Madison Protest Swells Protest Swells
Saturday’s Protests in Wisconsin Expected to Be Biggest Yet
In the wake of a budget standoff in Wisconsin that has captured national attention and paralyzed the state, protesters on both sides are expected to clash Saturday in what police were anticipating would be the largest crowds seen yet in the weeklong demonstrations.
Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney predicted crowds could swell to as many as 70,000 people on Saturday and said his department planned to add 60 deputies to the 100 who patrolled during the week.
As many as 40,000 people, including teachers, students, firefighters and prison guards, swarmed the Capitol on Friday, raising the noise in its rotunda to earsplitting levels as they rallied to block Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to ease Wisconsin’s budget woes by cutting many government workers’ pay, benefits and bargaining rights.
The crowds have been loud but peaceful. Police reported just nine citations for minor offenses as of Friday. Schools throughout the state have closed this week after teachers called in sick, including in the state’s largest district, in Milwaukee.
About 200 protesters spent the night in the Capitol, readying for what is expected to be the biggest rally yet. Tensions could rise when conservative counter-protesters, set to arrive Saturday by the busload, show up to demand that the bill be passed. Those protests are being organized by the Tea Party Patriots, the movement’s largest umbrella group, and Americans for Prosperity. The Capitol was to remain open, but access was being limited to a couple entrances.
No stranger to political unrest, Madison has seen activists take to the streets to protest the Vietnam war, support civil rights and oppose cuts in social services. Riots ensued 15 years ago when police clamped down on an annual block party that began as an anti-war protest in 1969.
Some say this week’s rallies are unmatched in their sustained, impassioned energy — bolstered by Senate Democrats who fled the state to delay action on Walker’s proposal and threatened to stay in hiding for weeks if calls for negotiation go unheeded. State troopers were sent to retrieve the Democratic minority leader from his home Friday, but their knocks went unanswered.
“That’s jaw-dropping. This is uncharted,” said Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee political scientist and former state lawmaker who said he’s been reminded this week of when motorcycle riders’ protest of a helmet law in the late 1970s persuaded legislators to overturn the measure.
Democrats who stayed in Madison on Friday scored their own victory, forcing the state Assembly to adjourn until at least Tuesday without taking a vote on Walker’s bill. Republicans, however, have more than enough votes to pass the measure once the Legislature can convene.
Tea Party activists angry with the Democratic senators who fled the state are exploring the possibility of recalling at least two of them.
Northwoods Patriots leader Kim Simac, of Eagle River, says the Tea Party group will meet Sunday to discuss recalling Sen. Jim Holperin after they return from Madison where they planned to rally at the Capitol Saturday.
Simac, a small business owner, says “it’s embarrassing for the state of Wisconsin” that half of the Senate has “gone AWOL.” Tea Party member Dan Hunt says a similar effort is under way in Kenosha where an exploratory committee will consider recalling Sen. Robert Wirch.
The Capital Times says a recall effort would require the exploratory committees to collect 15,000 to 20,000 petition signatures.
“Real solidarity means everyone being willing to sacrifice and carry our share of the burden,” Palin said in her post, which did not indicate whether she would join conservatives in Madison this weekend.
Walker insists the concessions he is seeking from public workers — including higher health insurance and pension contributions — are necessary to deal with the state’s projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall and to avoid layoffs. Eliminating their collective bargaining rights, except over wage increases not greater than the Consumer Price Index, is necessary in order to give state and local governments and schools flexibility to deal with upcoming cuts in state aid, Walker said.
The leader of the state’s largest public employee union said workers were prepared to discuss financial concessions but not to give up bargaining rights. Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said protests would continue until Walker agrees to negotiate.
But neither Walker nor the Republicans who took control of both the state Senate and Assembly in November appear ready to make concessions. Walker has called on Senate Democrats to “come home” and rebuffed a request to sit down with them to seek a compromise.