Madison stands united against the far right

January 22, 2019

Summer Coff reports on how anti-racists organized a community mobilization against a far-right militia when it rallied in Madison, Wisconsin.

ABOUT 250 counterprotesters mobilized January 12 to the steps of Wisconsin’s state Capitol building in Madison, outnumbering about 50 far-right demonstrators who were looking to spread their racist ideas and attract potential recruits.

The original event was organized primarily by the Three Percent United Patriots (3UP), a group notorious for acting as a paramilitary vigilante group on the U.S.-Mexico border with the goal of detaining potential migrants and destroying any food or water supplies left to sustain migrants on their cross-border journey. The group also serves as a private security force for other fascist and white supremacist demonstrations.

Many of the 3UP members came to the Capitol openly displaying their high-powered rifles to intimidate opponents and exercise what they see as their legal right to bear military-grade arms. Although they planned to hold their rally from 12 noon to 4 p.m., pressure from the counterprotest forced them to leave before 1:30 p.m.

Two weeks prior to the rally, a loose collection of local organizations held its first public organizing meeting with 35 people in attendance and the following week held a second meeting with 65 people. By January 12, the groups had forged an effective coalition that united 16 different community and statewide organizations.

Anti-fascist protesters stand up to the far right in Madison, Wisconsin
Anti-fascist protesters stand up to the far right in Madison, Wisconsin

Sponsoring organizations included Outreach LGBT Resource Center, Industrial Workers of the World, Latin American Solidarity Committee, Democratic Socialists of America and the International Socialist Organization (ISO), among others.

On the day of the event, many who joined the counterprotest weren’t affiliated with any of the coalition groups, but instead came on their own to add their voices to the effort. “I’m glad we are here,” said Stefania, an unaffiliated counterprotester. “It’s important to resist and to protest.”

THE STATED purpose of the 3UP rally was to protest potential gun control measures, which 3UP members worry may be proposed by Wisconsin’s newly inaugurated Democratic Gov. Tony Evers or the federal government. In Wisconsin, 3UP is not able to mobilize openly around their agenda of white nationalism, so they retreated to what they considered more palatable demands to oppose gun control.

In order to counter 3UP’s far-right views, community coalition groups came equipped with their own positive politics. “Our unions have to be focused on social justice, on fighting racism,” said a representative from the Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement in his speech.

The call for a people’s united front to fight fascism, as well as the connection between capitalism and fascism, was echoed by speaker after speaker throughout the event. “In a world where every single person is treated with dignity, the pain that the fascists grow out of is gone, and with it goes fascism,” said ISO member Scot McCullough. “What we need, comrades, is a fight for socialism and for our full liberation.”

After the speeches, the counterprotesters formed a picket, marching around the foot of the Capitol steps while chanting and shouting to drown out the far-right event. Some used vuvuzelas to add to the cacophony, and one person carried a bass saxophone.

Afterwards, members of the group steadily peeled off to confront 3UP directly on the steps, separated from the other side by stone-faced state troopers. As the 3UPers filed away uncomfortably, the line of contact moved steadily up the Capitol steps until the counterprotesters were chanting next to the door of the building.

To celebrate victory over the fascists, Madison punk rock band Gender Confetti performed at the rally site.

The counterprotest was an overall success, especially considering that no one was hurt or arrested, and because the far right was forced to end its event early, but there are still many important lessons to be learned. First and foremost is the need for a large, broad coalition to confront fascists.

While this event was co-organized by some liberal groups, notably Indivisible Madison, many other faith-based groups and community organizations did not participate.

At the second organizing meeting for the counterprotest, several speakers called for a broader and sustained anti-fascist movement in Madison and Wisconsin at large. In the meantime, the people of Madison will celebrate this small victory — and stand ready to mobilize when the time for action comes again.

Michael Kartje and Scot McCullough contributed to this article.

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