A fine example

Published 10:45 am Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Daily Herald Editorial

The around-the-clock vigil that supporters of public employees’ unions are staging at the Capitol in Madison, Wis., could well serve as a textbook example of civil protest. Wisconsin officials and demonstrators alike deserve praise for their restraint.

When demonstrators occupied the Capitol to protest the Wisconsin governor’s plan to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, it was a situation that seemed destined to end badly. But restraint has ruled the day. Protesters have, according to most reports, been firm but non-confrontational in asserting their right to occupy the Capitol. Police and state officials have sought to keep the situation loosely under control, without confrontation. So far it has been working.

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It is no doubt a great annoyance to the governor and lawmakers that they must walk past protesters to do their jobs. But we live in a democracy, the Capitol is a public building, and really there is no reason that the public should be barred from expressing an opinion about such an important matter. Indeed, allowing the protest to continue may be the precise reason that it has gone so well. Just consider the differences between this situation and the Republican Convention in Minneapolis a couple of years ago. Then, demonstrators were effectively caged in special areas that kept them away from the convention, and the result was considerable disorder. Shown more respect, the Wisconsin demonstrators and the police monitoring them have all remained relatively civil.

There have doubtless been dozens, maybe hundreds, of individual on-the-spot decisions that could have led to an ugly or violent situation during the protests. But clearly all sides involved have been able to rise above their anger in a refreshing way. It is great to see democracy in action.