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From Cairo to Madison: Hope and Solidarity are Alive

21st February, 2011 - Posted by Medea Benjamin - 7 Comments

This article is cross-posted on The Huffington Post:

Here in Madison, Wisconsin, where protesters have occupied the State Capitol Building to stop the pending bill that would eliminate workers’ right to collective bargaining, echoes of Cairo are everywhere.

Local protesters were elated by the photo of an Egyptian engineer named Muhammad Saladin Nusair holding a sign in Tahrir Square saying “Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers—One World, One Pain.” The signs by protesters in Madison include “Welcome to Wiscairo”, “From Egypt to Wisconsin: We Rise Up”, and “Government Walker: Our Mubarak.” The banner I brought directly from Tahrir Square saying “Solidarity with Egyptian Workers” has been hanging from the balcony of the Capitol alongside solidarity messages from around the country.

My travels from Cairo to Madison seem like one seamless web. After camping out with the students and workers in the Capitol Building, I gave an early morning seminar on what it was like to be an eyewitness to the Egyptian revolution, and the struggles that are taking place right now in places like Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Folks told me all day how inspiring it was to hear about the uprisings in the Arab world.

Some took the lessons from Cairo literally. Looking around at the capitol building that was starting to show the wear and tear from housing thousands of protesters, I had mentioned that in Cairo the activists were constantly scrubbing the square, determined to show how much they loved the space they had liberated. A few hours later, in Madison’s rotunda, people were on their hands and knees scrubbing the marble floor. “We’re quick learners,” one of the high school students told me, smiling as she picked at the remains of oreo cookies sticking to the floor.

I heard echoes of Cairo in the Capitol hearing room where a nonstop line of people had gathered all week to give testimonies. The Democratic Assemblymembers have been giving folks a chance to voice their concerns about the governor’s pending bill. In this endless stream of heartfelt testimonies, people talk about the impact this bill will have on their own families—their take-home pay, their healthcare, their pensions. They talk about the governor manufacturing the budget crisis to break the unions. They talk about the history of workers’ struggles to earn living wages and have decent benefits. And time and again, I heard people say “I saw how the Egyptian people were able to rise up and overthrow a 30-year dictatorship, and that inspired me to rise up and fight this bill.”

Solidarity is, indeed, a beautiful thing. It is a way we show our oneness with all of humanity; it is a way to reaffirm our own humanity. CODEPINK sent flowers to the people in Tahrir Square—a gesture that was received with kisses, hugs and tears from the Egyptians. The campers in Madison erupted in cheer when they heard that an Egyptian had called the local pizza place, Ians Pizza, and placed a huge order to feed the protesters. “Pizza never tasted so good,” a Wisconsin fireman commented when he was told that the garlic pizza he was eating had come from supporters in Cairo.

Photo Credit: theworldsgotproblems.com

Egyptian engineer Muhammad Saladin Nusair, the one whose photo supporting Wisconsin workers went viral, now has thousands of new American Facebook friends. He wrote in his blog that many of his new friends were surprised by his gesture of solidarity, but he was taught that “we live in ONE world and under the same sky.”

“If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings, then everything we’ve created and established since the very beginning of existence is in great danger,” Muhammad wrote. “We shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us. We were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. One world, one pain, one humanity, one hope.”

From the trenches of Madison’s State Capitol Building, hope—and solidarity–are alive and well.

7 Responses to “From Cairo to Madison: Hope and Solidarity are Alive”

  • Kylie Nealis Kylie

    Amazing post, Medea! Gave me chills.

  • D Gamble

    I am sorry, but I fail to see how state union workers who have the luxury of taxpayer funded salaries, pensions and health care compare to citizens of Egypt who have been living in a country where they have no voting rights and no “equal opportunity employment” rules.

    When did we become so dependent on the government and the taxpaying citizens of our country to believe that it is our “right” to be given collective bargaining rights for more, more and more at the expense of others? This is what you call one people, one world???

    How dare we compare ourselves to citizens of dictator/monarchy ruled countries.

    The protesting state employees of Wisconsin should be ashamed of themselves.

    • International solidarity does not require, or indicate in that case, that all parties live under similar conditions or even fight the same fight. What it does require however, is a shared notion for basic human rights. The Wisconsin workers’ support for Egypt and vice versa show a willingness to move towards a similar goal- regardless of who will reach that goal first.

      Regardless, I don’t believe the article is meant to compare living conditions and the difference in rights between the United States and Egypt. For myself, I believe the difference only accentuates the point of the article- that everywhere in the world oppressed and exploited individuals are learning to stand up for their rights, thankfully with the international support.

      • D Gamble

        I still fail to see how you can believe that the teacher’s unions are “oppressed and exploited”. In what economic reality? They have state(taxpayer)paid pensions. They have state (taxpayer)paid health care. How does this translate to oppression when all of their earnings and benefits are above average?

        There is no oppression or exploitation going on here except false perceptions being pushed by the unions. What is behind this “oppression” agenda?

        The real oppression and exploitation is on the taxayers who will be held hostage to higher taxes to fund more benefits for these entitlement mentality whiners.

  • martin

    Wait, Mr. D Gamble, as the Wisconsin Mubarak regime gambles away your pension, racks up massive debts wit Morgan Stanley loans which you will pay back three times out of your taxes, and laughs its way to the bank while you and your children wind your way into penury.
    If you think that they will spare you because you are middle class and cloyingly give lip service to neo-liberalism, you are deluded and unable to read the papers. Wall Street loves people like you.
    All power to the people of Egypt, of Madison, of the United States, Libya, Bahrain.
    So much for lawful assembly and our supposedly cherished Constitution, eh Mr. Gamble? Casino America will see you bankrupt, baby.

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