“I was in the Capitol”–An interview with a Wisconsin protester. The shape of things to come in PA?

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“I was in the Capitol”–An interview with a Wisconsin protester. The shape of things to come in PA?

Caley Donovan

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Editor’s Note: When Caley Donovan asked Dr.Lane for her thoughts on what students can do about the proposed budget cuts to public education at the press conference this past week, the Superintendent’s answer was direct and to the point. “I believe in activism,” she said, and proceeded to discuss the benefits of dissent, activism and protest in our form of government. This article details a young woman who not only believes the same, but has recently acted on those beliefs. It was written back in April

Everyone, or at least everyone who isn’t blissfully oblivious, has heard about the massive protests in Wisconsin over the proposed budget reform bill that would strip unions of their collective bargaining rights. However, hearing about it from news agencies and getting the story first hand are two completely different things. I interviewed a high school student from Wisconsin about her experiences, to get the inside scoop.

Alexandra Carlson-Dakes, 15, is a freshman at West High in Madison, the capitol of Wisconsin. She first heard about the bill on February 14, but says she didn’t know or think much of it. Then, in her chorus class at school, people started to talk about the bill and she became interested. Interested and angry.  “The bill is stripping the rights from the unions, taking away recycling, the UW system will be split from the rest of the system, and state workers’ benefits cost will go up.” Instead of this, she said, the rich should have been taxed more.

Alex really got involved when she heard about the planned student walkouts. “All the walk outs were student organized. It was mostly one guy who went to West, but other people also helped,” she said. “More than half of the school walked out, it was AMAZING!!” I asked about the teachers, and how they reacted. “The teachers let us leave. Some of them even gave us excused absence, even though they would be considered unexcused.” The principal even encouraged the teachers to talk to their students about the bill.

It’s amazing how many teenagers were aware and got involved. “Almost all of my friends were involved in this,” Alex said. “One day a lot of my friends and other high schoolers organized and created a human peace sign in the center of the Capitol.” Speaking of the Capitol, I enquired about the security. “The first couple days there wasn’t much security,” she told me, “ but as the weeks went by, a lot more people and security came. They even had airport tight security for about 2 or so weeks.”

Many protestors, including Alex, stayed at the capitol even at night, sleeping there. There seemed to be a great deal of trust, everyone united by a common cause. “Everyone just set up their sleeping bags and blankets next to anyone, even complete strangers.” The first night, there was so much noise that no one got any sleep. After that, “some people established rules so we had quiet hours.” Alex said.

With all the support there seemed to be for protestors, I wondered if there were any supporters of Governor Walker and the bill. Alex said that there were some. “One of the days a bunch of tea party people came, and they were trying to stir up trouble.” But Alex and other students just walked by and didn’t get involved.

The protests have produced many crazy stories, so out of curiosity, I asked what the craziest thing she did during the protests was. “The craziest thing I ever did,” Alex said, “was sneaking in to the capitol through the bathroom window. The cops closed the doors and weren’t letting people in, so someone inside opened a window and a bunch of people came in. It was the scariest and coolest thing I ever did.”

Despite all the hard work and dedication of the protestors, the bill passed, due to a questionably legal move by Republicans. Where was Alex when the bill passed? “When it passed in the assembly I was actually in the capitol, I was in line to get into the assembly. It was so crazy,” she told me.  “When it happened it was about 2 in the morning and most people were sleeping. My friends and I were waiting in line and all of a sudden people started running out. We left the line and watched the representatives walk out. That night was very sad.”

So what is the way forward from this, I asked. Are there still protests? “Right now there isn’t much protesting,” Alex told me, but that doesn’t mean they are anywhere close to giving up. “ Recalls have been in order for the republican senators. Also, on April 5, there is an election for judge, and hopefully the Joanne Kloppenburg will win.” (Since this interview, the election took place. Currently, the result shows a very close election. Kloppenburg initially seemed to have one by a very small margin, but it is still in recounts.)

Alex Carlson-Dakes is our age, probably younger than a lot of us. But she’s doing something that many people wouldn’t dare; she’s standing up for what she believes, and for the rights of many. That’s something we can all learn from. Just because you can’t vote doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice. And if you can vote, do it! The message that Alex wants to get out now is: “EVERY VOTE COUNTS, SO VOTE!! If everyone voted we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

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