One year ago I didn’t know any of the people I was warmly embracing and high-fiving as I walked around the Capitol Square today. In the course of just one short year, strangers have become almost like family members. Whereas a year ago a dude carrying a plastic inflatable palm tree around would have been avoided at all costs, this afternoon that dude received knowing smiles, chuckles and friendly pats on the back. There were a lot of inside jokes made and lingo used that only a Wisconsinite could truly get. Today’s was a different kind of rally than that of last March, but no less important or necessary.
The day began with meetings of various groups and organizations near the Capitol Square. I attended the open house of Madison’s United Wisconsin office, which opened its doors to a steady stream of well-wishers and those in search of coffee and snacks. The office was packed with people from across the state. I ran into at least ten people from Waukesha and Jefferson Counties while I was there eating cookies, including Scott Michalak, the Democrat running against Joel Kleefisch.
There was music outside the office, with a small band warming everyone up before John Nichols spoke, followed by Mahlon Mitchell, and Peter Barca (who was very well-received).
Eventually, everyone meandered away from their smaller groups and meetings toward the Capitol Square, where over 65,000 gathered around the stage built on the stairs of the Capitol. The Solidarity Singers, a group which didn’t exist this time last year, regaled us with songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “Solidarity Forever” before we listened to and cheered on speakers including Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, Lori Compas, John Nichols, and others. (It seemed to me that the audience seemed most excited by Lori Compas…)
After the speakers, some people lingered, some went to area bars and restaurants, and some headed home. The whole day had felt really warm and fuzzy, and not just because of the balmy weather. Most everybody I encountered was smiling, and some were positively glowing, especially the elder members in the crowd. Whereas last March there was almost a hunger in the air, this year the crowd seemed pleasantly sated. It was a leisurely atmosphere that lacked the urgency of the 2011 rallies. That’s not to say momentum or excitement has died down, because that’s not the case, by any means.
Today’s events seemed to tie up loose ends and tighten the bonds that we’ve formed over the past year. This battle isn’t over, and we’ve got a lot more work to do. But today was fun, energizing, and rejuvenating. It was like coming home. (Pictures)