Itay Gabay didn't come all the way from Israel to Madison to raise hell. He came to get a doctorate in journalism and communications at the UW-Madison.
There were lots of things Gabay didn't know about Wisconsin, like how cold it would be. But he wasn't completely ignorant: In Israel he had taught undergrads about the Wisconsin Idea, the notion that the university should improve people's lives throughout the state. It was, he says, "part of the reason I came here."
During his first three years in Madison, Gabay, 34, spent life much like any other graduate student, keeping company with just a handful of people in his department. His life changed when Gov. Scott Walker proposed the "budget repair bill."
He spent the first weeks of the protests in the Capitol, 'round the clock, working as a "marshal," helping to facilitate communications and keep the protests peaceful and orderly. As the state tried to push protesters out of the Capitol, Gabay contemplated getting arrested, even though it might mean deportation.
The protests helped break him out of the bubble of graduate school, as he met teachers, health care workers and others from around the state.
"I was a little bit afraid at first what people from Wisconsin would say about this guy with a different accent from another country," he says. "But they were all very welcoming. They all gave me a feeling that I'm part of what's going on."
Gabay knows that some people will see him as an outside agitator. Even though he can't vote, he points out that he works and pays taxes.
"Workers' rights are human rights," he adds. "That's something that goes beyond the state, the country and citizenship. And it doesn't really matter where we're from or whether we're citizens or not, there's a human bond that's more essential. That's more important than passports."
The protests made Gabay feel like a Wisconsinite, as he continues mobilizing people to get involved through the Teaching Assistants' Association.
"For the next two months, this what I'm doing."