It has been twenty-four hours since I left Madison to return home to Waukesha and I’m still glowing. From the recall petition drops to the Solidarity Sing-Along to the party at the Monona Terrace, 1-17-12 will be a day I’ll never forget. Many citizens who traveled across the state to converge in Madison echoed the same sentiments. It was a day of restoration of faith in our fellow citizens, the start of returning Wisconsin to its pre-Walker glory, and an event filled with much-needed community healing.
Robert, a gentleman I met on Tuesday, told me that he “loves Wisconsin” and has always been proud of his state, but ever since Scott Walker took office he’s been embarrassed to admit he lives here. “Around the country, Wisconsin’s really looked upon as the state that turned its back on its people,” Robert said. “(Walker) does not care about the economically challenged people, the middle class people, the small business owners…the corporate people, those are Scott Walker’s cronies.” That realization had left Robert feeling “down in the dumps.”
But Robert’s outlook improved significantly on Tuesday when he learned that over a million signatures had been collected, more than enough to trigger a Walker/Kleefisch recall. Robert said “there are more of us then there are of them,” and that he is “very proud to say I’m from Wisconsin again.”
Indeed, Scott Walker’s radical political agenda had divided Wisconsinites, causing many of us to feel down in the dumps, as he purposefully drove a wedge between private sector and public sector workers to advance his own political agenda. Wisconsin been a tense state in which to live over the past year.
But Walker’s antics and the recall process itself also sparked a completely new phenomenon that ignited quickly and burned brightly: the advent of the #wiunion community.
For those unfamiliar with twitter, “#wiunion” is a “hashtag” that is often used to easily locate information about topics related to the Wisconsin uprising over the past year. The hashtag has also served as a tool to unite like-minded individuals, each with his/her own unique twitter “name.”
One year ago today, I had no idea who “@bluecheddar1” was, but on Tuesday, we embraced in the Capitol rotunda like long-lost relatives, after participating in the lunch-hour Solidarity Sing-Along (another new, uniquely Wisconsin phenomenon.)
“Blue” is just one example of a twitter friend, or “tweep” I met as a result of Walker’s attack on middle-class Wisconsin families. At the same Solidarity sing-along, I recognized another #wiunion buddy, “@battiestgirl”, from her Time magazine photo. Within the space of ten minutes, several more “tweeps” gathered around, as we hugged and squealed slightly.
Not all new connections were formed via twitter and Facebook, however. Numerous face-to-face groups and organizations were created as people struggled to come to terms with the new reality in Wisconsin. Some of these groups travelled together on busses from Milwaukee to Madison to witness the unloading of a U-Haul filled with 3,000 pounds of recall petitions at the office of the Government Accountability Board. Many had missed the Fitzgerald petition drop, as it took place earlier that morning, but the Walker-Kleefisch drop was extremely well-attended.
Following the powerful visual of the volunteers carrying the recall petitions to the GAB office, everyone rushed over to the warmth of the Monona Terrace to await the celebration, complete with speakers and free beer.
Upon entering Monona Terrace, we were greeted with, “Congratulations, folks, the party’s that way.” As I stepped aside to remove my cumbersome winter gear, I listened as the greeters repeated a similar welcome to throngs of others, eliciting delighted responses, laughter and “thank yous.” We were directed toward the lower level, where I heard “oohs” and “ahs” as guests snapped photos of the party room down below through giant fishbowl windows. It was just after 4:30pm, and the place was filling up rapidly.
It felt like coming home.
I couldn’t take two steps without running into someone I had volunteered with, someone I knew from Twitter or Facebook, or people from my own area, Waukesha County. Also in attendance were such Democratic greats as Mark Pocan, Peter Barca, Chris Larson, Mahlon Mitchell, and many more. We listened to music and to several speakers, including Mike Tate and Phil Neuenfeldt, head of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.
John Nichols rounded out the line-up, and, unsurprisingly, really nailed his speech. He told us that citizens who don’t want to be ruled by corporate interests have “weapons” in our arsenal in the fight “to keep our democracy,” and one of the biggest weapons is “Recall Power.”
But Nichols really summed up 1-17-12 and all of our struggles and subsequent connections of the entire last year in one sentence. Said Nichols, “Above all, this is a Wisconsin moment.”