I decided right off the bat that since I was already on board with what the AFP was saying, I wanted to hang with the counter protesters. They were going to be much more...amusing. I also figured that they'd make better photography subjects. I was right on both accounts.
The first thing that struck me was that a portion of the counter protesters seemed to be under informed. Before the rally, AFP blasted a campaign promise made by Jim Doyle over their speakers. In it, Doyle promises, amongst other things, to not raise taxes and to be open to solutions to Wisconsin's budget problems. After it had come over the speakers a couple of times, I heard one counter protester turn to another and say, "That's funny. Look at all these no new taxes signs. They don't seem very open to solutions." She had no idea that the voice coming over the speakers was not someone with AFP, but Jim Doyle.
The second thing that struck me was that the many of the counter protesters were completely divorced from reason and completely married to emotion. Emotion is a fine thing, but by itself it is merely dangerous. When the rally began, I was standing between two male counter protesters. I did not hear one intelligent thing come out of the mouth of either all day. One was very skilled at spewing vitriol. He in fact, after pulling out all the expletives he knew, started several of the "Do your job" chants that were yelled out today. The only problem? They were yelling "do your job" at people who weren't lawmakers but private citizens. The other gentlemen joined in all of the chants at the top of his very voluminous lungs. But he did one other thing that I found pointless. As if he thought he could drown out the speakers all by himself, he'd blare "Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah!" over and over and over and over again. Counter protesters such as these seemed to have no interest in winning over converts to their beliefs, but rather seemed more interest in just making sure their opponents couldn't be heard themselves.
And speaking of emotion. The prime emotion that seemed to be the currency of the counter protest was rage. And at least in the area where I was standing, bloggers seemed to particularly evoke rage. Bloggers Fred Dooley and Owen Robinson both spoke at the event, and some of the most vile things I heard all day were directed at them. It was at that point that I actually began to get nervous about the froth the counter protesters were working themselves into. I started to work my way to the opposite side of the counter protest to see if the rage was all consuming on that side. Thankfully, it wasn't, but quite another thing dawned on me as Madison and Milwaukee talk show host Vicki McKenna finished up her speech, and that was that the end of this event was going to be potentially dangerous. You see, the rally was held on one of the malls that led up to the capitol building. It was blocked off on both sides leading up to the capital in order to keep the protesters/rally members and the counter protesters separated. Unfortunately, that meant that there was only one way out for the rally participants. As Mckenna finished up her speech, I worked my way back to that choke point. When I first got there, the counter protesters had left the exit unmolested. As more rally participants began to leave, that changed. I began to be pushed forward by people coming up from behind me to crowd the exit. I went with the flow and followed around to get a better look, but while I was crowded out, I heard a guy shouting at someone who in hindsight I think was Karen Carpenter. I ended up in a crowd of counter protesters that created two very narrow and curvy lanes for rally participants to leave. While they harassed the participants aggressively at first, they calmed down a little bit when it became apparent that police were not going to tolerate a free for all. It was still a potentially ugly situation that I hope can be better planned for the next time around.