Public employees, labor activists and students have been filling the hallways of the Wisconsin State Capitol for nearly two weeks to protest Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to attack public sector employees and unions in proposed legislation. Hundreds of people have slept inside the capitol building each night. So many people are staying here that protesters organized impromptu dining areas, a lending library and a medic center.
Democracy Now! producers Mike Burke and John Hamilton met with Harriet Blair Rowan, an activist and student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Rowan has spent the last nine days and nights at the capitol building and offered to give a tour through the encampment.
Watch the 9-minute tour through the capitol building to get an idea of how the demonstrators have organized the distribution of food, medical care and made sleeping arrangements:
DEMOCRACY NOW'S MIKE BURKE: "It sounds almost like you're running a small little town inside the State House."
HARRIET BLAIR ROWAN: "Yeah, that's what people have been saying. People really see it as like our own little community."
Democracy Now! also interviewed several people inside the Wisconsin State Capitol building.
Wisconsin police officers have participated in the Madison labor protests, not only on the job as public security, but also as demonstrators. "Law enforcement officers from all across the state are proud to stand with their fellow devoted public employees," says Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, in an interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. "We have been very impressed by how peaceful everyone has been."
Although police officers and firefighters are exempted from key provisions of the bill, they have joined the protests in large numbers. Democracy Now! interviews Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association.
"There is not one public employee that does their job to get rich," Mitchell says. "We don't do our job to get rich. We do our job to have a decent life, to have a decent middle-class family and not have to struggle like a lot of our other people do."
John Nichols, Madison-based political correspondent for The Nation, talked with Goodman about the ongoing protests.
"Polling shows that overwhelming majorities of Wisconsinites support collective bargaining. Overwhelming majorities are very upset with what the Governor is doing," Nichols says. "And when an elected representative acts in direct conflict with what the people of the state want, the people will rise. They will come, they will assemble, they will challenge."
By telephone, Democracy Now! was able to contact Democratic State Senator Chris Larson, who has fled to Illinois, part of the Democrats effort to stall a vote on the bill.
"Democracy isn't something that happens for 13 hours one day every two years on Election Day. It happens all the time. There's room for public input," Larson says. "And not even being able to have a conversation is just unacceptable. So until we're able to engage in a real debate, until we're able to throw this bill out and actually move forward with a budget repair bill and move forward with the real business of Wisconsin, we can't come back."