DAILY CARDINAL: Former Rage Against the Machine guitarist energizes protesters in Madison

February 22, 2011
Adam Wollner

Standing in front of American and Wisconsin flags, former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello played to an audience of 4,000 Monday at Monona Terrace at a performance set up by AFSCME to oppose the budget repair bill.

"Whenever there's an economic hardship, [Republicans] take advantage of that to ram through some legislation that's going to roll back decades, if not a century, of social progress," Morello said. "But they miscalculated. They miscalculated because they tried to begin doing that in Wisconsin."

Earlier in the day, Morello held a rally with Rise Against guitarist Tim McIlrath at the steps of the Capitol with thousands of protesters, despite poor weather conditions.

"It is my belief that the future of the rights of working people in this country will not be decided in Congress; it will not be decided in the courts; it will not be decided on talk radio; it will not be decided on Fox News," Morello said. "But the future of the rights of working people in this country will be decided on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin."

Morello introduced himself as a "union man," being a card carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World and being a part of Los Angeles Musicians Local 47 for 22 years. Morello said his mom, a pubic high school teacher for almost 30 years, managed to make ends meet because of union membership, despite being a one-parent family.

"It's an honor to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in solidarity today," Morello said to the protesters.

McIlrath, one of the first acts to perform, noted the variety of generations present at the rally and played a few older songs, including "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and "Who'll Stop the Rain" by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

"We may not be able to stop the rain, but we can stop Gov. Walker," McIlrath said.

Morello applauded the 14 Democratic state senators who fled the state to stop a quorum, which Republicans need before they can vote on the bill. He said their actions gave him new faith in the Democratic Party.

"The backbone of your state senators, who headed to my sweet home state of Illinois, changed my mind about [Democrats]," Morello said. "I'm like, at last somebody's got a spine, man, come on. They can stay as long as they want. Illinois is nice, man."  

Morello also read an e-mail that he received from one of the principal organizers of the protests in Cairo. The letter expressed support for the Wisconsin protesters and advocated for solidarity: "Breathe deeply, Wisconsin, because justice is in the air."

 "No matter what Gov. Walker, the Mumbarak of the Midwest, says, this land is your land," Morello said before singing a rendition of "This Land is Your Land" with McIlrath and other musicians. "Never give up and never give in!"

At the Terrace, Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, expressed solidarity with the protests, before heading off to rally and spend the night at the Capitol with other fire fighters.

"We're here with you because the house of labor's on fire, and we're going to put it out," Mitchell said. "We will continue to

be here until the job is done. If the house of labor crumples, we will be here again to rebuild the house of labor brick by brick."

Morello urged the audience to take the energy it has created to defeat the bill and use it to start a positive movement.

"You never know where the spark for the next big change is going to happen, the next big radical change, the next big progressive change, the next big revolutionary change," Morello said. "It may just happen in your own back yard."