Patti Wenzel

Have Wisconsin’s protests gone too far?

By - Sep 26th, 2011 04:00 am
Lady Justice Madison WI

Protests have become commonplace in Wisconsin. Photos by Patti Wenzel

It’s been a few months since I wrote my last column on the continuing protests in Madison and across the state. At that time it was in response to some zombies who showed up at a Capitol event honoring Wisconsin’s Special Olympians. I opined that there are times when policy makers are performing ceremonial duties and representing the citizens of the state as a whole. During those times, there should be a modicum of respect exercised for the constituents being recognized.

Since then, the protesters have continued with their constitutional right to protest and petition their government. I’m sure there are readers who will agree with me that this has become a circus, that actions on the part of some have even become counter-productive; others believe that this is a necessary response to politicians who have gone mad with power.

Each weekday, a handful of protesters gather in the Capitol rotunda with signs and song, coming and going peacefully while continuing to reinforce the beliefs so passionately illustrated in the spring. But some protest actions that have occurred over the last two months have been childish and removed from the issues, and in my opinion, the protesters are hurting their own cause .

In August, Gov. Scott Walker was booed and heckled while he officially opened the Wisconsin State Fair. Every governor since Wisconsin was a mere territory has had the honor to welcome visitors to the fair. The last time such a display of political anger and venom occurred at the fair was in the early 1900s, when Teddy Roosevelt took a bullet from a mentally ill man during a speech on the grounds.

In late August, in response to Gov. Walker’s visit to a parochial elementary school to read to read to students, protesters angry about public school cuts and school choice policy super-glued the locks of the building. Did that stop Walker from coming to the school to read to students? No. But it did cost an inner-city Milwaukee school hundreds of dollars to replace locks that could have gone toward educational programs.

Two weeks ago, we learned of a state parole officer receiving a fine for unnecessarily honking his horn in Wauwatosa.  His crime?  He drove from his downtown Milwaukee office after work each day to the Governor’s Tosa home to beep his horn, give a one-finger salute and shout “Recall Walker.” It didn’t seem to bother Azael Brodhead that the governor is rarely at his Tosa home and that his two teenage sons and parents are living there.

Miles Kristan. Photo from his Facebook site

Then there is the case of professional protester Miles Kristan. Known around Madison as “the pink dress guy,” Kristan thought it would be a noble gesture for the cause to dump a beer on the head of Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance. Reps. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford) and John Nygren (R-Marinette) also caught some suds in the face.

Some of Kristan’s co-protesters said Vos deserved the beer baptism, since he helped passed a budget that hurts the citizens of Wisconsin. The Madison police issued a disorderly conduct ticket to Kristan instead of a charging him with misdemeanor disorderly conduct or assault. Kristan paid the ticket and was given a hero’s reception as he left Madison’s police station.

Kristan’s friends even came up with a song in honor of his misconduct toward Vos – “We’re gonna pour, we’re gonna pour, gonna pour a beer on him.”

But that was not the end of childish behavior and taunts. On Sept. 17 at Fighting Bob Fest, Greg Palast, a progressive author and journalist, called on protesters to urinate on Republican lawmakers. 

‘This is Wisconsin, this is the place where you had some guy pour a beer on the head of a Republican State Senator?” Greg Palast said as the crowd erupted with cheers. “No, no, no, that’s all wrong. You can’t do that. That’s just wrong. I’m from New York. If you’re going to pour beer on a Republican, you have to drink it first.”

I guess political protesting has now deteriorated to the level of a middle school gym locker room.

All of this has led me to believe that enough is enough. Gov. Walker and the Republican-led legislature know there are voters, workers and citizens who are unhappy with the collective bargaining reforms and the cuts to transit, reproductive health programs and education. We have all heard that Walker played a bait and switch on the state – that he didn’t specifically campaign on cutting public employee bargaining privileges – and we all watched some of the Democratic candidates who ran in recalls this summer barely touching on that every issue, even though that is what the petitioners said was the reason to recall six Republican senators.

There are still rumblings of a recall of Gov. Walker in November. Will it never end? I would argue that Republicans “suffered” for eight years with policies they didn’t accept or like under Jim Doyle and Democrat-controlled legislatures. Why can’t Democrats do the same?

