While thousands demonstrated outside, a few hundred occupied the Wisconsin Capitol, inspiring a movement that continues to grow.
Inside, at Night – The Origins of an Uprising
Last winter, in the hours and days after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced his so-called “Budget Repair Bill,” tens upon tens of thousands of citizens gathered at the Capitol to raise a unified voice of protest. Those gathered inside to testify against the bill remained overnight, at first simply to keep the hearings open. When it became clear their testimony was falling on deaf ears, fourteen Democratic Senators fled to Illinois to delay passage of the bill, and the citizenry inside quickly morphed into a self-organizing resistance effort. They taught themselves basic rules of peaceful resistance, egalitarian organization, and conversion of the palace guard. They entered the building as strangers, withstood siege, held their ground, and marched out 18 days later forged into family, a family that continues to live, work, and carry on the struggle together, nine months later.
Their spirit of peaceful resistance spread powerfully in waves from the Capitol Rotunda to the streets outside and beyond, winning hearts and minds and drawing citizens to Madison from every corner of the state, and beyond. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in and celebrated the "reawakening of the sleeping giant." Exuberance and joy ruled the day. That energy would later lead to the successful recall of two Republican Senators.
Witnessing this from the inside, for the first time in many decades I became hopeful. This was different from the hatred and violence of the sixties (from both sides) that had frightened me then. There was no fear here, even in the face of intimidation and threats. Inside the Rotunda I sensed many of us elders were looking to the younger people for leadership, guidance, and a fresh approach. The lesson of Tahrir square (remove the fear, remove the tyrant) was fresh in everyone’s mind. Mothers brought their babies and children in to experience this moment. This was something new under the sun, or so it seemed to me. Although tense at times, peace and joy prevailed, and respect was accorded to all, including law enforcement. This was their fight too; it was their pensions we were fighting for.
They (the police) may yet come to understand that they are not the private army for the 1%, but that it is we, the 99%, who pay their salary. Individual officers were able to relax their stony professionalism and talk to us as people. I passed several hours one late night chatting with one officer about his work as a police photographer. I saw another, obviously a father himself, his face dissolved in baby talk, tickling a baby’s nose held in his mother’s arms, his head haloed by the gorgeous dome high above. In the second it took to focus, the shot had dissolved. The one that got away. We all became more humanized.
We did not ask them not to do their jobs or not to follow orders, but I never would have been able to smuggle in my son’s laptop and cell phone charger without their assistance. And when the siege intensified - all food locked out for several days, the heat turned off at night, and those leaving could no longer be replaced - where then did those two hundred Indian dinners come from in the middle of the night? And how did they get in…? No one asked, but every officer in the building was thanked repeatedly, in whispers, and again later, in the daytime chants of the crowds: “Thank You, Thank You.”
The sense of community forming inside was reflected by excerpts of this vision posted on a small card one morning in the hallway:
“What if the whole world was like this, every day?.... Direct democracy. Consent. Autonomy. Mutual aid, helping without asking for anything in return. Inevitably, the time will come when we will have to leave this space. But if that weren’t so, would you ever leave?
We are living in a vision of a world that could be. Will we quietly go back to our isolated lives and wage labor? Or will we create the world we want to live in?”
The press (with some wonderful exceptions) wasn’t watching. We were. “We” being a small group of photographers who took part, at one level or another, in these events. We wish to tell the story of what happened inside, at night, not so much as historical anecdote, but as testimony and fuel to a living moment that continues to expand throughout the land. We wish to add our energies (and yours) to that momentum.
Telling that story nevertheless requires resources. We are asking for financial help so that we can print, mount, and frame the best of our work, and hang it for three months in Tamarack Studio & Gallery. We will also create a narrative to accompany the images, condensing material from written journals of the participants, blogs, news accounts, and other relevant sources into a meditation upon the images. Our goal: a grand opening celebration on the very day 540,000 signatures are presented to the State, initiating the recall of Governor Walker. With sufficient funds, a book of the exhibit will be created as well. Indeed, 40% of all funds raised through admissions and the sale of photographs and books will flow to the recall effort.
We are asking you to help us finance this project because it is a story that needs to be told. We hold our breath as the protesters at Zuccotti Park, and in Oakland and Denver and everywhere struggle with the powers that be, each side trying to learn how best to deal with the other. We hold our breath, hoping all of us can set aside our anger, bitterness, and fear - even as we hold on to our outrage - and come to a place where we will respect, perhaps even honor one another. As we create the world we want to live in, it will help to draw attention to the Madison experience.
We do not wish to divert resources that would otherwise go to the recall effort, we wish to expand them. This is a moment when we cannot hold back. We awake one morning to discover there is a monster that has grown large in our midst. What to do? We all can (must) do only what we can from where we are. You don’t have to give a lot, but if everyone, please, could give a little, we can do this. With your help, this tribute will inspire others to stand up for the values of social justice and equality that those “Inside, at Night” personified and that ultimately is at the heart of our values as a country.
Thank you so very much,
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