For the last two days, protestors have been marching on the Wisconsin State Capitol, protesting Governor Scott Walker's new union-busting budget proposal. Last night, a public forum was held and protesters got a chance to speak inside the Capitol to let their voices be heard. As of early Wednesday morning, citizens are still speaking to the Joint Finance Committee in the Capitol.
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*All times are Central Standard Time
Tuesday, February 15, 10:42 PM: Thousands of demonstrators are inside the Capitol, demanding a chance to speak in an open forum. Officials have been allowing citizens to sign up on a list, but are debating closing down the list due to overcrowding and public safety reasons. Video here.
11:20 PM: I conducted interviews with three members of the University of Wisconsin community, which can all be seen below.
"I'm worried about the future," Jason Kempe, a Spanish teaching assistant, told me. "I don't have a problem with losing, but I do have a problem with abolishing the ability to negotiate," he said. Watch the full interview here.
Then I spoke with Chris McKim, a recent UW graduate who recently spent time abroad in Nepal. "Where I was living in Nepal, they are coming out of 15 years of civil war over very basic human rights, one of them the right to peacefully assemble and collectively bargain in unions," McKim said. "To see something like that stripped from us here at home, it's horrifying." Watch the full interview here.
"We want our professors to be the best and we want our TA's to be the best," said Meghan Ford, an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin. "They work extremely hard and to take away their pay like this is a basic violation of human rights, not just worker's rights." Watch the full interview here.
Wednesday, February 16, 12:22 AM: It's past midnight here but the crowd has not thinned out much.
I just talked to Leif Brottem, a sixth-year PHD student and research assistant at UW-Madison. "Taking away health insurance and taking away bargaining rights of the union really... it's going to negatively effect the university's ability to attract students which are the lifeblood of the university." Watch the full interview here.
Then, I interviewed Zachary DeQuattro, a TAA member and Zoology teaching assistant at UW-Madison. "I'm here tonight in support of my wife whose a Madison school teacher, and in support of myself and other graduate students," DeQuattro told me. He said of the proposed bill, "It's really the start of losing the whole union setup. The union will be eaten up trying to re-certify every year and it's just a real shame." Watch the full interview here.
12:51 AM: Just got word from a student upstairs that this hearing will likely go on all night. The Republicans may leave at 2:00 when they initially anticipated the forum to end, but I'm hearing that this will go on all night.
2:00 AM: It is officially 2:00 AM and the forum is still going strong. I'm with a few hundred people in the atrium of the building, some of whom are fast asleep.
2:02 AM: All of the lights went off for about 10 seconds, which was met with cheers from some of the people gathered here, but they were promptly turned back on. "Maybe someone just leaned on the light switch," a friend of mine joked.
2:14 AM: Photos of people gathered in the atrium and the overflow room:
2:22 AM: Senator Robert Jauch has announced to a jubilant crowd that the citizens here will be given the opportunity to speak all night. Some Republican senators are calling for a closing of the forum, citing that some people in line to speak arrived after 8:00--the scheduled start time. However, according to Senator Jauch, the people currently up to speak registered just after 6:30 PM, and there are many hundreds still waiting to speak after them.
2:35 AM: I spoke with Senator Lena Taylor, representing Wisconsin's 4th Senate District. When asked how late they are willing to stay here, Senator Taylor responded, "Until everyone is heard." The rest of Senator Taylor's comments are transcribed below:
It's been amazing that Wisconsinites have shown up and made sure that their voices are heard on such a very important issue that overreaches onto the rights of workers. I am very proud, I'm inspired, I am proud to be a Senator who represents many of the individuals who have been denied their opportunity to even be heard today. But I'm also disgusted by the fact that I have to figure out how to do another hearing in another room in order to give people the opportunity to be heard. I find that insulting to the integrity of this institution and to the Wisconsin way. But other than that I'm inspired to stand and I'm no way tired. We're not done yet.
2:40 AM: The Republican senators have announced that they will exit the forum and go back home. However, people are expected to continue to speak.
2:45 AM: A group of about 100 protesters are standing outside the conference room, waiting for the Republican Senators to exit while chanting "tax the rich." Video here.
3:02 AM: The Republicans have exited through a different door and are leaving the Capitol now. Video here.
3:07 AM: About seven or eight Democratic assemblymen are standing here in the atrium of the Capitol about to give a press conference.
3:19 AM: Representative Peter Barca addressing reporters:
We also have a proud tradition in this state that we allow every citizen in this state the opportunity to come forward and be heard. It is unprecedented that in a hearing while we have testimony slips and people wanting to testify, the GOP, in my judgment, is derelict in their duty and as far as I know... we have not heard of ever a hearing ending before every person has the right to speak.
