On November 19, 2011, I traveled to Madison, WI to attend the rally to begin the recall of Gov. Walker. The weather was a warm, near 50 degrees for mid-November. The crowd was lively with the regular songs, rousing speeches, local music, and the wave of protestors circling the Capitol. I randomly approached strangers in the crowd of approximately 40,000 to interview. I wanted to know why they came and what was important to them. This is the first in a three part series of short interviews from that day. There was a request from one of the people – that there would be no retribution for their beliefs. As Wisconsinites, I think we can handle that.
Here are 3 of their stories.
Susan Bickley and Marie Martini (Madison)
From the group “Raging Grannies”
Marie: I got involved to be a voice for the children who don’t have a voice…the children of Wisconsin who are poor, hungry, can’t get medical, homeless and now their educational system is being decimated. And somebody needs to speak for them. We are selling their future. Our future is going to be gone because they are not going to be able to have a life. I’m also involved for the parents of those children, who are swamped with educational debt and can’t buy a house. And if they do it is underwater and they have no opportunities.
This is horrible, I’m a life-long resident of Wisconsin, and I would have never thought that this could happen. My daughter is a school principal, and they have to lay off teachers because that is where the most money is – in payroll. So, the class sizes are increasing, and the morale of teachers is horrible. There are no tools. Our educational system is being destroyed. I just don’t understand it. Teachers and the cops and the firemen and the garbage collectors are responsible for the financial crisis? “We” are the enemy? The 99%? I don’t think so.
Do you see a solidarity among the public workers here in Madison, even though some were exempt from losing collective bargaining?
Susan: The relationship between the protestors and the police and fire department is amazing. And if I could have one wish in all of this excitement, it is that the rest of the country that is doing this incredible work with “Occupy” could bottle what we have here. Because it is so disheartening to watch the police in NYC (and elsewhere) act as if they were not part of the “99%”. And it breaks my heart to see that rift, when we have a model here showing how that can work.
It’s not that the police don’t tell us sometimes, “I’m sorry, but you can’t be on that street corner.” But they do it with a smile, and then they show us where we can stand. And every demonstration here has started with the firemen with their bagpipes and their uniforms and marching down State Street and marching into the rotunda. And it just brings tears to my eyes, because we are a community. For the first time in many, many years – we are united….our anger and our frustration and our disbelief that anyone could do this to our state.
Teresa Tellez-Giron (Madison,WI)
I’ve been part of this since the beginning. I’ve been impacted by this and my children, too. So, I think it is important for the minority groups to get involved, and this is something that is going to impact everybody.
Personally, (I have) to have a pay cut when we can just hardly make it sometimes. I’m a specialist with Child protective services and I’ve seen the impact on the families I work with and how, you know, all that Walker’s been doing is affecting the lower and middle class. And so, when I’m not able to provide things that I need for my own family and the clients that I work with, I have to get the voice out there. We need to be more active, more pro-active, in these kinds of things if we want any changes.
Um, I have to be here and get more of the Latino community here, because sometimes we are afraid to use our voice and have people hear our voices. And so, by me being here I am already trying to make a change in my community.
Why do you think Latino people are scared to speak out?
Because, politically they’ve kept us in our little corner, where they don’t want us to make any noise and people have learned to be that way. But, you know, I’m a citizen, too, and I have my rights, and this is our right to start making changes…to come out here and show our faces, so when my clients see that I’m here, they feel that they can come here, too, because they see someone else that looks like them.
Undocumented people don’t have a voice, and they are losing all of their jobs. They are creating more laws that are penalizing people for hiring undocumented people. People are being detained and being sent back to their countries and leaving their children, who are U.S. citizens, behind. But there are no services available for the children left behind to be reconnected with their parents…with their families. This is happening every day.
Does Wisconsin’s new Voter I.D. bill affect the Latino community?
Yes. There is nothing, nothing, to help U.S. citizen Latinos (Latino citizens)know that they can get a free I.D. And if we don’t do more of this, and we don’t do more in our community to get them informed of their rights, then they will not be able to vote.
