Wisconsin Protests, Saturday, February 19, 2011

8:00 p.m. - Signing off.

Saturday's rallies were the largest yet! News reports have put the number of Walker protesters at the Capitol today at 70-80,000 compared to 3-5,000 for Tea Party participants.

Tea Party crowd5:00 p.m. - TEA PARTY RALLY

Brendan Fischer reports on the Tea Party rally:

In what appears to be the largest day of protests yet, opponents of the budget repair bill filled the capitol square and paraded through packed streets while Walker supporters, Tea Party members, and conservative activists congregated in the state capitol's East spur. Approaching the spur at the height of the noon rally (organized by the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity), a deafening mix of competing chants ("Kill the bill!" "Pass the bill!" "Si se puede!" "What's disgusting? Union busting!") made it difficult to hear the speakers.

Based on conversations with Walker supporters and statements on their signs, I came away with the impression that Walker supporters felt more strongly about requiring employee contributions to pension and health care than about collective bargaining rights generally. The opposition to collective bargaining rights seemed to arise from the belief that requiring increased contributions could not be accomplished without also ending the right to unionize.

Teachers' sacrificesI was able to have several conversations with people who seemed genuinely concerned about what they perceived as the state's fiscal crisis and supported Walker's bill because it would require public employees to make sacrifices. These people expressed surprise that, upon arriving to the capitol, they found that bill opponents were primarily concerned with losing collective bargaining rights. Walker's repeated message that the bill is a necessary budget fix (and refusal to acknowledge the concerns of his opponents) has apparently been successful.

At least one person held a sign that said "even FDR opposed public unions." I asked the sign-holder why she thought FDR opposed public unions and she replied "Google it." When I suggested that FDR opposed public unions because he had so much faith in government that he believed it would always act in the best interest of its employees, and that such faith in the inherent altruism of government seems kinda contrary to Tea Party ideals, she became flustered and repeated her suggestion that I "Google it."

Other signs held by bill supporters suggested additional contradictions. Signs like "I have no healthcare, so why should I pay taxes for yours?" seemed like they could have been directed towards politicians in a call for universal healthcare; other signs also expressed the sign-holder's resentment about not having health insurance. Which leads one to wonder where they stood in the healthcare debate one year ago.

Tea Party member's misspelled sign, Dems: Runnig to Illinois4:00 p.m. - WE WORK ON WEEKDAYS: INFLAMMATORY SIGNS FAN THE FLAMES OF POLITICAL DISPUTE IN MADISON

Erica Pelzek reports on the Tea Party rally attendees. Steve Horn live-Tweeted the rally.

Of the approximately 500-1,000 Tea Party members in Madison, Wisconsin, Saturday afternoon, at least 3 this reporter spoke with had misspelled signs. It should also be noted, that of the 15 Walker supporters this reporter interviewed, every single one was employed in the private sector, in non-unionized jobs, with no chance of their own salaries being cut due to pension and rising health care premiums under Walker's budget repair bill.

A 17-year-old senior in high school from a Madison suburb declared, "We voted Scott Walker into office and we need to support him through this."


"As a teacher, did you know that your sign is spelled wrong?" asks a dark-haired woman with a "CARE ABOUT YOUR EDUCATORS THE WAY THEY CARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN" sign in hand.

"Well, I bet I'm smarter than you," retorted the girl.

Laughter ensues.

"I'm going to an Ivy League school!" she shouted.

Others, however, are more reasonable.

"If the bill doesn't pass, we're frankly screwed. We're already paying too much for taxes. If it doesn't pass, people will be laid off or terminated."

Kennedy said she is "not officially affiliated" with the Tea Party but supports their views.

"I'm just a conservative who believes in smaller government, more freedom and less taxes."

Mark with his daughterMark and his entire family from Milwaukee, also support Scott Walker's "budget balancing" efforts. "I'm supportive of Scott," Mark said, noting that he is in sales for a career.

Mark has a personally funded retirement plan, meaning no pension is taken out of his salary. He notes that he was not aware of the Koch brothers campaign contributions to Scott Walker's campaign.

