Unions and Tea Party march on the Capitol Saturday
The Assembly and Senate chambers in Madison are closed for the weekend, but the Capitol was still open to the people. Thousands gathered inside and out on Capitol square to voice their opposition or support for Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.
The bill would require state employees to contribute more toward their pension and health care premiums, give up the majority of their collective bargaining rights and demand a union vote annually to determine if representation is still desired by its members.
Public employees, students and concerned citizens have descended on Madison all week in opposition to the bill. Many of those, especially teachers, were told they would need notes from their doctors to avoid discipline from their school districts. In an effort to help, a small group of doctors set up on Pickney Street off the Capitol grounds, handing out notes to needy protesters.
The anti-Walker crowd was still larger in number, but the Tea Party had the lung power to get their point across.
People on both sides of the issue were eager to speak with ThirdCoast Digest.
Kill the Bill
“This is fascism,” said Stu Marvin of Madison. “I’m very much for the union but never belonged to one. The one place I worked, a hospital, my working conditions were so much better because of the nurses union. I think unions improve the working conditions for everybody. This is the same class warfare for 30 years and when we start fighting back they say we’re out of line. They’re the ones out of line.”
Marvin added that the 14 Democrat Senators who fled to Illinois are taking a stand, doing something extraordinary. “They are doing it out of moral courage.”
Others described Walker and the Republicans actions as ground zero for the attack on unions everywhere. Diedre Buckley of Madison said even though the Citizens United decision has weakened the unions’ political influence, they still have the ability to mobilize people to vote and get the message out.
Her friend, Cathy Cullen, is employed by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Cullen said the proposed cuts in state education aid are designed to destroy the unions and would give district administrators the excuse to increase class sizes to 45 or more students.
The anti-Walker crowd owned the street circling the Capitol, parading and chanting non-stop for the four hours TCD was on site. Signs describing Walker as Hitler or Hosni Mubarak were prevalent; others called for the impeachment and recall of Republicans, support for teachers and an end to the Imperial Walker. One UWM student continued with the Star Wars® theme by describing the protests as “a disturbance in the Force.”
Pass the Bill
Gadsen flags and Ronald Reagan pictures were held high at the Tea Party rally, where the majority of people in support of the bill gathered. Conservative talker Vicki McKenna headlined a roster of conservative speakers and state Tea Party activists. However, there were no elected Republican officials on the agenda for the rally.
Pro-Walker signs sent apologies to the governor for not coming to Madison earlier. “Sorry we were late, we were working” and “I can only protest on the weekends” were a common theme among Tea Party sign bearers. Chants of “Kill the Bill” were met with “Pass the Bill” or “Shame on You” from the crowd.
“Why am I out supporting the Tea Party? I am against communism,” said Morgan, who declined to give her last name. She said a YouTube video produced by Socialists moved her to come out. “They’re (the Socialists) excited about this and they are going to use Wisconsin to be the first state to become Socialist.”
Another woman explained she was at the Tea Party rally as an American and out of concern for the out-of-control spending in the state and nation.
“187,000 Wisconsin people have lost jobs, 65,000 Wisconsin people have their homes,” Renee from Middleton said. “At some point we all have to contribute a little bit to the collective whole. I don’t think that the public workers are willing to contribute to that public whole. They keep saying to tax the rich, but we can’t do that. We are one of the highest taxed states in this country. We can’t tax anymore.”
As expected, the Tea Partiers were not happy with the behavior of the Senate 14.
“I don’t support the 14 people who fled from doing their jobs and the teachers who didn’t show up for their jobs,” Renee added. “There are millions who would take those jobs, no one is making them stay in those positions.”
Babies and students have been a common sight among the protests all week, and the Tea Party gathering had its share of young people in attendance. David Michaletz, 14, from New Berlin, said he was supportive of Walker and thought he was making good decisions. His father, Jim, believes the same thing and he wanted the governor to know he was supportive of his efforts to control the costs of the state.
Paula Popoutsis of Muskego summed up the Tea Party line.
“I’m here in full support of Scott Walker. I believe in everything he is doing. He campaigned on these things and is doing what he said he was going to do.”
There will be no action on the budget repair bill on Monday, due to the Presidents’ Day holiday. The Assembly is scheduled to reconvene and take up the bill at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The Senate is still under a Call to the House, while state police search for Democratic Senators to appear on the floor.