Wisconsin student finds courage, hope in displays at Capitol


Photo: Jessica Opoien/Iowa State

Protesters gathered in Madison, Wis. on Feb. 21, 2011 to demonstrate their opposition to Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal. Photo: Jessica Opoien/Iowa State Daily

Matt Wettengel

When he heard about the public hearings taking place in Madison last Tuesday, Damon Terrell, junior in math education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was compelled to get involved.

He read about the hearing through a Facebook post that his dad’s girlfriend posted, which made it out to be something that legislators were keeping quiet from the public, but upon arriving at the Capitol and seeing the estimated 700 people who registered to speak, Terrell felt compelled to register himself and give his own two cents.

“Really what I think that this has been about for me … is people learning the value of listening to each other, of … learning the importance of being right at the end of a conversation over being right at the beginning of a conversation,” Terrell said. “Kind of an idea about recognizing our own limitations and then working with each other to overcome those limitations, so it’s really been kind of a beautiful moment. A lot of people are coming out here and showing that they can be a force when they feel support. [It’s] kind of a cultural shift toward valuing your neighbor and what they have to say.”

One of the things that Terrell takes the most pride in has been the children that have voiced their opinions through a megaphone in front of the masses that have surrounded the Capitol.

“Even if they don’t have a real, true sense of what’s going on, the fact that they’re losing their fear of speaking their mind and understanding that other people have similar interests, reestablishing that the person on the other side of the aisle has the best interest of everyone at heart and that there might be different ways to go about that, there might be different opinions, … you might just never agree, but you have to acknowledge the humanity of the person across from you and respect that.”

The most courageous thing that Terrell witnessed in his time at the Capitol was when the last person to speak about the bill, a 14-year-old girl, testified in favor of it. Terrell’s heart dropped during her testimony, unsure of what response it would evoke, but was relieved when she received as much applause as those who spoke before her against the bill.

“She spoke her mind and it was one of the most courageous things I think I’ve ever seen,” Terrell said. “It’s easy to get up when the rotunda is going to just applaud, but she really took a stand – and I don’t know that I agree with her, that I would even argue anything with a 14 year old, but the fact that they are forming their own opinions and expressing them is awesome to me. And the fact that it was received well, because it is her opinion and she is entitled to it, was very moving.”