Voters are currently mixed on the Republicans’ changes to state policies. While they are supportive of reducing public employee benefits and basing teacher pay on merit, they are also equally split on Gov. Walker’s overall performance and whether the collective bargaining changes needed to be made at all.

Those poll results, gathered by Douglas E. Schoen LLC for the Manhattan Institute, don’t seem to have changed much concerning Walker or the voter’s mixed feelings concerning fiscal policies and public services. And after months of protesting, there doesn’t seem to be much change, either.

Let’s move on. It’s time to take plant the seeds of change where this state – and this nation’s – democratic process have always intended – at the polls. And with two elections coming up in the next fourteen months, there will be plenty of opportunity to speak with our votes.

0 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Have Wisconsin’s protests gone too far?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    While it may seem to some that these protests have gone to far, they are obviously not the people who are beginning to feel the pinch of Governor Walkers decisions and priorities. From the school kids in Miwaukee who need more instruction not less to the elderly who are waiting now longer for the cut back in bus service and certainly the many who are denied health benefits, do not feel the protests have gone to far. Protests big or small remind us that this Governor does not have the same vision for the future as many of us.
    Yes, there are those who cross a wavy line between protest and public nuisance, but to lump them in with legitimate protest and disagreement is like saying all anti choice believers are killers because some one murders a physician

  2. Anonymous says:

    As Americans we have the right to free speech. If we disagree, we have the right to speak up. If we break the law in doing so, we most likely get arrested. Sadly, now, often times people are getting arrested for some action wherein they were NOT breaking the law. Arresting people for videotaping, arresting people for holding signs – these things are not against the law but yet there have been people arrested for doing so.You will not see too many demonstrations when there are moderately negative effects to people’s lives. The more repression there is – and the closer we get to blatant oppression, the more pointed the demonstrations will become. To date, demonstrators have not resorted to violence. If things keep going in the direction they are going in the state legislature and in congress – making things worse and worse for the elderly, working class, poor and infirm – things could get rougher. Normal, non-violent people have been known to turn to violence when they have no other alternatives – when they feel completely powerless in their own lives. If you take away all of their rights and privileges, peole are nothing more than slaves, and hatred for the “master” is bound to occur. The right wing legislators are taking things too far. They say they want less government, but in fact, they’re interfering with people’s lives on every level – trying to legislate who they can love or what they can do with their own bodies, who they can vote for, etc.. Enough now. These legislators need to back off and do the will of the people. they were not elected to be mini-dictators or group dictators…. they are supposed to make things better for the people – not worse. They are doing the will of the super wealthy at the people’s expense. And – that simply isn’t going to fly!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Leave it to suburbanite children to obsess over oppression/repression delusions.

    Nobody was arrested for holding signs or speaking their mind. To say that they were is nothing more than emotional hyperventilating over crisis fantasies that don’t exist.

    What they were arrested for was some of the acts that are not protected by the 1st Amendment including assault and vandalism, and their general inability to tolerate the results of elections that are not in their favor.

    That is NOT what democracy looks like. In democracy, sometimes Democrats lose, even if they don’t like it. So grow up and deal with it.

    Nothing Republicans do or don’t do in the legislative process while in power excuses the kind of behavior we’ve seen from unhinged activists, who have behaved like a pack of dumb wild animals that belong in a cage at a zoo for my own personal viewing pleasure.

    In regards to the direction that the state legislature is going in and how people are feeling the pinch if Governor Walker’s decisions, here’s bit more than just empty freestyle pontification:,0,7065478.story

    So simmer down.

  4. Anonymous says:

    President Roosevelt was not shot at the fair grounds…

    “One little-known facet of Milwaukee history, and one that would be extraordinarily well-known had it been successful, is that of the assassination attempt on Theodore Roosevelt here on October 14, 1912.

    This near-calamity happened when Roosevelt was in town campaigning on the Progressive, or Bull Moose party ticket, seeking to regain top office again after a four-year hiatus. He stopped for the afternoon at the Hotel Gilpatrick, and after dining with local dignitaries, readied to leave for the Milwaukee Auditorium (now the Milwaukee Theatre) to give a campaign speech.

