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.”
I hope they were there last night. I hope they stayed up til morning. I hope they saw the moment they were looking for all those years ago.
There were a lot of things I wanted to happen last night that did — get ready for subpeonas, you dogfaced tangerine fascist — and lots that didn’t — Ted Cruz is still in Congress which seems insane to me. But mostly what I wanted was a win for all the thousands of people who stood at the Capitol building in 2011, in the dark in the rain in the snow in the cold, against impossible odds, against the certainty of loss, facing the whole apparatus of power and holding back defeat with drums and songs and kindness and hope.
It’s hard to describe if you didn’t see it. I know seven years is a lifetime ago. But I’m German Roman Catholic and I grew up in Wisconsin with people who were raised in the shadow of the Great Depression. When we want to hold a grudge, we make it a story and we teach it to our children and our children’s children, and until the day I die I will be telling you about the roar.
The Capitol in Madison is made of marble, with a rotunda three floors deep. Thousands strong, and it echoed, like the hammer in a forge, pounding, the kind of sound that rattles your ribs and rises in your throat.
At first it was just the teachers. Then the steelworkers. Then the firefighters. Then the ironworkers and the police officers and the corrections workers, the prison guards came not to make sure the doors were locked but to throw them open. Everyone came. Old women with walkers. Mothers with small children. Everyone, and the sound never stopped, not even in the middle of the night, rumbling down from the basement rising up to the rafters, and it seemed impossible that it would ever fall silent.
It did. The bills to gut worker protection and punish teachers passed. The recall failed. Another attempt to unseat him failed. Scott Walker had his way with the University of Wisconsin and gave away the store to Foxconn and presided over unprecedented racism as the state went for Trump with a vengeance.
If you had told me six months ago that last night was possible I’d have called you a liar. But I’d have forgotten the roar. Seven years is a lifetime but last night, as the vote totals flipped back and forth, it was all I could hear.
I hope Sue and Kim heard it. I hope they and the thousands of others who stood up all those years ago heard it and raised their voices and, in the predawn hours of a victory so long in coming, sang along.