A night at the Capitol, cheering in the cold

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Dear Colonel,

Tonight, after I got done at work, you and I went downtown to join a protest for a while. It had been going since earlier today, and was reported as being pretty big, with well over 10,000 people pounding the pavement before we even got there. I parked the car at Monona Terrace and walked up Carroll Street toward the sounds of amplified voices, music and cheering. Fighting the wind, I passed several people with signs, huddled into their winter coats. There were college students, moms with strollers and older folks who looked like they must be retired. Most of them were smiling. A lot of the signs had hearts on them. I got closer and could see there were still hundreds of people cascading down from the Capitol entrance to the top of State Street. I joined them, and started to listen.

I guess I should probably assure you, you really don’t have a wacky activist mom. You don’t have to worry about me skipping playtime with you to save the whales. I don’t stuff envelopes, cold-call or knock on a lot of doors, but I know when something doesn’t feel right. And what Wisconsin’s current governor, a man named Scott Walker,  is trying to do right now with a radical and frankly dictatorial budget proposal feels completely wrong. It promises to seriously hurt a lot of good, hard-working people. It’s a downright nasty swipe at a big chunk of middle-class workers; people who should be getting lifted up, not trampled down. And I just felt like doing my part, however small, to be a face and a voice in the crowd. Because that’s one of the most amazing things about this country: the right to assemble and make your voice heard.

So we stood there, you and I. You were probably a lot more comfortable than I was. My fingers were cold inside my gloves. My toes were numb in my shoes. The wind blew my hair around and nipped my ears, making me wish I’d brought a hat. But there was brilliant energy in the people around me and, with the most beautiful Capitol building in the country as their backdrop, speaker after speaker came up to the podium and spoke to the crowd. Most of them were teachers, or otherwise involved in education, though the crowd was made up of public workers from all different areas. They were gathered because Walker’s budget proposal would take away 50 years of collective bargaining rights the workers have through their unions. It would effectively entail them taking a 15-20% pay cut, given no opportunity by the governor to even approach the negotiating table to come up with a compromise. And that, my little one, is what Mama calls “a steaming load of bullshit.” Don’t use that word, though. That’s a grown-up word.

As we stood there, and you heard me cheering and chanting as one voice among many, you were probably wondering, “Mom, why’d we go to this thing? You’re not a teacher. You’re not a public worker.” Well, you’re right about that. Walker’s budget proposal doesn’t have much to do with me or your dad as workers, since we’re employed in the private sector. But, you and I went there tonight because, though our family’s not directly affected, we are, most certainly, indirectly affected. You perhaps most of all. And that’s because, my little Colonel, as I raised my voice in that crowd of people, I may have been raising it with someone who will be your teacher someday. Someone who I’m going to count on to help me teach you to read, to play nicely with others, to do multiplication, to play a musical instrument. I may have been shouting and clapping alongside a nurse who will help set a bone you break after a fall, or a snowplow driver who will make sure we can get to the grocery store after a big blizzard, or a police officer who will come to our aid after a fender bender.

We had to be there tonight because we may not be directly affected, but you’d better believe we can, and would, be rocked by the ripple effects. And we didn’t even do much; just stood there and cheered for a while. It was enough to be another face in the crowd and voice in the masses, simply supporting the people who have so much more immediately at stake than we do; people who, with Walker’s proposal, are facing the very scary prospects of not being able to pay their mortgages, make student loan or car payments, buy groceries or gas. People who are having to consider whether they can even stay in their jobs if this legislation goes through.

So, in the name of fairness and solidarity and more than a little bit of long-term vision and self-concern, we stood with them tonight. And, though you didn’t have much choice in the matter, I’m glad you were there with me. You were good company. And then, when Mama got too cold and had to pee again, we cheered loudly one last time, turned back toward the car, came home, made a grilled cheese sandwich, and you gave me a little bubble-wrap kick as I sat here on the couch. I’m wondering if it was maybe your way of suggesting we go back again tomorrow night. We’ll see, my little activist. We’ll see.



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