Early yesterday morning, around 1:00 AM, I had finished work for the day on my current "project" (top secret for now — sorry, no spoiler alerts!). Someone had sent me a link to a discussion Bill O'Reilly had had with Sarah Palin a few hours earlier about my belief that the money the 21st Century rich have absconded with really isn't theirs — and that a vast chunk of it should be taken away from them.
They were referring to comments I had made earlier in the week on a small cable show called GRITtv (Part 1 and Part 2). I honestly didn't know this was going to air that night (I had been asked to stop by and say a few words of support for a nurses union video), but I spoke from my heart about the millions of our fellow Americans who have had their homes and jobs stolen from them by a criminal class of millionaires and billionaires. It was the morning after the Oscars, at which the winner of Best Documentary for "Inside Job" stood at the microphone and declared, "I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that's wrong." And he was applauded for saying this. (When did they stop booing Oscar speeches? Damn!)
So GRITtv ran my comments — and all week the right wingopoly has been upset over what I said: That the money that the rich have stolen (or not paid taxes on) belongs to the American people. Drudge/Limbaugh/Beck and even Donald Trump went nuts, calling me names and suggesting I move to Cuba.
So in the wee hours of yesterday morning I sat down to write an answer to them. By 3:00 AM, it had turned into more of a manifesto of class war — or, I should say, a manifesto against the class war the rich have been conducting on the American people for the past 30 years. I read it aloud to myself to see how it sounded (trying not to wake anyone else in the apartment) and then — and this is why no one should be up at 3:00 AM — the crazy kicked in: I needed to get in the car and drive to Madison and give this speech.
I went online to get directions and saw that there was no official big rally planned like the one they had last Saturday and will have again next Saturday. Just the normal ongoing demonstration and occupation of the State Capitol that's been in process since February 12th (the day after Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt) to protest the Republican governor's move to kill the state's public unions.
So, it's three in the morning and I'm a thousand miles from Madison and I see that the open microphone for speakers starts at noon. Hmm. No time to drive from New York. I was off to the airport. I left a note on the kitchen table saying I'd be back at 9:00 PM. Called a friend and asked him if he wanted to meet me at the Delta counter. Called the guy who manages my website, woke him up, and asked him to track down the coordinators in Madison and tell them I'm on my way and would like to say a few words if possible — "but tell them if they've got other plans or no room for me, I'll be happy just to stand there holding a sign and singing Solidarity Forever."
So I just showed up. The firefighters, hearing I'm there, ask me to lead their protest parade through downtown Madison. I march with them, along with John Nichols (who lives in Madison and writes for the Nation). Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and the great singer Michelle Shocked have also decided to show up.
The scene in Madison is nothing like what they are showing you on TV or in the newspaper. First, you notice that the whole town is behind this. Yard signs and signs in store windows are everywhere supporting public workers. There are thousands of people out just randomly lining the streets for the six blocks leading to the Capitol building carrying signs, shouting and cheering and cajoling. Then there are stages and friendly competing demos on all sides of the building (yesterday's total estimate of people was 50,000-70,000, the smallest one yet)! A big semi truck has been sent by James Hoffa of the Teamsters and is parked like a don't-even-think-of-effing-with-us Sherman tank on the street in front of the Capitol. There is a long line — separate from these other demonstrations — of 4,000 people, waiting their turn to get through the only open door to the Capitol so they can join the occupation inside.
And inside the Rotunda is … well, it will bring tears to your eyes if you go there. It's like a shrine to working people — to what America is and should be about — packed with families and kids and so many senior citizens that it made me happy for science and its impact on life expectancy over the past century. There were grandmas and great-grandpas who remember FDR and Wisconsin's La Follette and the long view of this struggle. Standing in that Rotunda was like a religious experience. There had been nothing like it, for me, in decades.
And so it was in this setting, out of doors now on the steps of the Capitol, with so many people in front of me that I couldn't see where they ended, that I just "showed up" and gave a speech that felt unlike any other I had ever given. As I had just written it and had no time to memorize it, I read from the pages I brought with me. I wanted to make sure that the words I had chosen were clear and exact. I knew they had the potential to drive the haters into a rabid state (not a pretty sight) but I also feared that the Right's wealthy patrons would see a need to retaliate should these words be met with citizen action across the land. I was, after all, putting them on notice: We are coming after you, we are stopping you and we are going to return the money/jobs/homes you stole from the people. You have gone too far. It's too bad you couldn't have been satisfied with making millions, you had to have billions — and now you want to strip us of our ability to talk and bargain and provide. This is your tipping point, Wall Street; your come-to-Jesus moment, Corporate America. And I'm glad I'm going to be able to be a witness to it.
You can find the written version of my speech on my website. Please read it and pass it around far and wide. You can also watch a video of me giving the spoken version from the Capitol steps by clicking here. I will be sending you a second email shortly with just the speech so you can forward a clean version of it without the above story of how I abandoned my family in the middle of the night to go to Wisconsin for the day.
I can't express enough the level of admiration I have for the people of Wisconsin who, for three weeks, have braved the brutal winter cold and taken over their state Capitol. All told, literally hundreds of thousands of people have made their way to Madison to make their voices heard. It all began with high school students cutting class and marching on the building (you can read their reports on my High School Newspaper site). Then their parents joined them. Then 14 brave Democratic state senators left the state so the governor wouldn't have his quorum.
And all this while the White House was trying to stop this movement (read this)!
But it didn't matter. The People's train had left the station. And now protests were springing up in all 50 states.
The media has done a poor job covering this (imagine a takeover of the government HQ in any other country, free or totalitarian — our media would be all over it). But this one scares them and their masters — as it should. The organizers told me this morning that my showing up got them more coverage yesterday than they would have had, "a shot in the arm that we needed to keep momentum going." Well, I'm glad I could help. But they need a lot more than just me — and they need you doing similar things in your own states and towns.
How 'bout it? I know you know this: This is our moment. Let's seize it. Everyone can do something.
P.S. This local Madison paper/blog captured best what happened yesterday, and got what I'm really up to. Someone please send this to O'Reilly and Palin so there's no mistaking my true intentions.
P.P.S. Full disclosure: I am a proud union member of four unions: the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA (the last two have passed resolutions supporting the workers in Wisconsin). My production company has signed union contracts with five unions (and soon to be a 6th). All my full-time employees have full medical and dental insurance with NO DEDUCTIBLE. So, yes, I'm biased.