As many as 30,000 people marched on the Wisconsin capitol Saturday for a rally commemorating the first weekend of the effort to recall the state's embattled Governor Scott Walker.
The rally was the largest since April, when state residents had been protesting Governor Walker's limits on collective bargaining each weekend for months. The campaign to recall Governor Walker officially began on Tuesday, November 15, and organizers need 540,000 signatures by January 17th to trigger a recall election.
The Saturday event kicked off with a bagpiper-led march by firefighters and police officers, and a new song by Madison musician Sean Michael Dargan called "The Day Scott Walker is Recalled." MSNBC host Ed Schultz made a surprise appearance, as did former Senator Russ Feingold, who assured reporters he would not be running for governor if a recall is triggered. Around 50 Walker supporters circled the capitol in a pack.
Recall group United Wisconsin estimated that 30,000 signatures were gathered around the capitol, with proponents weaving through the crowd with clipboards, and booths set up around the capitol where supporters could add their names to petitions or sign up to volunteer. Rally attendees were also urged to donate canned food items for the hungry in a "can Walker" food drive. Around the state, many thousands more went door-to-door to collect the 9,000-11,000 signatures needed per day.
Worker's Rights are the Wisconsin Way
From the stage, speakers urged the crowd to sign petitions, portraying Walker's policies as an attack on Wisconsin traditions.
"As Wisconsinites, worker's rights and workplace justice are part of our make up," said Al Peltier, a welder and member of Ironworkers Local 881. "We know the pride that comes from a hard day's work, and the dignity from knowing that we have a say in the way that work is done," Peltier told the crowd. "In other words, worker's rights are the Wisconsin way."
"When Scott Walker gutted public worker's rights back in February, it was NOT the Wisconsin way, and it was NOT about the budget," he said. Peltier noted that "tens of thousands of [public] workers were offering to make deep sacrifices in their family budget" by voluntarily agreeing to contribute more to their pensions and healthcare "so that the state budget could be balanced." But, he said "when they offered their hand, Governor Walker slapped it away."
Is It Working?
AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt said Governor Walker is "out of touch." Apparently referencing the "Its Working!" ad campaign promoted by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity and MacIver Institute, Neunfeldt said Walker "keeps telling us that everything is OK and that everything is working, but we know better, right? Governor Walker: It's not working!"
Forklift driver and grandmother Julie Wells also questioned the "Its Working!" claims. "What [Governor Walker] fails to tell us is who it is working for," she said. "It is working for special interests and corporations. It is working for political cronies. It is working for [the] billionaire [Koch] brothers."
"It is not working for workers, it is not working for children, it is not working for seniors, it is not working for the people of Wisconsin," she said.
Education vs Corporations
Also speaking was Heather Dubois Bourenane, who said she was "a mom, a teacher, a state worker, a PTO member, [and] a grad student" who had not been politically active until Scott Walker took office. "I'm just a regular person who was shaken into action over the past year," she said.
"How is it ok to cut 1.6 billion dollars from public education and yet still justify increasing the budget? How is it OK to force 4000 teachers into retirement and the rest of them to take substantial cuts to their take-home pay then not turn down a raise to your own salary?"
"I thought we all agreed that education, not corporations, come first. I thought we all agreed that teachers deserved our respect and appreciation, not condemnation and demoralization ... Scott Walker doesn't seem to think so," she said. "We cannot afford to fund the coffers of the rich and leave our kids in the gutter."
In September, Dubois Bourenane attracted attention when, during NBC's Education Nation conference, host Brian Williams read to Walker a critical letter she had written. At 4 a.m. Thursday morning she received a death threat from an unidentified caller saying her life and the lives of her family were in danger because "you've attracted the attention of some very bad people."
Intimidation and Inspiration
The threat to Dubois Bourenane appears to be part of a trend to intimidate leaders in the recall effort. Reports have emerged in recent weeks of recall opponents destroying or threatening to destroy petitions, throwing a rock through a window of a business with a "recall Walker" sign, and hacking the website of a leading recall group.
Sarah Hammer, a registered nurse from Fort Atkinson and co-coordinator of the Walker recall effort in Jefferson County, has also been the subject of intimidation tactics. Hammer told the Center for Media and Democracy that someone in her community had posted the home addresses of recall leaders on a pro-Walker Facebook page, and she awoke Wednesday morning to find her tires flat.
Hammer also said a person had broken into the Fort Atkinson recall headquarters and stole recall signs and materials. "The office had a sign saying "no guns allowed," she added, "and the person posted a handwritten sign over it that said 'what part of infringe on my rights don't you understand.'"
But Hammer is undeterred.
"I am proud to be part of this movement," she said. "The people involved and the energy has been amazing."
Hammer said she had never been politically active before Walker, and never strictly voted for Democrats. "But I would never vote Republican again," she said. Hammer was not only concerned about union rights and cuts in education (the impact of which she says she has seen firsthand in her child's school), but also proposals to introduce iron ore mining in Wisconsin.
Hammer said that Jefferson County has traditionally been regarded as a "red" county, but volunteers for the recall effort "have been coming out of the woodwork." The recall effort had 50 volunteers in August, 250 by the end of October, and continue adding numbers, she said. "We've quadrupled our expected goal for signatures in the first four days."
Recall proponents across the state have also been off to a successful start, gathering over 105,000 signatures in the first four days of the recall effort.
Capital police reported no arrests.
(The Center for Media and Democracy does not endorse or oppose any candidate for office. Since 1993, CMD has been reporting on corporate spin and government propaganda, exposing public relations tactics, and debunking PR campaigns.)