They were standing by a lamp post, this middle-aged couple. They could have been my parents, in another life. They could have been yours.
Sue and Kim. He retired after 33 years working for the state. She still worked for the state, on a temporary contract that kept getting extended. They’d had pay freezes for half a dozen years, when they didn’t have pay cuts. They weren’t getting wealthy on their pensions. They weren’t sporting $60 haircuts. They lived in a small town. They were trying to hold on to what they had.
Behind them, around Madison’s beautiful Capitol, people walked with kids and dogs, and cops watched from their bikes and horses. A man in a Badger costume danced on the steps. A man with an accordion played.
“This is where we were 18 months ago when the protests began,” Kim said. “We thought we would finish where we started.”
Look, there are a lot of things I could say right now. About how it’s not over, about this instance of voter fraud or other, about the indictments sure to come down. About where we go from here, about what we do. The crowd at the Capitol was stunned, Tuesday night. Angry, but mostly just stunned. And then the song began, rising up from around the statue of the Lady, holding out her hand to tomorrow.
Oh, how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away.
This stuff is hard for a reason. These fights are fights for a reason. Unlikely victories in the face of impossible odds take place because the odds are impossible and the victories unlikely, and we fight what we fight because otherwise we’d spend our entire lives talking about how and why we didn’t fight them. I know I say this all the time. I know it gets tiresome. It IS tiresome. Tell me what else to say, here. Give me words.
There’s not a lot this life asks of us. Just fight the fights in front of you, that’s all, and you pick what those fights are. People who picked these fights, they weren’t planning on having it easy. Do you know how long it’s been since there’s been any demonstration of union strength in this entire goddamn country? Do you know how far back into history people had to reach?
I can tell you this, for certain: We are no less free, because thousands of people in Madison and Milwaukee and upstate and downstate and east and west, city mice and country mice and mice in the burbs, stood up and said no more. I can tell you this for certain: We are no poorer, for the past 18 months. We are no dumber, we are no weaker, we are no more afraid.
We are no less.
After the returns came in, and the crowd quieted, and the TV crews turned their lights off and went home, I looked for Sue and Kim.
I couldn’t find them.
But as I searched through the crowd, the songs rose up, over the city in the pale orange light of the setting sun.
Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away.
I hope they heard it, that song, rising up. I hope everyone heard it. I hope it rang through the halls of power and I hope no one ever forgets.