#wiunion protest organizers rally around Twitter

by Hannah McClung

J401 Spring ’11

Protest organizers tweeted to people from Wisconsin and several other states Thursday who gathered to oppose Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill that would take away the collective bargaining rights of public unions.

As union protesters chanted “kill this bill” and “workers will not be defeated,” organizers from the Wisconsin Teachers Assistant Association and Wisconsin Education Association Council were tweeting.

Taa_madison and DefendWisconsin have been tweeting where to sign up to testify against the bill, when and where there is food for protesters, official updates on the legislation and updates on sick-outs, walk-outs and sleep-ins.

“We are tweeting to push out very updated information about where we need people and to mobilize large groups,” said Alex Hanna, co-president of the TAA.

The TAA started using the #killthisbill hashtag to connect all tweets about the protests but started using #wiunion with other union organizers because it was more positive.

“It’s pretty fantastic that #wiunion is nationally trending,” said Hanna. “We started [tweeting] to coordinate, encourage and organize protesters but we didn’t expect such a positive response.”

According to Hanna, Twitter is good for shifting a lot of people from one protest location to another, even within the relatively small area around and inside the Capitol.

“In a protest environment, things change so quickly, the terms change quickly and there needs to be less misunderstandings,” Hanna said. “Being able to push information out instantaneously is huge.”

The taa_madison Twitter account is connected to the Madison TAA website but the DefendWisconsin account was created to promote the rallies on Tuesday and Wednesday and the TAA has continued tweeting updates, sometimes minute by minute, from the account.

Max Love, a second year student at the University of Wisconsin is concerned about what the proposed budget bill would do to the University and created the DefendWisconsin Twitter account and Hands off our Teachers Facebook event.

“We wanted people to be able to subscribe to our tweets and get them in text message form,” Love said. “We needed to be able to get information out…as soon as possible and to the most amount of people.”

According to Love, the Facebook events and tweets have gone viral and are spreading from teacher to teacher across the state and now the nation.

The DefendWisconsin twitter account now has, after less than a week of tweeting, more than 1,500 followers. The “Hands off our Teachers” Facebook event had more than 8,000 listed as attending for the Tuesday and Wednesday rallies at the Capitol.

“Twitter and Facebook are ways to reach people that couldn’t normally be reached in our normal social circles,” Love said. “But it all traces back to us undergrads and TAs.”

WEAC has been retweeting reactions from protesters, pictures from inside the capitol,  and answering questions.

“We had a lot of questions that needed to be answered,” said Marlena Deutsch, communications specialist with WEAC. “We want to keep people connected from all over the state and country.”

WEAC has also been communicating with people on a micro and macro level through Twitter to organize food and water donations and then informing protesters where food and other resources are located.

Written for advanced reporting class Spring 2011.


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