“It’s cold, but not as cold hearted as Gov. Walker’s Budget.”
Piercing winds and negative wind chills were not enough to keep hundreds of Wisconsinites from attending two actions against Governor Walker’s proposed budget cuts on the University of Wisconsin’s campus on Saturday, February 14. It was a cold, cold way to spend Valentine’s Day, with the wind in Madison whipping off of Lake Mendota, bringing the already frigid temperatures down to a danger zone of twenty-five degrees below zero. But this is Wisconsin, and in spite of the polar vortex, four or five hundred winter warriors arrived to rally. If these numbers, despite the cold, are any indication, Walker’s budget is drawing a lot of heat.
The grey cement canyon of Library Mall quickly filled up with people for the noontime action. It was so cold that the PA system, as soon as it was powered up, began to crackle and sputter, and finally gave up all pretense of amplification, so we went strictly bullhorn. A lengthy list of speakers from a wide array of stakeholders spoke. The emcee of the event was one of the dynamic and charismatic leaders of the burgeoning Young, Gifted and Black Coalition, Brandi Grayson. Ms. Grayson did a great job of painting Walker’s budget cuts as not just an attack on the UW System, but as the continuation of an attack on black, brown, and marginalized communities as well, since Walker’s cuts will affect these groups more than any other.
Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Bob Peterson also connected the UW System’s struggle to other equally important struggles, such as K12 public education, the fight to raise the minimum wage, Black Lives Matter, and immigrant rights:
For us to succeed in stopping those cuts, we need to work together and realize we can’t do it alone. As others are are saying today, our struggle will only be successful if we are part of a broad social movement, including black lives matter, raise up 15 for a living wage, defend immigrant rights, build the environmental movement, demand prison reform. Let us unite in a broad social movement for economic and political democracy and racial justice, let us choose hope over despair, and continue to fight for our children and justice for all.
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee English professor and OLB co-founder, Lane Hall, also testified about the importance of shared governance, and his concern about the “backroom” nature of its dismantling. He noted that, “We have funding for sports arenas. We have funding for highway expansions, for corporate welfare schemes… We even have enough money to give every property owner in the state enough of a tax-break to buy a double cheeseburger special. But we don’t have money for education.” He advocated for active resistance in our demands to “fund our future” regarding all public education:
“We demand a raise in TA pay! We demand that adjunct instructors earn a living wage! We demand that staff and workers who keep these campuses running be treated with respect and compensated fairly! And how do we do this? We rally. We march. We write letters, teach classes, talk to neighbors, conduct teach-ins, walk-outs, days of resistance across the state, days of action… And if they still don’t listen? If they still don’t listen? We SHUT IT DOWN!”
At the end of many fine speakers, UW’s fight song, “On Wisconsin!” rang through the concrete corridors. People went for shelter, for warmth, for food, and on to fight another, hopefully warmer, day.
Later that night, once the sun set and temperatures dropped a few more degrees (though thankfully the wind settled as well) our planned light brigade action atop Bascom Hill began. We thought long and hard about cancelling the event due to the dangerous temperatures but decided the night’s planned messages were simply too important in terms of the timing. Plus, a new icon, the red heart, had just been created, and we were eager to see it in use. The “Holders of the Light” never cease to amaze us. As with the noontime action, it seemed that no one would show up, and then, right at the designated time, people began to wander up Bascom Hill, braving the conditions to help perform our Valentine’s Day actions of love and dissent. It was a beautiful night, as we held a short vigil for the Wisconsin Idea, that visionary document from a bygone progressive era that asserts the university’s function of serving the citizens of the state, of not keeping research in the ivory tower, of “sifting and winnowing” through intellectual inquiry, and the sharing of governance through democratic structures, and of a constant search for truth. This is the document, codified under law as “Chapter 36,” that is being dismantled by Scott Walker and his legislative loyalists, the one in which, two weeks ago, he was caught “deleting the truth-statement” from its core principles. He quickly backtracked and blamed the staff, but his intentions are quite clear. One need look no further than his reckless budget.
These nighttime actions are always magical. We stood in the cold under the massive oak trees, with the capitol dome shining like a pale green diamond at the end of State Street. The stars were visible in the velvet night sky, it was cold but still, the snow crackled under our feet, and everyone was in good cheer, buoyed by each other, this amazing community of activists. I <3 UW shined from the steps of Bascom Hall, that birthplace of the Wisconsin Idea, held by a graduate student, an undergrad, an alumni, and a parent of a current student. It seemed a serious and somber ending to the night, though off to the side, a small group of Holders did a little creative remixing of letters to spell out IT IS HELLA COLD!