"I think everybody gets there campaign money from who knows where today."

At this juncture, a mild-mannered man with a coffee cup in hand walks up, asking Mark pointed--but polite--questions about his opinions on collective bargaining rights.

"Do you feel like collective bargaining rights are necessary?" asked the union man. "How would you feel if the bill was amended to preserve collective bargaining rights but make unionized workers pay pension and higher health care premiums?"

"I don't think we need collective bargaining. If it (working conditions, presumably) gets bad, unions will come back," Mark said. "It's not the '20s and '30s anymore. People have attorneys. They will sue."

"Would you rather see layoffs than give concessions on collective bargaining?" asked the union man, again keeping his tone steady and polite.

Mark, also playing nice, replied, "Financially, we can't keep going the way that we are. The unions are going to kill themselves if they keep up with the collective bargaining. I think it'd be a shame to see layoffs, but we can't spend more than we have until the budget is balanced."

Debbie Bierman and friendDebbie Bierman from Grant County wields an Americans for Prosperity sign, explaining, "The only reason I am here is because the teachers called in sick this week. My problem is that I, as a taxpayer, paid them to protest. That's blatant lying. They're not sick, and they're not doing their jobs."

When asked if she supported Walker's bill, she replied, "I do now."

Bierman, who also works in the private sector as an accountant, said that her employer requires her to pay 6% of her pension and matches it by 3%.

"Wouldn't workers affected by the bill only have to pay 5.8% of their salaries to their pensions?" her friend wonders aloud.

Notably, the average unionized truck driver is paid far less (approximately $43,000) annually than the average certified public accountant (approximately $60,000).

1:30 p.m. - Steve Horn reports that the Tea Party rally is barely 1/10th of the size of other rally groups.


John Nichols reports on Jesse Jackson's speech from Friday, February 18:

"This is a Martin Luther King moment!"

So declared the Rev. Jesse Jackson, as he finished addressing a crowd of more than 40,000 at that had filled the grounds of Wisconsin's state Capitol. A few minutes later, he would enter the Capitol and address a crowd estimated at 8,000, which filled what has been called America's most beautiful government building to capacity.

The Capitol was never more beautiful than on Friday night.

Read the full piece here.


1:22 p.m. - Erica Pelzek reports sign spotted: "Why can't we be friends with benefits?"

1:21 p.m. - Erica Pelzek reports that ralliers around the square chant "Don't drink the tea!"

1:20 p.m. - Steve Horn reports that Vicki McKenna is now speaking amidst chants of "Stand with Scott! Pass the bill!"

1:14 p.m. - Steve Horn reports that Tea Party ralliers are chanting "Thank you Scott!"

1:12 p.m. - Steve Horn reports that the head of Fire Feingold PAC from Racine is now speaking. "Tea stands for Tax Enough Already and Walker gets this!"

1:06 p.m. - Steve Horn reports that Meg Allison of the Wausau Tea Party is now speaking. "Rick Santelli was my catalyst for 2009," she says.

1:03 p.m. - Erica Pelzek reports that Walker supporters are chanting "Pass the budget!"

1:00 p.m. - Steve Horn reports that Kim Simac of Northwoods Patriots is now speaking.

State employees must pay their share! (Photo submitted by Katie Zaman in Madison, Wisconsin)

Jesus hearts fiscal discipline

12:55 p.m. - Erica Pelzek reports a Tea Party sign spotted: "We work on weekdays"

12:54 p.m. - Steve Horn reports that Dave Westlake reads a Sarah Palin letter from her Facebook fan page.

12:48 p.m. - Erica Pelzek reports a sign spotted: "This is a Civics Lesson"

12:47 p.m. - Brendan Fischer reports that a mix of chants arise from the crowds: "Kill the Bill!" "Pass the Bill!" "Si Se Puede!"


This week's protests are a revolt in defense of the right of public employees to self-organize. But not all the protesters here are public sector workers, or their family members. Many have recognized the role of college and high school students in initiating and energizing these protests. But few journalists have yet noted the efforts of Hmong, African American, Latino, and other activists of color to deepen and broaden the protests.

