Senate Democrats Madison Wisconsin Protests 85,000
Senate Democrats back at Capitol for protests
Written by Gannett Wisconsin Media
MADISON — The state Senate Democrats who fled to Illinios in a scheme to stymie the collective bargaining law Republicans passed this week without them took to a stage on the Capitol Square in front of tens of thousands of supporters.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller praised the protesters who took to the streets, saying they “inspired” the senators while in exile.
He was also unapologetic for leaving Wisconsin and
rejected charges that he and his colleagues failed to carry out the duties of their office.
Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald issued a statement excoriating the Democrats for their tactical maneuver.
“To the Senate Democrats: when you smile for the cameras today and pretend you’re heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted,” Fitzgerald said. “And I hope you’re embarrassed to call yourselves senators.”
Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, pushed back at Fitzgerald and said that he was “very disappointed in his comments.”
“What we did was the right thing,” Hansen roared.
The senators said repeatedly that they paid for their lodging, meals and travel out of their own pockets and will not seek reimbursement from the state.
— Michael Louis Vinson
Crowd approaching record levels on Capitol Square
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain said the crowd gathering outside the Capitol this morning has the potential to be record-breaking.
Many public employees are incensed that Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into law Friday the bill that eliminates many collective bargaining powers for union-represented workers at the state, county and local levels. About 175,000 people, the majority of them public school teachers, are affected by the law.
By 3 p.m., tens of thousands of people crowded the Capitol Square. There is a big discrepancy in the crowd estimates compiled by Capitol Police and the Madison Police Department. Capitol Police estimated about 49,500 at 2 p.m. while Madison police said the crowd was about 85,000.
It’s not clear whether Capitol Police are counting protesters who are spilling five blocks down State Street and other roads leading off the Square.
A protest on Feb. 26 drew about 100,000, Madison police estimated. For comparison, Madison’s population is about 240,000.
Capitol Police spokesman Tim Donovan said two entrances to the Capitol are open to the public and people are entering and leaving in an orderly manner. Donovan said no limit has been set on how many people can enter the building, but police are counting how many people are allowed inside.
“Officers are mindful of the need to protect public safety,” Donovan said.
Music teachers Josh and Sara Zallar spent 10 minutes in a brisk breeze outside the Capitol waiting to get inside. Once they did, security officers confiscated Sara’s backpack with her cowbells inside.
“I’m disappointed that we can’t have musical instruments inside. It kind of destroys the atmosphere,” she said.
Josh Zallar, who has made five trips to the Capitol in recent weeks, said the officers in the Capitol have remained friendly throughout the protests, but the added security is unnecessary.
“There were never any problems before (with protesters) that I can tell,” he said. “They are just trying to slowly weed out the protesters so they can get things back to normal, which of course isn’t what we want.”
Neenah-Menasha firefighters join Madison protests
About 20 Neenah-Menasha firefighters boarded buses at 10 a.m. Saturday and headed for Madison.
“The fight’s not over,” said Jamie Leonard, a fireman. “We’ve got the recall coming. That’s the next step. We gotta turn the tide, we gotta change the faces in the senate. We’ve got to change the governor’s face.”
Though he’s been to Madison for weekday protests before, Leonard was stunned by the size of the Saturday crowd.
“This is impressive,” he said. “This is what democracy looks like in this day and age. People are outraged. People want to be heard. You can see it in the numbers today.”
The group marched around the Capitol Square with firefighters from across the state at 2:30 p.m.
— Michael Louis Vinson
Teacher draws connection between Super Bowl, unions
Chad Buboltz is a teacher who came to Madison to teach his kids about democracy and to teach everyone else about teachers.
“We really couldn’t miss something like this,” the De Pere resident said while marching around the Capitol with his wife and two children, aged 10 and 7.
In a reference to the Green Bay Packers, he carried a sign that read, “Union workers won the Super Bowl.”
