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Frostbite and Freedom: Tom Morello on the Battle of Madison

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The evening's rally was moved into the huge indoor convention hall nearby as temperatures continued to plummet, and so the other musicians and myself had a hasty rehearsal and then shared some shots of Jameson (the people's Irish whiskey) with the Presidents of the Policemen's Union and the Firemen's Union and some intimidating-looking firefighters (I'm pretty sure they were all off duty). The hall filled up with about 5,000 people, and the show was on. As far as I'm concerned, while I enjoy a well-delivered political speech, it was clear to everybody in the room that it was time to rock. So with acoustic guitars in hand, we set out to prove that on this night the revolution will not be amplified.

The same line-up that rocked the Capitol steps took the stage again (expect Tim, who had an early flight) with each of the artists playing a longer set. Ike Reilly, Street Dogs and Wayne Kramer drove the place into a frenzy and I did my best to keep the momentum going with songs like "The Fabled City" and "Maximum Firepower," ("If you take a step towards freedom/It'll take two steps towards you.") The crowd seemed appreciative. Then all the musicians came onstage for an explosive version of the MC5's "Kick out the Jams," a rafter-rattling "There is Power in a Union" and then a mosh pit-inducing "This Land is Your Land" where the crowd bounced en masse like they do at some of those huge European festivals.

Two days earlier I had received a letter from Amor Eletrebi, one of the principal organizers of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. I read it to the crowd:

"To our friends in Madison, Wisconsin:

We wish you could see firsthand the change we have made here. Justice is beautiful, but justice is never free. The beauty in Tahrir Square you can have everywhere, on any corner, in your city, or in your heart. So hold on tightly and don't let go, and breathe deep Wisconsin! Our good fortune is on the breeze, in the Midwest AND in the Middle East. Breathe deep, Wisconsin…because justice is in the air! And may the spirit of Tahrir Square be in every beating heart in Madison today."

At that point there was a tremendous amount of solidarity and togetherness in the room, but still not ENOUGH solidarity as long as there was a barricade between the musicians and the audience. So I invited the entire audience up on stage. Together we sang the grand finale, "World Wide Rebel Songs," a new Nightwatchman track.  As the rebel song sing along chorus echoed around the room, voices and fists were raised. I'm certain somewhere nearby Governor Walker was trembling in his high-thread-count sheets.

The battle to preserve workers' rights in Wisconsin is a watershed moment in US history. Wisconsin is Class War Ground Zero for the new millennium and a crucible for people's rights in the United States. As the gulf between the haves and have-nots grows exponentially in the US it is here that the first domino is going to fall…one way or the other. If things go poorly, workers across the nation will be stripped of some of their most fundamental rights – to organize and to collectively bargain, to make a better life for themselves and their children. Were it not for hard-fought union struggles of the past, we wouldn't enjoy some of the most basic human rights that we enjoy today. The next time you "have a good weekend," you can thank the union for fighting for those two days off. If your eight-year-old son doesn't work in a coal mine or your ten-year-old daughter doesn't slave away in a textile mill, you can thank the union. Unions are and have historically been a crucial check against untrammeled corporate greed.

That's why they're worth fighting for. And that domino could boomerang back the other way and Gov. Walker and his billionaire pals could be in for a BIG surprise. If we can harness the energy of those tens of thousands in the streets, the energy in the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda, the sky's the limit. In the immediate aftermath of our trip to Madison, Florida governor Rick Scott announced that he was no longer going to pursue anti-union legislation. Indiana Democrats have walked out en masse and have left the state to stop anti-union legislation from coming to the floor of the Indiana State Senate. 10,000 workers marched in Columbus, Ohio for their rights. Workers have caravanned from California to support the protesters in Wisconsin. And in Manhattan, 300 New York supporters of the Cheesehead Revolution, wearing those crazy Packer Fan Cheese Hats, were chanting, "Kill the bill! Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" in Times Square. Something IS in the air. Across the globe people are demanding justice. Across the globe tyrants are falling.

 The future of worker's rights in this country will not be decided in the courts or in Congress, on talk radio or on Fox News. The future of worker's rights in this country will be decided on the streets of a small Midwestern city, on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin. And who knows? Maybe in your city too. Yeah, this land is our land, and to those occupying the Capitol building tonight, or marching in the streets across the Midwest tomorrow, and to the people still deciding which side they're on at this historic crossroads, I'd like to pass along some advice from the immortal Woody Guthrie: "Take it easy…but take it!"

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