Monica Adams of the Madison-based community justice organization, Freedom, Inc., is one activist who has tried to add some color to the standard portrayal of this uprising. In an unpublished submission to the Wisconsin State Journal, earlier this week, she wrote that:

"Let's be clear: Gov. Walker has been after all of us from day one — and not just on the union issue. The Republican legislature's drafts of Arizona-style anti-immigrant bills threatens immigrants and would make it more likely than ever that people of color would face discrimination while driving. Unemployed workers took it on the chin when Gov. Walker vetoed high rail jobs. And Gov. Walker's threat to cut BadgerCare, FoodShare, and other life-saving services for millions of Wisconsinites imperils the health and welfare of our residents."

"Gov. Walker's mistake is the orchestrated political attack on all of us. Such an attack requires an orchestrated response. Labor unions must work to unite their struggle for their members with the struggle of the unemployed, threatened communities of color and abandoned low-income communities in Wisconsin."

I spoke with Sangita Nayak, communications director for Freedom, Inc., just now. She informed me that the organization has succeeded in mobilizing scores of southeast Asian and African American youth to participate in the protests. And she expressed frustration that, as of yet, this solidarity has not been noticed. As one African American MATC student told Sarah Manski yesterday, "protesting while Black" is often a risky business.

For both students and for youth of color, the risks they have taken this past week may pay off next week, when Governor Walker begins to release the details of his next full biennial budget proposal. Will public sector unions, already mobilized and in the fight of their lives, come to the aid of students facing 26% tuition hikes? Or unemployed youth of color facing drastic cuts to life-sustaining services? After this week, more of them may.

And that's what the organizers at Freedom, Inc. are counting on -- the broadening of the uprising to unite all the poor and working people of Wisconsin. As Nayak put it to me on the phone just now, "there are more young people, youth activists, coming out here every day, and we need to keep this movement growing."

March around Capitol Square12:08 p.m. - Erica Pelzek reports that the Tea Party rally is pitiful in comparison to pro-rights groups.

11:44 a.m. - Walker supporters begin to march around the Capitol.

11:21 a.m. - Brendan Fischer reports that the AFSCME parade is the biggest he has seen, with a large United Auto Worker (UAW) presence. UAW representatives have traveled from Flint, Michigan, to participate in the rallies.

11:17 a.m. - Brendan Fischer reports that Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" seems to be the theme song for the Madison rallies.

11:16 a.m. - Mary Bottari sends these photos from the Wisconsin rallies:

Darth Walker (Photo submitted by Katie Zaman in Madison, WI)

Economic apartheid

Boycott Walker's Contributors: Gordon Flesch, Stark Realty, Strand Assoc., Woodmans, Zimbrick, Jon Lancaster, Flad Development, Menards (Photo submitted by Katie Zaman in Madison, WI)

Bought and owned

Patriotic protestor

Magnolia (Photo taken at a rally on the evening of Friday, February 18)

Right wing radio has been using ominous terms to describe the protesters. Here is the littlest dangerous protester Magnolia Stryker and her mother Martha. Magnolia is wearing an "I Voted" sticker on her hat.

In the background Reverend Jesse Jackson addresses a crowd of over 40,000 explaining, "When we fight, we win!"

11:15 a.m. - Brendan Fischer reports that the band Clovis Mann is taking the stage as a huge AFSCME parade around the Square kicks off.

11:11 a.m. - From Erica Pelzek: Sign spotted: Walker steeps our $ - Not my cuppa tea!

11:07 a.m. - Brendan Fischer reports that the Director of Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant rights organization, says that many of the immigrants to the U.S. are fleeing countries that suffer union repression in search of better life. "But now, Walker is trying to make Wisconsin into a third world country. Engaging in class warfare. Your fight is our fight," she says.

11:05 a.m. Industrial Workers of the World from as far away as Nebraska are in attendance at the Madison, WI rally to show their support to Wisconsin workers.

