“. . . Today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say, as Sister Pollard said—a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott—and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, "No," the person said, "Well, aren’t you tired?" And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, "My feets is tired, but my soul is rested."
From Martin Luther King’s Speech to marchers after the Walk to Selma, Alabama
For the past several years I’ve been exploring the wonderful trails and walks of Wisconsin, specifically those in and around Madison. I’ve been led on my walks by my good friends, Anne McClintock and Rob Nixon (writers of extraordinary heart and intellectual integrity who teach at UW). They’ve introduced me to the network of trails around Madison and its lakes, greenway, and UW’s campus as well as hiking in Devil’s Lake State Park and the 1200 mile Ice Age Trail that meanders through the state and other parks and preserves nearby. After the big snow of the week before, I was eager to get out and “blow the stink off” as my father would say.
Of course, all week I’d been following the pro-union rallies and protests against Wisconsin’s state budget bill and getting first hand reports by Anne and Rob. (See Anne's photos below.) And the next morning, our first walk was the one through campus, down famed State Street where we met the throngs of folks who’d been circling the State Capital for days.
What a scene.
I knew it would be big and loud but I’d not expected such joyous solidarity: school children in support of their teachers with banners marching, nurses and the doctors to support them, snow removers and sanitation workers, police, students (of course), school teachers, and fire fighters and emergency workers. A parade of red and flags and outrageously funny and inventive home-made signs.
Organized marches and taking to the streets are powerful forms of democratic action and speech. We’ve seen many in the past month in the Middle East and it has reminded us of what can happen when people stand together against governments or powers that assume a weak and indifferent public. And this certainly was the case in Madison. And yet here, what struck me was how civil people were. On Saturday when 70 plus thousand attended, including a few thousand to support the proposed budget, I watched two men debating on the capital steps their opposing views. Rare in our polarized times. How proud people were to be there and to support people who work for them. How proud workers felt to be recognized. When some men came into the rotunda directly from their jobs as fireman and city truck drivers, roars went up. The budgets are complex and deficits are real in America, but what impressed me was the sense of solidarity of people walking in circles with friends and children wanting to express their concerns together and not just grumbling alone in front of a TV or in front of a computer.
Gandhi marched to the sea to protest British tyranny. Martin Luther King led marches throughout the South and North for civil rights. And leaderless movements and demonstrations have been sprouting and roaring around the world in the past few years for peace and environmental sanity and now for freedom and democracy in the Middle East. They all demand that people get up, drop their fears and cynicism, and walk together to show their strength and cohesion.
After the cheering and clamor of the protest, we headed to UW’s Arboretum to take a stroll in the late afternoon chilly sun. Out walk took us a good four miles as we circled around the lake and through a subdued wooded residential section of the city and then along the new and old trees of this great center of ecology began by Aldo Leopold. We talked some of the protest but as we often do we recalled episodes of youth in different parts of the world where we grew up and how those lands shaped who we became, for Rob South Africa and for me similar territory back in Indiana. At the end of our walk, we watched a marsh hawk gliding through an opened field and disappear behind the old black oaks with their wiggly squiggly branches against an evening sky.