Tuesday, February 22, 2011


This morning at 10:30 am the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice of Southern Wisconsin Interfaith held a rally, attended by over 60 clergy and supporters, in front of the Grace Episcopal Church. See their website at: http://www.workerjustice.org/ Grace Church, with its beautiful towering spire, is right on the square opposite the capitol building in Madison.

The event kept getting interrupted as workers from nearby cities joined the Madison protests. Numbers are hard to gauge, but it looked like 1,000 building trades workers from Minneapolis – it seemed every trade was represented – chanting at the top of their lungs. Then came 1,500 AFSCME workers, mostly corrections officers, marching by and chanting. The clergy stopped their rally to come to the street and cheer on the workers. They had to stop a second time as the marchers circled the capitol building.

Then the clergy finished their rally and processed to the rotunda in the capitol building, where the crowd parted and they entered the center area. They blessed the protesters as following God’s will and blessed the occupied rotunda as a sacred space. A young woman on a bullhorn then led over 1,000 people in a chant – a new variant on the standard but oh-so-beautiful “TELL me what democracy looks like” and the shouted response “THIS is what democracy looks like!”

Only this time the organizer shouted “TELL me what religion should look like.” And the crowd chanted back “THIS is what religion should look like!” It was electric.

Governor Walker, the Republican Party leaders in Wisconsin and nationally, and their mouthpieces on rightwing talk radio and Fox television, are trying to spin their union busting as a rational response to greedy public sector workers. They seek to isolate and ostracize the government workers.

A vital part of the multi-faceted response has to be to ensure that community voices – like clergy – play a central role in the fight back. It’s harder to isolate labor, or to isolate public sector unions, when the Republicans find themselves also having to attack clergy, high school students, African-American civil rights activists, Latino community activists, immigrant rights leaders, small business people, and other supporters and partners in the struggle.

Kim Bobo was in town today, the national director of Interfaith Worker Justice, and Rev. CJ Hawking (head of Arise Chicago) and assistants have moved to Madison to assist in outreach to clergy.

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