11:03 a.m. - Sign spotted: "Middle class America, do you get it now? Stop the Republicans!"

10:57 a.m. - Brendan Fischer reports that Professor Stephen Baumann says "My teaching assistants make for robust education and make the University of Wisconsin great. Taking away their collective bargaining rights will destroy the quality of education."

10:52 a.m. - Brendan Fischer quotes the speaker: "The safety of nurses and conditions in hospitals depends on their right to organize and negotiate."

10:51 a.m. - Brendan Fischer: Signs spotted "Walker is a Koch head" and "My son is fighting for our freedom, Walker is trying to take it away"

10:36 a.m. - Signs spotted: "Remember, this is a peaceful protest."

10:35 a.m. - The rally kicks off with a bike parade around the Capitol.

10:22 a.m. - Unions have organized peace keeping teams to direct traffic and prevent any incidents. Marshals are stationed around the Capitol Square.

Another night at the Capitol

Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers. (Photo courtesy of twitpic)

I want my Wisconsin back!

Miss Forward and her modern-day counterpart

Screw us and we multiply

Wonder Woman

Saturday February 19, 2011 Three Rallies Today

Make sure you pick the right rally for you and do not falsely inflate the numbers for groups you do not support.

  1. AFSCME Rally at 10:30 a.m.
  2. Tea Party/Koch Brothers Rally at 12:00 p.m.
  3. WEAC Rally at 4:30 p.m.


Rep. Governor Scott Walker has had a hard time finding anyone in the state that supports his radical plan to do away with collective bargaining rights. So he is bringing in an array of national right wing leaders to noon rally. The rally is planned by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, the Sam Adams Alliance-funded American Majority, and several Wisconsin Tea Party groups. (corner of Main, S. Carroll & Hamilton).

Scheduled to appear are:

  • Andrew Breitbart, right-wing superstar and founder of Big Government
  • Tim Phillips, president of Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity
  • Jim Hoft of the "Gateway Pundit" blog (who recently blamed CBS reporter Lara Logan for her sexual assault in Egypt)
  • Ned Ryun, President of American Majority
  • Herman Cain, Tea Partier and 2012 presidential candidate (who has hired as his campaign director Mark Block, former director of Wisconsin Americans for Prosperity investigated for repeat fair election law violations)
  • Vicki McKenna, talk radio host for Madison's WISN and WIBA


Wisconsin State Journal, Nation's eyes turn to Wisconsin amid struggle over collective bargaining: This is a coordinated effort by the Republican Party to destroy the labor movement in this country," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in town Friday for the largest day of rallies, estimated by Madison police at 35,000 to 40,000 people. "If Wisconsin passes this, there are at least another 12 to 15 states that will try it." Wisconsin Education Association Council President Mary Bell and Wisconsin State Employees Union Executive Director Marty Beil have both said the state's unions are willing to consider the governor's changes to their pension and benefits plans. But the unions remain dead set against his bid to end most collective bargaining rights.

Capital Times, Tea Party activists form exploratory committees to recall state senators: "It's embarrassing for the state of Wisconsin to know that half of our senators have gone AWOL," says Kim Simac, a small business owner in Eagle River who heads the Northwoods Patriots, a Tea Party group.

Capital Times Op-Ed from Robert Craig, Wisconsin Citizen Action, recaps the National guard debate: "At his Feb. 11 press conference itself, Walker made extremely broad statements, which can be fairly construed as thinly veiled threats to use the National Guard against workers exercising their constitutional right to protest government actions they believe are unjust. Walker did not once mention using the National Guard to staff prisons, and used broad and sweeping language when referring to what they could be called to do."

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Protests at Capitol Keep Growing: The protests that have swept the Capitol this week have stunned even longtime legislators for both their breadth and intensity. "This is the biggest demonstration I've ever seen," said state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

Progressive Magazine Editor Matt Rothschild sums up where we are in a one minute Radio Editorial. Madison's own Progressive Magazine recently celebrated its 100th birthday. Click here to listen.


Wisconsin Protests photo gallery

Live report