3:23 AM: Senator Jauch is now speaking to the press.
Never before have I seen this kind of passion other than the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the environmental movement, you are part of a very special moment in time. You must seize it, build upon it, don't stop.
I don't know what the outcome will be in the next two days, but we're going to do our very best to make sure that the voices truly do influence that outcome.
3:26 AM: Senator Taylor just told the crowd that Ian's Pizza is bringing over free pizza for everyone gathered in the Capitol. They are in a frenzy.
3:35 AM: I just interviewed Senator Mark Miller from Wisconsin's 16th District. A full transcript of the interview is below:
David Vines: Do you think the forum tonight changed anything? Do you think it has a chance to change anything in the vote tomorrow?
Senator Miller: Well that was certainly our hope, that's the reason so many people came out was to show the proponents of this legislation that there was a huge amount of opposition to it, and that they were pursuing this at their risk.
David Vines: And do you just have any final comments about what happened tonight?
Senator Miller: There was hundreds of people that testified, very much a testimony on how destructive this particular legislation will be to the amity that we have had a long time in Wisconsin between workers and employers. Wisconsin has always been at the forefront of figuring out how workers and employers can figure out their solutions. This legislation just puts that back a whole couple generations--60 years into the past when we had strikes and labor unrest. We're better than that that's not the way we do things in Wisconsin.
3:51 AM: Had a brief interview with Alex Hanna, the co-president of the Teaching Assistants Association. "This effects me personally because it effects wages in the state. Wages as a whole will decline because unions will be weaker in the state... It effects the power of workers in Wisconsin." Watch the full interview here.
4:10 AM: Most if not all of the Senators are gone but a public forum is still being held on the fourth floor of the Capitol with members of the Joint Finance Committee. People are still waiting in line to speak.
4:53 AM: There are still a few hundred people sleeping in the atrium of the Capitol and forum is continuing upstairs. I'm about to exit the building and use the Wi-Fi in Starbucks to upload all of my videos and interviews from today. Special thanks to my friends Rachel Cohen and Stephanie Weinstein for helping me make it through the night. More updates to come.
6:30 AM: The sun has just risen here in the Badger State and I'm about to head back into the Capitol now that all of my photos and videos from the night are uploaded. The protests are expected to continue for a third day later this afternoon.
11:58 AM: Thousands of protesters are back and marching around the capitol. Wisconsin schools had a day off today since many teachers are calling in 'sick' so they can get a chance to attend the rally. Because of this, there are also a noticeable number of high schoolers and middle schoolers marching with their parents as well as the college students and union members. Video of union firefighters marching around the capitol.
12:38 PM: Just spoke to a firefighter who wished to remain anonymous. He told me, "This is about rights not benefits. You can't just come over here and erase laws at will."
Union heads are speaking at the Southeast end of the Capitol while marchers continue to circle the building. "The financial situation in this state is being used to take away worker's rights," a speaker said, to rousing applause from the crowd.
12:59 PM: Iron Workers 383 from Madison is one of the many unions represented here today. Curtis Bell, a member of the Iron Workers union spoke with me a moment ago. "We're here to show our support for our state and local unions," Bell said. "It will effect all the union labor in the long-run. Once they knock one group down they'll just start taking away the rest of them." Watch the full interview here.
1:27 PM: Steven Avery is one of the many high school students here today rallying to show support for his teachers. "I'm here because I believe what Scott Walker is doing is wrong," Avery, a student at Racine Horlick High School, told me. "If they make class sizes larger then that means that all students won't be able to reach their full potential, and if everybody can't reach their full potential then how is the world supposed to go around? How is everybody supposed to have a dream?" he said. "What he's doing is crushing kid's dreams and it's not right." Avery then performed an original work of poetry in front of his peers which you can watch here.
1:55 PM: The protesters are quickly dispersing and it appears that this afternoon's rally is over. Some people on the street told me that there might be another one at the Capitol at about 5 PM Central time. Photos from today will be uploaded later this afternoon.
4:14 PM: Here's a brief slideshow featuring some pictures from the past 24 hours of protests here in Madison.
7:21 PM: There is going to be another sleepover at the Capitol tonight and students and teaching assistants are already packing in. "Peaceful but loud" is how one student described it in a text message.
9:15 PM: The Associated Students of Madison (the University of Wisconsin student government) has voted in favor of endorsing a student march to the Capitol at 10:30 AM tomorrow. The final vote was 10 in favor, 6 opposed, and 3 abstained. At 10:00, students are encouraged to walk out of their classes to take part in this march. Already, over 1,200 students have responded on Facebook that they will be attending the march.