Madison protestors, inspired by Victor Hugo, take on Wisconsin’s newly elected emperor

On February 27, the people occupying the Wisconsin state capital building in support of worker’s rights, broke out in a stirring rendition of a song from Les Misérables, one of the most famous and most performed musicals worldwide. The musical is based on the novel Les Misérables (1862) by Victor Hugo, which follows the struggles of a group of characters as they seek personal redemption and social revolution in nineteenth century France.

Hugo, also a political activist, spoke out against social injustice. When Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) seized complete power in 1851, establishing an anti-parliamentary constitution, Hugo openly declared him a traitor to France. He then relocated to Guernsey, where he lived in exile until 1870. While in exile, he published a famous political pamphlet against Napoleon III, Napoléon le Petit. It includes the concept of “two plus two equals five” as a denial of truth by authority, a notion later used by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Hugo’s pamphlet was banned in France, but nonetheless had a strong impact there. He also penned Les Misérables.while in exile.

Today, February 28, Wisconsin TV stations are being flooded by Koch brothers funded advertising that claims “two plus two equals five,” demonizes the protesting workers, and supports Governor Walker’s draconian bill. Walker, who has only been in office six weeks, seems to be auditioning for the role of Napoleon III of Wisconsin. He has already given generous tax cuts to the wealthy. His “Budget Repair” bill would strip public workers of their right to collective bargaining. It would give him the authority to sell off public assets at his discretion, to whomever he wants, at whatever price he wants. It also would allow him to circumvent the legislature and cut health services for the poor and elderly. In addition he plans steep cuts to education and local governments. And, unless he has his way, he is threatening to lay off thousands of Wisconsin teachers and other public sector workers.

But the public sector workers and their supporters have been hanging strong for two weeks. This past weekend saw the largest number of demonstrators to date, upwards of 100,000 who stood in peaceful protest, in freezing temperatures, while snow fell. Others occupied the state capital building.

The public sector workers of Wisconsin are leading the country in what may turn out to be our own 21st century revolution—a revolution that restores social and economic justice to the working and middle class people of America.

Feel free to sing along in solidarity.

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of working men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?

Then join in the fight
That will give you the right to be free!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of working men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Will you give all you can give
So that our banner may advance
Some will fall and some will live
Will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs
Will water the meadows of France!

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of working men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Madonna Gauding Madonna Gauding (250 Posts)

Madonna Gauding is a freelance writer, illustrator and book designer living in St. Louis. MO. She is the author of 10 books on a variety of "mind, body, spirit" topics.