A teacher at Neenah High School, Buboltz said he wanted to expose his kids to the historic political uprising in Madison. But he also felt compelled to defend his profession against charges that union teachers are greedy, selfish and lazy.
Teachers get an unfair rap, he said, adding that most are dedicated individuals whose first concern is always caring for children.
“It’s important for us to be very public about this,” he said. “I work hard at my job.”
— Scott Williams
Rev. Jesse Jackson returns to Madison protests
The Rev. Jesse Jackson has returned to Madison to rejoin union supporters and urge them to keep up the fight.
In an interview in the lobby of the Madison Concourse Hotel just off the Capitol Square, Jackson said he would encourage Gov. Scott Walker’s opponents to stay united as the legislative battle over the collective bargaining law moves into the courts and on to recall efforts.
Jackson, a longtime Democrat and social justice activist, recalled epic battles of the civil rights movement, recalling that those efforts survived setbacks but ultimately succeeded because of perseverance.
“It’s a long fight,” he said. “Don’t surrender.”
Jackson, who has been in Madison several times in recent weeks, wasn’t sure if he would be addressing protesters during today’s rally at 3 p.m.
— Scott Williams
Parents turn protests into learning experience
Like many parents here today, Oshkosh residents Paul Smith, 37, and Aaron Sherer, 37, brought their two sons, Dustin, 4, and Taylor, 3, to Madison.
While Smith staked out a prime spot along the parade route to collect signatures for a petition to recall state Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac, Sherer kept the kids entertained.
“We’ve been to the Children’s Museum already,” Sherer said. “That’s our respite. We’ll be walking around the Capitol and we’re very excited about the tractors.”
This is the family’s fourth consecutive Saturday in Madison.
“This is fun for them,” Sherer said. “Dustin at home will randomly say, ‘Tell me what democracy looks like,’ and expect us to respond, “This is what democracy looks like.”
— Michael Louis Vinson
‘A beautiful day to protest’
After nearly a month of political stalemate that ended abruptly this week when state Senate Republicans passed a law that eliminates many collective bargaining powers for most public union employees, Madison braced for a flood of humanity that could become the largest demonstrations in Wisconsin history.
“It’s a beautiful day to protest,” Steve Chapman of Fond du Lac County called out to a stranger early Saturday as he circled the largely desolate Capitol grounds.
At age 62 and “feeling every bit of it,” Chapman arrived about 6:30 a.m. armed with a handmade sign.
“I’m expecting 100,000 plus people in solidarity to oppose Gov. Walker,” he said. “I have children who are affected (by this law) and thousands of people who I love.”
As workers erected a stage on the Capitol steps and readied dozens of portable toilets along the perimeter of the Square, about a dozen visitors entered the building when Capitol Police opened doors at 8 a.m.
Sheriff’s deputies from communities across the state, including Walworth, Waukesha and Winnebago counties, joined State Patrol troopers inside the Capitol to help screen visitors as they entered.
The main event is expected to occur outside as tens of thousands welcome the return of 14 state Senate Democrats who fled to Illinois to block passage of the collective bargaining law, which affects about 175,000 public union employees at the state, county and local levels.
A farm labor tractor motorcade is expected to kick off festivities at 10 a.m., followed by a teachers march at 1 p.m., music at 2 p.m. and a series of speakers starting at 3 p.m. The speakers are scheduled to include Senate Democrats, as well as TV personality Tony Shalhoub, a Green Bay native whose sister is a teacher.
— Michael Louis Vinson
Ben Jones is the Madison bureau chief for The Post-Crescent of Appleton: email@example.com, on Twitter @madisonpolitics; Jeff Starck writes for the Wausau Daily Herald: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @wausauherald; Michael Louis Vinson writes for The Post-Crescent of Appleton: email@example.com, on Twitter @michaelvinson; Scott Williams writes for the Green Bay Press-Gazette: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @PGscottwilliams