The pizza joints are making a killing in Madison, Wisconsin. Normally at this time of year Ian’s Pizza by the Slice is doing good business because the state high school wrestling tournament is in town and the venue, the Kohl Center on the University of Wisconsin campus, is a block down Frances Street. But they and other pizzerias in town are raking it in thanks to the deliveries of pizza given to the protesters who have basically made the nearby state capitol building the world’s largest indoor camping site and old fashioned hockey arena with hundred of signs and banners posted all over the walls and balconies. They don’t have to pay for much of the pizza; sympathetic people are phoning in orders for them from all over the world, even from Egypt and Tunisia.
The state wrestling tournament still goes on though, seemingly shielded from tumult just a few blocks up the street. No doubt those attending from around Wisconsin are heading up State Street to see the fuss they see on their TV screens back home in Racine, Edgar, Wisconsin Rapids, West Allis and Cuba City. They’ll be met by protestors marching up and down both sides of State Street as they head to the capitol. The square itself has become an inverted reality where a protest takes place and life goes on as normal. Far from chaos in the streets, one could basically get to where they were going inside the building if they didn’t mind shaving a few minutes getting through the marchers going round and round it both outside and in. The State Assembly was voting on amendments to the budgets the Wednesday I happened to stroll in and nobody cared. Someone in the center of the rotunda was speaking and the crowd on the floor and the balconies were cheering or milling about. Supplies were being handed out. Pipe and Drum bands were playing. The cops, many of them sheriff’s deputies from around the state called in to protect the building and its occupants from the mob, were mostly just props. Lots of unwritten rules were being followed.
I have a theory that Gov. Walker delayed his budget address until after the state tournament because the last thing he wanted was to see crowds of white, middle and working class wrestling fans up at the capitol instead of at the Kohl Center joining the protesters when they see what the budget has in store for their towns, cities and schools. Much of the budgets of local government and school districts are made up by state aid and when the proposed billion dollar cuts come down, there a good chance many of the schools who have wrestlers down here may well be out of existence come next February–consolidated into bigger schools because not even teacher and personnel layoffs will make up the shortfalls. And when a school district goes out of business in Wisconsin, well, let’s just say the difference in the state between towns that have schools and those that don’t is quite stark, especially in the rural western part of the state. It’s easy working in the bowls of the Kohl Center and covering a huge enterprise like this to forget all that’s going on in the outside world. One can easily develop a bunker mentality like the press room itself. But many high school wrestling coaches are teachers too, and you can hear them talk about receiving layoff notices. No doubt there are fans in the stands who work for their local township, school district or county government and they probably just as worried too what’s going to happen. Wrestling fans, public employee or not, union or non-union, tend to be a conservative lot, not all but most. One wonders if Gov. Walker understands this.
The tournament ends Saturday night and on Sunday morning the state capitol police are telling the campers, most UW students, and TAs (teaching assistants) that they have to clear out of the building for “cleaning.” No doubt the hope from the governor’s office and the state legislative leadership, who prefer not to step over sleeping bags on their way to work, is that the campers won’t be back and the continuous two-week protest against Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget reforms will lose steam and fizzle out. That may or may not be so, but so long as the 14 State Senate Democrats, whose bolt from the state into Illinois began the stalemate, continue to stay away the standoff will continue–protesters or no protesters. Given the governor’s comments when he thinks he’s talking talking to David Koch over the phone, eager to get his approval and his money for what he’s doing, there’s no chance at all they’ll come back anytime soon.
And even if they did come back there’s no chance this dispute will end anytime soon in anyone’s mind. Already recall petitions are ready to be circulate for at least two-thirds of the State Senate coming from both sides of the divide. There will be an organized effort to recall Walker as soon as the law allows. No doubt the anti-Walker forces are hoping to collect the 500,000 signatures needed in order to have the recall election during the 2012 elections when President Obama will be on the ballot, the presumed favorite to win the state in the next election and thus a golden opportunity to get rid of him. Wisconsin has a fairly easy recall process, so easy in fact one wonders why it even has elections on fixed times and dates at all; the losers are already plotting your demise as soon as they get their chance, which is basically after you’re sworn in. So we’ll have lots of elections in Wisconsin over the next two years. In the meantime, your best bet is NOT to give your views on the budget or Wisconsin politics on Facebook lest you be “defriended ” or subject to nasty vitriol from persons on either side questioning your intelligence (the state’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, recently did a big story on this). Stick to recipes and kids photos only.
There’s more to tell–but this is a blog, not a book. I’ll leave you rooting for the kids I cover to win state titles and to consider the large undercurrent underneath this struggle, which affects Wisconsin and the nation’s politics as a whole.