    As he was getting into his vehicle, Roosevelt paused on the floorboards to turn and wave goodbye to well-wishers. Unfortunately, this moment cleared the way for would-be assassin, John Schrank, to take the shot he had been plotting for more than three weeks as he followed Roosevelt’s campaign across eight states. Schrank fired his .38 revolver from close range, hitting Roosevelt in the chest.”

  5. Anonymous says:

    “In late August, in response to Gov. Walker’s visit to a parochial elementary school to read to read to students, protesters angry about public school cuts and school choice policy super-glued the locks of the building. Did that stop Walker from coming to the school to read to students? No. But it did cost an inner-city Milwaukee school hundreds of dollars to replace locks that could have gone toward educational programs.”

    Now, I am not going to support violence or vandalism as appropriate in protests…nor do I believe they are protected free speech. But unless I’ve missed something, I don’t believe anyone has been arrested or charged in the school vandalism. So we don’t know if was a protest against Gov. Walker, a protest against the school or outright vandalism.

  6. Anonymous says:

    If we give up the protest, Walker will point to it as proof that the citizens of WI have finally come to their senses. Protesters (taxpayers and citizens, just like you and I) are being ticketed and arrested for exercising their first amendment rights by holding signs and videotaping or taking pictures of proceedings. Those are not actions of a democratic state. Light needs to be shed on the actions of Walker and his administration and the protesters and playing their part.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Well, you may be right in the sense that these protests are not very effective, but it certainly does not seem to me that the issues raised by the Governor’s actions should be dead. These issues — surrounding the right of employees to collectively bargain, the right of teachers in public school and higher education to be treated decently and with respect, the question of why lower and middle class people should pay for deficits when rich people do not, and overall priority society should place on education — remain important and worth discussing. I would like to see Third Coast Digest investigate these issues and provoke informed discussion on some of them, rather than focusing on the far less significant activities of a few protesters

  8. Anonymous says:

    These replies prove more that these protests should settle down, more than the article does. First of all, what rights have been taken away, the right to collective bargain? Government workers should not have the right to collective bargaining. Private workers should, not Government paid workers. In fact the Federal workers do not (except for wages up to cost of living). If it is such a travesty that the State workers have been stripped of its collective bargaining rights and that because of this, protests are deserving; then why in the world have not these same protestors been wreaking havoc on the Nations Capital for the past decades? It was very hypocritical in our President’s speech to the Nation about jobs recently that he mentioned “…we don’t have to get rid of collective bargaining to save jobs from going overseas…” when the very Federal employees that work under him themselves don’t have collective bargaining rights. The protests will not stop, because the protestors do not have anywhere else to go. The voters spoke not the rich elite. Regardless of who pays for election campaigns, the individuals are still the ones who vote, not the rich or corporations. Walker won, Barrett didn’t. You have a chance to get rid of the evil, children starving, elderly killing, poor robbing, environment choking, rich loving, Republicans in the next election. Take care of it then.

  9. Anonymous says:

    First, I agree that the horn-honker, the beer-dumpers, and the door-gluers were wrong. However, the protest at which the door gluing happened was perfectly legitimate: Walker’s record shows he has no business whatsoever presenting himself as any sort of friend of education.

    Similarly, you might think the opening of the State Fair is an apolitical, non-partisan event…but you know who didn’t? Scott Walker…who saw fit to adapt his campaign slogan to open the fair, saying “The Wisconsin State Fair is open for business.” If a politician is going to campaign at an event, that event becomes an acceptable venue for protest.

    Oh, and Greg Palast’s comment about the beer? Pretty sure that is what experts in the field call a “joke.”

    Ultimately, all you’ve got here is a couple people who’ve let poor judgment lead them to do stupid things. That’s a truly bipartisan trait.

    But, you know, I haven’t noticed any of these protesters cheering at someone’s death, or suggesting that the uninsured should just die already…and when those Republican partisans did so, none of the candidates called them on their barbarism.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Can’t TCD get someone who is better informed than the author of this article? I would ask for Vos and Walker to give me their opinions and even that would be better. What sort of alternative journal is this? She seems to have no understanding that what is at stake here is everything anyone the rich and conservative want- our public schools for one thing.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Oh yes- in addition she is totally humor-challenged

  12. Anonymous says:

    […] Op-Ed: Have Wisconsin’s protests gone too far? […]

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