As tens of thousands of Wisconsinites rallied in Madison for a mass signing of petitions to recall anti-labor Governor Scott Walker Saturday, it was announced that the drive had collected 105,000 signatures in its first four days.
By the end of the weekend, that number will go substantially higher, say organizers of Saturday’s rally, which marshalls estimated drew 40,000. (Early in the day, as the crowd was building, Capitol Police confirmed that roughly 30,000 were present and the numbers grew as units of firefighters, teachers and state, county and municipal employees poured into the Capitol Square from the edges of Madison’s downtown.)
When the rally was done, activists with United Wisconsin, the group that is coordinating the recall drive, displayed tall piles of newly signed petitions. “After they’ve counted all the new petitions that have been gathered in Madison and across the state,” said former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, “they’ll be well on their way to 200,000.”
The labor, farm and community activists who organized the effort have sixty days to collect 540,000 signatures—25 percent of the electorate in the last gubernatorial election—to force the governor and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch to face the voters in a recall election. Organizers hope to turn in more than 700,000 signatures, in order to thwart challenges that will be posed by a multimillion-dollar effort paid for by the billionaire Koch brothers and other anti-labor zealots from across the country who have financed Walker’s campaigns.
The governor and his allies have not missed any openings to try to block the recall. The Koch brothers are already paying for pro-Walker television ads put together by their Americans for Prosperity group, and the governor’s campaign is spending heavily on its own ads—$300,000 since last Monday. (There are estimates that spending on Walker’s behalf will exceed $50 million.) Republican legislators have moved to give the governor veto power over election rules. And the Republican Party of Wisconsin has organized a campaign to intimidate recall petitioners with a website that urges party minions to “monitor” and challenge nurses, teachers and small-business owners who seek signatures. In some cases, Walker backers have grabbed petitions and ripped them up.
But there was no evidence Saturday or Sunday that any of the governor’s attempt’s to protect his political career were working.
It was not just that thousands were signing recall petitions on the Capitol Square in Madison.
They were doing it in all seventy-two Wisconsin counties.
The movement to recall Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch is just that: a movement. It extends across the state, to every county, to every city, village and town.
As the November 15 starting date when the movement would begin gathering petitions to recall Walker and Kleefisch approached, training sessions for petition circulators were being held in the most Republican counties of the state. More than thirty offices opened and were staffed by volunteers in communities such as Elkhorn in traditionally conservative Walworth County, where a “midnight madness” party was held last Tuesday so that petitions could be signed the minute it was possible to do so.