time it's the production of a representation for distance media.
Tonight Scott Walker, through the actions of his senate allies, played his hardliner card, with textbook lead-up. Yesterday’s weirdness, in which Walker leaked emails between he and some of the awol senate Dems, had people wondering what was up. Now we know. The emails were completely insubstantial and didn’t go anywhere, supposedly of a “hey, let’s talk”, “what about?”-variety, and not much further. But the fact that he could prove that he sent an email and Dems responded meant that he could sell a line to whatever media would listen to him, ie that he was “in negotiations,” that he was “softening,” that he is “willing to talk.” Lies, media manipulation, and more lies.
It was a perfect set-up for tonight. We were taken by surprise. Touche, Mr. Walker.
But he didn’t count on a few things. One, it seems that again he underestimated the motivation, the level of engagement, and the speed in communication in the movement. People were being called to the Capitol right around 6 pm in emergency emails and social media, as soon as word of their procedural plan broke. This created the dual movement surge: of bodies on the square and grassroots media rippling through the communication ethers, instantly countering the right wing narrative. This thing was not going to be snuck through without hailing the people into impromptu physical demonstrations and crazy message sharing, not with such thick and rapid communication networks and such practiced demonstrators. Sounds like the crowds on the square grew all night long from then on.
And two, Walker wasn’t able to fully secure the Capitol (much less the square) before pulling this provocation. Partly because of having alienated the Madison and UW police departments, not to mention having antagonized the Dane County Sheriff, Walker couldn’t realize the police state I'm sure he wanted and was advised to impose. The result is that tonight demonstrators have re-taken the Capitol, with anger, joy, and massive numbers. The people’s noise chamber and social forum, which drove Republicans crazy for two weeks, is back for the moment. Nobody's sure how long this occupation will last, but the point is made–the GOP doesn't hold title to this building. Check out the live stream. In between chants and songs protestors are discussing through an open mic under the rotunda the question of where this movement is going, what needs to be done, etc.
Finally, the recall efforts targeting the GOP state senators have just gained another shot of energy. John Nichols believes that the recall efforts already had senators scared on the GOP side, and that this manuveur was triggered in part because of GOP leadership nervousness. Read this impassioned response to the Republican move by Kristopher M. Rowe, coordinator of the grassroots, self-organized Alberta Darling recall effort, and one of the amazing voices to have emerged from this movement. If you can, do like I did, give them a few bucks. The north shore villages she represents are some of the wealthiest parts of Wisconsin.
I and many coming from Chicago will be there for Saturday, which now promises to be the biggest demonstration thus far, probably by a wide margin. A lot of things can and will happen between now and then, particularly in the area of legal challenges and whether strikes commence. School walk-outs are planned for Friday, as are sick-outs.
What has become clear after tonight is that this man will stop at nothing. He doesn't know any limits. But we also now understand that he will continue to make mistakes.