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Monday, Oct. 17, 2011

What Democracy Looks Like?

An Interview with Randy Brice, Arrested for Protesting Ron Johnson

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Randy Bryce was one of 19 people arrested last week in Senator Ron Johnson's downtown Milwaukee office.

Take One. Well first…


Sorry, I can't hear you. I'm stuck behind a megaphone at Occupy Milwaukee.  I'll have to call you back.


Take Two: How was Occupy Milwaukee?


They asked me to speak about my recent ordeal. I told the crowd, “People are aware our leaders aren't listening. But have some faith. Yes, we are going to be heard.”  Now I'm on my way to West Allis. Our (Ironworkers) union's having its 110th anniversary on 120th & Adler.


How was prison?


We occupied the jail. We had a party going on in there. We had blacks, Hispanics, old, young, male, and female. We were banging on the walls: “this is what democracy looks like.” I guess it was as much fun as you could have in a holding cell in downtown Milwaukee.  They held us longer than they needed to. But we were expecting it. Soon as we got there, we told the police: “If we had jobs we wouldn't be here.” We told them: “We're not the bad guys; we're standing up for you, too.” They had furloughs, remember.  When we left they told us: “You know we can't pick a side here. But you guys went about it the right way. Thank you.”


So how did all this happen?


The Ironworkers have this tradition – when the last beam goes up on a building, we all sign it. I wrote Robert Callahan Walker – capitalizing “RECALL WALKER.” The next day, I was told they don't want me on the jobsite – officially because of a lack of work.  Realize, right now in the building trades there's 30-40 percent unemployment.


Sen. Johnson had the perfect opportunity to do something about it in the Jobs Act.  Even if you won't vote for it, that's OK, but what's your plan then? He has no plan.  So we got on Facebook and said whoever wants to meet, we'll meet in front of the federal building and we'll go ask him. We met there, walked in and said we were going to bankruptcy court – which is actually not that far from the truth. We might be next week.


Private security forces stopped us. “We know what you're up to.”  “Is that a crime?” we asked them. “Why can't we see our elected official?” The chief of staff finally came down and said: “I'll take five of you.”  We said: “But there's 19 of us. We can't speak for the other 14. We're going to stay right here.” We sat down in front of the metal detectors, clearing a path so anyone (with business there) could walk in or out.  They were watching us the whole time.  Cops drove up from everywhere. They blocked off Wisconsin Avenue.  Cops on horseback were roaming. They finally announced: “If you don't leave in five minutes, we'll begin making arrests.”  I said: “Then I'll be the first one.”


Do you feel like you've changed things?


One of the things we discussed with the chief of staff was setting up a later date. They weren't having that at first, but then Sen. Johnson agreed to meet yesterday. They set a time and place, but while we were driving to Oshkosh for the meeting, we got a phone call: “The meeting is cancelled. The senator is de-icing his plane in DC.” We checked the forecast there, and it's in the 60s.


Would you do it again?


Absolutely. I wouldn't hesitate. Like I say, we'll be heard. One way or the other.
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