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PHOTOS, VIDEO: Massive Crowds – and Organizing – in Madison

MADISON, WI (FDL) – On a cold, snowy day in Madison, men and women from across the state have descended on the state Capitol. Inside is still packed, but outside, the stage on State Street has already drawn tens of thousands. A variety of music acts – including a union-friendly version of Eminem – have played for the audiences. Local news puts the number at at least 35,000 already – and the main march has been called for 3:00, two hours from now. Here’s some video from one band, playing the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down”:

People from all walks of life are here: union and non-union, parent and child, old and young. I asked one lady about Senator Glenn Grothman’s claim that only kids “up for a demonstration” were here. She answered, “I’m 61, I’ve been a teacher for 37 years, from the Oshkosh school district, my godmother is 99, she told me to come here instead of celebrate her birthday on Monday. So he can (cough, cough).”

But as much as this is a generic protest against the budget repair bill and Gov. Scott Walker’s ideological agenda for Wisconsin, it’s an organizing moment. And people are seizing it. There’s a lot of discussion about a State Supreme Court race on April 5 between Supreme Court Justice David Prosser (R) and Assistant Attorney General JoAnn Kloppenburg (D). The Supreme Court in Wisconsin has a 4-3 Republican majority, and a pickup for Democrats would change that. And many are seeing that as a proxy fight against Governor Walker and his extreme policy agenda. I’ve heard multiple conversations telling people that they need to work for Kloppenburg to get her elected next month. Here’s a sign someone was holding:

People are also talking about three State Assembly seats that were held by Republicans taken into Walker’s cabinet and which will have special elections in May.

There is also a lot of talk of recalls – of Governor Walker, but also the “Republican 8,” the 8 State Senators who can be recalled immediately. Here’s a sign that AFSCME organizers were holding, showing the districts being targeted.

They were signing people up to work the signature-gathering stage of the recall. This is pretty serious and organized.

Finally, I saw this sign in the Capitol advertising for a three-day AFSCME union organizer training.

My point is that this is a protest movement, and the singular goal of killing the budget repair bill is in the forefront. But underneath, there’s real organizing going on – and the potential for a new labor and worker movement, with implications electoral and otherwise.

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David Dayen

David Dayen