Through the Lens: The Wisconsin Protests in Photos

February 21, 2011
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Over the course of the past week, I’ve been in and around the Capitol Square capturing as much of the story as possible with my camera – this is something I tend to do in most situations, but it felt particularly necessary here. For a few days, my photos went unshared thanks to a misplaced card reader, and it felt like some form of injustice – now, having found what had been lost, it’s been almost thrilling to share pictures from “on the ground” with those who may not be in Madison, or who may have seen only parts of the goings-on at the Capitol.

Admittedly, this is not quite a journalistic perspective: most of the pictures share my own experience, or the experience of those I know personally, rather than that of the thousands who have their own stories to tell. However, I feel as though the pictures were taken with an objective eye, offering a glimpse of the overall atmosphere more than any one particular point of view.

All photos were taken between Wednesday February 16th and Saturday February 19th in Madison, Wisconsin.

Inside the Rotunda: The Capitol

Writing Testimony
A graduate student prepares to give testimony to the Democratic representatives who continued the public hearings after Republicans chose to end the hearings after a single day. Testimony only stopped late Friday night, as Democrats went home to visit their ridings.
Protesters camped out in the Rotunda – this photo was taken at around 4:15am on Thursday, but people have been sleeping in the Capitol since Tuesday evening.
The bust of former Governor Robert M. La Follette Sr. is adorned with a common t-shirt during the protests, a more direct example of the building’s history and meaning being co-opted by the protesters to bolster their message.
Thousands gather on all three floors in the central Rotunda – later in the day, capacity on the bridges was limited out of fear for their structural integrity.
The capitol was filled with signs and stray personal items throughout the week – this jacket and sign were left in an alcove on the third floor.
What's Jesse Jackson's GamerTag?
The volunteer-run Information Station is part of a central infrastructure which has emerged this week – here, function mixes with comedy in an example of the high-spirited atmosphere in the Capitol.
Peace Room

A third floor conference room has become headquarters for the TAA (Teaching Assistants Association), which works around the clock on data entry, communication (through both traditional and social media), and general support.

Capitol Square: Marching in Madison

Sign Station
While filled with people later in the weekend, the West Entrance to the Capitol was an information hub and sign-making station on Thursday afternoon.
Marching in Solidarity
Although unaffected by most of Governor Walker’s efforts to curtail collective bargaining rights, local Firefighters have been a constant presence at the Capitol; here, their bagpipes lead a Saturday afternoon parade.
While many of the coverage of the event has focused on less flattering comparisons to Wisconsin’s governor, some offer a more aspirational role model.
Many of the meme-driven signs feel as though they are explicitly designed to try to make it into online galleries of meme-driven signs – this individual was clearly successful.
"Wash Me": Protest Style
Protests can tend to feel fairly ephemeral, but this “Wash Me” style graffiti offers a unique example of temporary expression.
Air Support
The “We” here refers to no one in particular, at least as far as the crowd was concerned – the lack of branding raises questions of who sponsored the banner (The pilot? The banner company? A local business? A local union? An out-of-state union?), but it also renders it a selfless show of support rather than a shameless bit of self-promotion, which has been common throughout the rallies.
Young protesters may not have a full grasp of the reasoning behind the rallies, but this young demonstrator’s correlation between Wonder Woman, government, truth and justice seems to indicate that their involvement is opening their eyes to the political system (and the real world allegorical value of superheroes).
Of the various pop culture-oriented sign trends, Star Wars seems to be the most prevalent – our own Jonathan Gray has written about the proliferation of pop culture-themed signs at the rallies, although only a few took it to the level of cosplay.
Finishing Touch
They remain the minority, but the signs comparing Walker to Mubarak or Hitler were present throughout the week – here, a protester adds a finishing touch to their Photoshopped dictator.
While Saturday’s rally began at 10am, thousands were still on the Capitol for a second rally as the sun began to set later in the afternoon.
Sign Bins
Signs on sticks were not allowed inside the Capitol, which meant that those waiting in line (as if at Disney World) could see evidence of those who went before them.

An Alternate Voice: The Counter-Protest

Tea Party
While the Tea Party rally was not expected to start until noon, a small contingent were on the Capitol when the main rally against the Budget Repair Bill began on the opposite side of the Capitol.
A Peaceful Debate
While most of the Walker supporters stayed on the East side of the Capitol, some mingled among their “enemies” in order to discuss the bill and its implications – heated words were exchanged, but not a single arrest was necessary to calm the crowd.
As the Tea Party rally began, hundreds of anti-bill demonstrators moved to the other side of the capitol to attempt to drown out the much smaller group of Walker supporters (which generous estimates placed at about 2500).
While the group was smaller, the Tea Partiers operated much the same: various different flags and slogans were common, while representatives from both genders and from many generations were present (albeit in much smaller numbers).
By the Time I Finish My Song
As the evening waned, the Tea Party rally became considerably smaller, having not scheduled another speaker-supported rally later in the day – based on this picture, their smaller size emboldened some of Walker’s critics to wade into the fray.

Eye on Wisconsin: The Media in Madison

Truth and Lies
As the media narrative was being formed earlier in the week, this particular pair took to the streets to try to take it back – they were seen with the same sign on Saturday.
Schultz Show
MSNBC’s Ed Schultz was the first major media figure to arrive in Wisconsin on Thursday, and was met with a fairly raucous crowd still finding the media’s presence novel – it would seem commonplace by the weekend.
ABC News
News crews were camped out around the Capitol, although finding a place to set up was challenging as the various rallies were still somewhat spontaneous. Here, ABC News deals with constant traffic and considerable noise, as well as concern for the safety of their lighting setup which led me to serve as a human sandbag for ten minutes.
Media Outreach
On Saturday, the media seemed more integrated with the protests, looking to capture the intimacy and atmosphere more than (perhaps) the scale of the proceedings.
"Wash Me": Current Events Style
Another example of graffiti, although this one seems well-intentioned (and was left, fittingly enough, on a CBS News truck parked off the Capitol).
This is...
There were a few curious onlookers later on Saturday as CNN prepared their report on the rally, but for the most part the media presence had become a non-event compared to the novelty of Ed Schultz’s presence on Thursday.
Wisconsin Eye
Wisconsin Eye, the state’s online streaming service for public proceedings, was given new function and purpose during the ongoing testimony. Sitting in the room, it was always unclear whether anyone was watching from home, but even at 4am the Representatives would acknowledge their potential presence.
Love Notes for a Refugee
While Senator Lena Taylor has received various notes of support online, through both Facebook and Twitter, her office door has also become a real-life guestbook where visitors to the Capitol demonstrate their appreciation without the use of a ‘Like’ Button.

[For more photos from the week’s protests, feel free to peruse my “Wisconsin Protests – 2011” set on Flickr]


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