Friday. I'm already feeling nostalgia for Thursday, when the cops were handing out doughnuts at the corner of Mifflin and Pinckney, which now seems sweet and small townish. Wednesday seems like a golden era and Tuesday -- is it possible the whole rally was pretty much centered on the State Street steps?
Now the news helicopters are hovering overhead, and a half a dozen satellite dishes that look like they could beam this revolution to Mars are lined up along Main and Pinckney Streets, and while I'm interviewing a retired schoolteacher from Fond du Lac, Jesse Jackson walks behind me. A woman up from Chicago is handing out broadsheets for the Revolutionary Communist Party -- it's her first day here. And while the protest organizers have come up with much better sound equipment than they had on Tuesday, now the news helicopter is drowning out the noontime speakers. Day five, and the circus has come to town.
Hoopla is inevitably an enemy of sincerity, and so far this action has been very sincere -- although certainly not without its own sense of humor. Witness the signs, which tackle the gov on his first name ("You just don't get it, do you, Scott?" -- Austin Powers) and his last ("Imperial Walker," Star Wars), his purported failing grades in everything from civics to playing well with others.
But the surrounding din has the potential to overshadow the everyman and everywoman. "I was this close to Jesse Jackson" I hear, like a round, as people start calling their friends on their cells.
At the State Street entrance to the Capitol, there's a sign that says "Fond du Lac Base Camp - Lomira," marking a gathering spot for teachers from those towns. That's where I run into David Stetter, the retired teacher from Fondy that I was talking to when Jesse Jackson breezed past.
"I'm staying until we resolve this thing," says Stetter. "This is a union busting bill," he says. He's been to Madison every day since Tuesday, when he testified against the bill before the committee.
Stetter remembers what negotiating teacher's contracts was like before the divisive Hortonville teacher's strike of 1974 prompted a change in the bargaining law, enabling binding arbitration. Back then, he recalls, when there were problems in negotiating contracts, there was picketing and lots of ill will. The new bargaining bill got rid of that, and it has been the best way to solve contract disputes, he says. Walker's bid to gut collective bargaining will return Wisconsin to the old days "and that's why I'm not leaving until we get the moderate Republicans to take a look at this."
Nearby, a fellow is holding a large sign that says "Governor Walker, I taught your son English. Someone should teach you about workers' rights." It's definitely a conversation-starter. Is he for real? Yes, Jon Etter taught Walker's son, in Wauwatosa. Does he think Governor Walker is listening to the protesters?
"It doesn't appear that he is listening at all," says Etter. Etter is taking an unpaid day off to be here, and has other friends who are teachers who are waiting until the weekend to come to Madison "to get in another day's teaching."
"The crowds say everything," says Etter. He's encouraged to see the number of "private sector people here too," who realize that "Walker will not be a friend to them."
But tomorrow the Tea Partiers will come to Madison. This will change the mood yet again. So far in four days, I've found just two counter-protesters on the Square. On Thursday, I found the two at the South Hamilton entrance to the Capitol. Unrelated, they'd met each other while walking around the Square and banded together. They said they were not part of any organized movement.
One told me he was mad that teachers were lying about being sick and had "abandoned their posts," leaving "working stiffs" to have to get babysitters for their kids. "Unions, they're a thing of the past," he insisted over and over. At least he was from West Allis.
I'm pretty sure that by tomorrow, one disgruntled guy from West Allis will seem like the good old days.