After first preparing the materials which I would use to teach with the next day, I headed to the Wisconsin State Capitol building to get in line to speak at the Joint Finance Committee hearing, which had been going on for eight hours. The time was 6:27 p.m. when I turned in the yellow slip expressing my desire to speak to the committee. For the next few hours, I waited in the Rotunda, on the stairwells, and outside of room 412E. I was in the group of people begging to be let in when committee members closed the hearing doors, refused to let the public in, and considered adjourning the meeting around 9:00 p.m.
Senator Taylor (D-Milwaukee) negotiated with the committee members and the distressed people outside of the hearing room doors, and eventually the hearing began again – but this time, only people who were being called to testify were allowed in the hearing room – and only calling 10-15 people at a time were being called to testify. So the hearing room visibly contained dozens of empty seats as people continued to deliver two minute testimonies into the night. I waited in the “overflow room” (411E) for my name to be called.
The people who I met in the overflow room, and the people whose testimonies I listened to until 3:00 a.m., are people who (like me) just want their voices to be heard. They want the right to speak — not just with the members of the Joint Finance Committee, but also with their fellow workers and their employers. They want a say in what is going to happen to them, to their families and friends, and to the state of Wisconsin. The testimonies I heard were full of fear, uncertainty, and anger, but also of purpose, power, and love. These are people who love their jobs, their homes, their families, their communities, and their state. And listening to their testimonies has been the most inspiring event in my life thus far.
We did not get the opportunity for our voices to be heard. We did not get the opportunity to have a say in what’s going to happen to us, our friends and families, and our state. Shortly after 3:00 a.m., I heard my name called to testify. I ran. I ran as fast as I could down the hall, and when the man at the door (who was the same man who took my yellow slip at 6:27 p.m.) looked at me, I said “I’ve been called to testify.” He nodded, and I entered. A Senator was speaking so I quickly sat down among the rows of empty seats in the hearing room. The Senator was discussing that although the hearing was going to be adjourned soon, those Senators and Assembly members that wanted to stay and continuing listening could do so in room 411E. A woman then began to testify.
I read over my notes one last time, shaking with anticipation, tiredness, and sadness. When the woman finished her testimony, the Chair announced that the hearing was adjourned, and I watched her swing the gavel. Twice. And then I sat there. I sat there holding my 3×5 note-card until the state employee worker collecting the committee members’ water cups and water pitchers rolled the cart out of the room. I and one other concerned citizen still sat, stunned. He turned to me and asked if he thought our names would be read again, or if we had just lost our spot in line to testify. I had no answer.
I went home to sleep. And I still don’t have any answers. Will I get to speak today, perhaps? Will I get to speak tomorrow? The fact that I am asking, begging for the right to speak is what troubles me most. I don’t even have something great to say. Simply that taking away rights does not repair anything. It only hurts. And the mere proposal to take away my rights, and the rights of my fellow workers, is hurtful. And since I still have the right to free speech, I just wanted to say that. However, it seems my right to free speech, just as my right to have a say in the terms of my employment and to shape my working environment, is contingent upon the desires of a select few, who at 3:00 a.m. wanted to go to sleep.
I had planned to end my testimony with the following quote from Abraham Lincoln:
The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.