COLUMBIA — Nirtana Goodman, a Columbia woman who traveled to Madison, Wis., earlier this month to join the protest, said people have been empowered by what happened there, though it ended in victory for Wisconsin's governor.
"People are grateful to him for mobilizing the people," Goodman, 58, said. She encountered a number of people who said they were thankful that Gov. Scott Walker woke a "sleeping giant."
Goodman’s father worked as a union member for General Motors, and she herself was at one time a carpenter’s apprentice and part of a union.
“In honor of my dad, my family and friends that had unions protect their lives, I just felt like it was right to go stand with them and protect their rights,” Goodman, a chiropractor and former teacher, said.
Goodman was among thousands who came from all over the United States to join the opposition to Walker's bill curbing collective bargaining, which he signed into law on Friday.
Last month, Walker proposed the legislation, which he referred to as a "budget repair" bill. Many union workers, and supporters like Goodman, felt that the objective of the bill was to bust the unions rather than fixing the state's budget woes.
Thousands of Wisconsin workers, angry about the legislation, inundated the Capitol building. Hundreds even slept there. Rallies were held daily, highlighted by the appearance of activist and film director Michael Moore on March 5.
Tea Party members came out to support Walker's efforts. The conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity, held a Madison rally on Monday in support of the legislation.
Among the other groups in Wisconsin that supported the legislation were corporations and business organizations, such as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Many groups like these work to fight for the private sector workers who receive less benefits than unionized workers.
The power struggle riveted the nation’s attention on Madison. But Goodman said she was surprised by the civility of the protesters. And when protesters did get out of hand, others would regulate the crowd by chanting “peaceful protest.”
“I’ve never met a more peaceful and amazing group of people,” Goodman said. “I’d stop and ask for directions to a store or restaurant and they would bend over backward for me.”
Goodman counted on the kindness of strangers when it came to finding a softer bed after two nights on the marble floor of the Capitol building. One of those strangers was Frieda Schowalter, 54, a Madison physical therapist who offered her a place to stay when protesters were forced out of the building.
Schowalter was impressed by Goodman's generosity. "It's just so selfless and compassionate of her to come up here and learn about the issues," she said. "I believe someone like Nirtana gets the bigger picture. This is about how our democracy works."
For her part, Goodman was impressed by a group of teaching assistants who played a crucial role in organizing and promoting the protests.
“They were really brilliant,” Goodman said. “The democratic process has really been demonstrated by these protesters.”
One of those groups was the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants' Association, which played an active role from day one. The group created Twitter and Facebook accounts to mobilize support. And they continued to update the website, DefendWisconsin.org, said Kevin Gibbons, 29, co-president of the association.
Gibbons, like Goodman, said he believes that in some ways, Walker's actions helped create a movement. However, he said the law "is very well-designed to cripple the unions."
Goodman continues to be passionate about the cause.
“Unions have their problems, but they are the only voice of the working people,” she said. “To have legislation that tells people they don’t get a voice at the table is very destructive.”
She thought it was important to document her time in Madison because the mainstream media wasn't telling the real story. Then she quoted a line from a 1970 song by Gil Scott-Heron:
“The revolution will not be televised.”