What changes would you like to see?
Number one, recall Walker.
Number two, eliminate laws like the Arizona ones that only impact children and their families. And it is already creating an issue with employers that are not able to hire other employees to work for them, because the Latino community works so hard. It is hard to find people who will work that hard for such little pay.
Gary and Connie Gille (Madison)
Gary: We’re Pro-Scott Walker, we’re pro not having unions in the public sector. Our group that we were just with is totally a grassroots group, started by a citizen, for the citizens for the state of Wisconsin, no money from the unions, no money from the Democrats…
Private sector unions are fine. But in the public sector they’re not fine, because there is no give and take. When a corporation is not doing very well, the union is not going to ask for as much until the economy picks up. But the government unions just keep getting the same wages and the same benefits. And the wages are way too high for what they do. And I work in printing, for a “big corporation” with 600 people.
Connie: It’s non-union, and he’s seen plenty of union companies go out of business because they can’t compete.
What about the big bailouts on Wall Street and the tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens?
G: Yeah, like Bruce Springsteen and those people?
C: And he professes to be a liberal, and he doesn’t pay taxes! What’s right with that? (The bail outs) that’s wrong, they should’ve let them go and should not interfere with the economy.
G: You have to be careful with banks, though, b/c when the banks fail you punish the middle and lower classes. But to let a company fail that isn’t running it correctly, yes, it should fail.
C: And there should be means testing for people getting public assistance that don’t need it or are, literally, robbing the system…
G: And people who have more money to hire accountants, (like) GE made 14 Billion this year…with a “B”. And they paid zero in taxes. That is wrong.
I think the tax breaks and the GE scenario are things that we could agree on.
G: (laughing) 100 percent.
C: But it is not all about corporations. Because if they don’t make money, we don’t make money.
And on the other end, for instance, the 29,000 children losing BadgerCare is not right. It should be a common value that we take care of our children.
G: It’s not their fault, but the money isn’t always going to be able to come from the non-government working class. We’re tapped out.
What do you say to people that are out working two jobs and still can’t make ends meet?
G: In a free market society, it’s going to happen.
C: (shrugs and looks away)
When you shrug like that it makes it seem like you don’t care.
C: (looks at me directly) No! It means that we are all in this together! I have two kids. You think I haven’t sacrificed? No! I don’t go out and buy new shoes or clothes (motioning up and down on her body)
G: We save our whole lives to put our kids through college. They are almost through, and we are almost broke.
C: But that’s the way it should be!
G: We did it on our own. I’ve worked 38 years for the same company and never missed a day of work. We’ve worked our whole lives, but we don’t expect anything from our government.
C: And we shouldn’t! The government isn’t there to give me anything, and I give some so the guy who is in a wheelchair and doesn’t work can have something of it.
G: We aren’t cold-hearted people. We just think too many people are sucking off the system. We’ve given money to charity, we’ve helped our family and neighbors.
But there is realism and there is idealism. And you are an idealist (mimics my voice playfully), “oh ideally everyone would have this and everything would be fine.” But a realist says, “Ok, how are you going to pay for this?” The realist is the one who solves the problem. And the idealist is the one who brings up problems.
We are interrupted. A truck pulls up to the three of us with man and a woman inside. They must’ve deduced the scenario seeing my “Recall Walker” sticker on my backpack and speaking to a couple with “Stand with Walker” signs. The male stranger yelled out to me: “They are absolutely right and there is nothing you can do about it!”
We all laughed while Gary threw his hands up and yelled back, “In a democracy, we all have an opinion!”
The stranger stopped then, his wife was smiling at us from inside the cab. He continued,“Some of us have to think about things and then you have to live with your own conclusions. But when you follow, someone else made those decisions. All you have to do is follow. But I care about others, I care about the poor. I want public healthcare for other people, even the lazy ones that don’t want to work…who don’t want to do anything!”
We all laughed again.
He continued, “And it is not because I’m altruistic and holy. No, it’s because I’m a selfish bastard. You know why? Because if they get sick –“
Connie interrupted laughing, “Then, you have to pay even more!”