Another freezing cold Saturday afternoon, another enormous demonstration at the Capitol. In week three, the protest against Gov. Scott Walker's budget-cutting, union-curbing proposals showed no sign of flagging, especially with passionate guests like Ryan Bingham, Michelle Shocked and Michael Moore on hand to whip up the crowd.
Protesters marched around the Square while others crowded onto the Capitol's King Street corner to hear the speakers and musicians. The crowd's size was impressive, given the fact that, as organizers from Wisconsin Wave noted, the rally had been planned and announced on Facebook a mere 24 hours earlier. Immediately, prominent local and national figures jumped onboard, including Bingham, who'd played a sold-out concert at the Majestic Theatre the night before.
Strumming an acoustic guitar, Bingham wrapped his gravelly voice around Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changing" and Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," implicitly connecting the current protest to struggles past. You can imagine the crowd's response when he sang this line from the Dylan song: "Come senators and congressmen please heed the call/Don't stand in the doorway don't block up the hall...."
Bingham was extremely serious at the mike, but almost everyone else had a sense of humor, including many of the sign-carrying people in the crowd. One woman's sign demanded "More Cowbell, Less Walker," and, amazingly, she got her wish. The local party band VO5 had a cowbell on hand as they played joyous versions of "We Are Family" and "Love Train." They also performed a topical Cheesehead rap, insisting that "this revolution is fueled by cheddar!"
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and his challenger in the spring election, former Mayor Paul Soglin, made a joint appearance, offering a united front against Walker's proposals. Both of them got off good lines, and Soglin even conceded that the current demonstrations topped the ones from his heyday as a 1960s student protester. No matter who wins on April 5, Gov. Walker is guaranteed to have a formidable opponent in city hall.
Michelle Shocked flew in from Los Angeles to perform at a moment's notice. She poured so much intensity into her songs and her comments to the crowd that you sensed she would have run from L.A. to Madison -- over broken glass, no doubt -- if she hadn't been able to catch a plane.
Playing an acoustic guitar in a black leather jacket and black chapeau, Shocked never stopped smiling, despite her indignation over Republican tactics. With brief assistance from guitarist Jon Langford of the Mekons, she joked, improvised lyrics, and rattled Miss Forward on top of the Capitol with her huge voice. As a coup de grace, she got the crowd singing along to the Supremes' "Stop in the Name of Love," demanding that the Republican Party "think it o-o-ver."
See here for Bill Lueders' report on the rally's highlight, Michael Moore's barnburner speech.