Demonstrations outside and inside the Wisconsin State Capitol Building are now in their fourth day. Tens of thousands of workers and students have taken dramatic actions to protest the bill promoted by Gov. Scott Walker that would strip public-sector workers of the right to bargain collectively.
The following is an interview conducted at 10am CT today, Feb. 17, with Austin Thompson, who is at the scene of the protest on the third level of the Rotunda.
Liberation News: What’s it like there?
Austin Thompson: The bill apparently has enough votes to pass. They are going to vote on this thing any moment now so workers have decided to put all of the hesitation behind us and now we’re packed into the actual Capitol Building. The demonstrations are no longer focused outside. We have moved into the Capitol Building.
There are thousands of people inside here. No one can move. I’m in a crowd of people. The police have blocked off several of passageways. Our goal is to make this place so packed that this bill won’t be able to go to a vote without hearing the voice of the workers.
It’s a very lively situation. It’s unusual for State Capitol Buildings to be packed like this. There are union organizers, students, rank-and-file workers and others. People are chanting “kill the bill” and singing “solidarity forever, the unions make us stronger.”
Throughout the day the actions are expected to escalate as they get closer to voting on the bill. There is a feeling that it may be passed. I’m not sure what that will mean for the demonstrations. I can assure you that workers aren’t going to take that lying down.
Liberation News: How many people do you think are there—is it larger or smaller than yesterday? Is there any difference in the composition from today to yesterday—is it the same workers, more unions, more young people?
Austin Thompson: The crowds are much, much larger than they have been at any other point in the demonstration. They are so large that there is no room to move around the Capitol Rotunda or floor levels above the Rotunda.
The demographics are much different than the other days. Now it’s mostly unions, although students are still involved. The vast majority of people here are workers. It’s a sea of red. I see teachers, corrections officers, firefighters, nurses—this is literally the workers, that is the only way I can explain it. These are workers who are on strike today or have taken off work.
We’re getting word that we’re expecting well over 50,000 people to come out today. It is the workers who make this state move. The workers who are here are the ones who serve the community. I don’t see how the legislatures can pass the bill given what’s happening here. This is historic.
The politicians are literally hiding. They are escaping through secret passageways so they won’t have to hear the voice of the workers.
What’s happening at this moment is only the beginning. After 12 noon, we are expecting busloads of workers from many different unions. This is a major escalation—that’s the only way I can describe it.