It began outside the University of Wisconsin Memorial Union. A few dozen members of the Teaching Assistants Association, the oldest graduate employee union in the world, rallied to object to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s plan to strip public employee unions of collective bargaining rights. The message from the TAA was blunt: “All public sector workers are under attack. Faculty and staff are under attack. The UW as a whole is under attack. With these extreme acts, Scott Walker is seeking to undermine the labor peace of 50 years…. You need to get active now!”
Two weeks later, upwards of 125,000 Wisconsinites rallied at the state Capitol in Madison, as tens of thousands more rallied in communities across the state that American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union President Gerald McEntee calls “ground-zero in the fight for labor rights. Police estimates from before the crowd hit its peak were in the range of 100,000, but busloads of union members and their allies continued to arrive through the afternoon. And while the crowds outside the Capitol were massive, thousands more were inside the building. By nightfall, news outlets such as CNN were using the 125,000 figure, as the Wisconsin AFL-CIO cited estimates of 150,000.
Snow fell throughout the day, and temperatures were frigid. It was so cold, in fact, that north-central Wisconsin farmer Joel Greeno, could not get the tractor he hoped to drive in the mass march around the Capitol free from the ice. “So I just finished my chores and hopped in the truck so I could get here as soon as I could,” Greeno said. “It would have killed me if I missed this. This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen happen in Wisconsin.”
Greeno joined a day-long demonstration that surrounded the Capitol, spilled down the streets of the city and even filled the statehouse for what local historian Stuart Levitan described as “the largest political event ever in Madison.”
The people-power surge came in response to what the senior member of the Wisconsin legislature, state Senator Fred Risser, D-Madison, describes as Walker’s “dictatorial” actions, and to what state Representative Cory Mason, D-Racine, describes as “tyranny.”
In interviews with national networks, Walker has tried to spin the fantasy that the crowds that have surrouned the Capitol for almost two weeks aren’t made up of real Wisconsinites. That was a lie, coming from a politician who has spun a web of deception in recent days. But it did generate plenty of mocking signs:
“Walker: Governor of Wall Street, Not Wisconsin”
“I’m From Wisconsin, What Planet Is Walker From?”
“Beam Scotty Back to Outer Space.”
Hundreds of signs recalled the governor’s twenty-minute conversation last week with a prank caller who identified himself as billionaire David Koch:
“Walker is Governor of Kochonsin”
“Walker Has One Constituent: David Koch”
“Governor Walker, Your Koch Dealer Is On Line Two”
While Saturday’s rally in Madison saw the largest gathering of activists in this remarkable movement for economic and social justice, they will be joined by supporters in every one of the nation’s state capital cities, as well as Washington, DC. Thousands packed the grounds of government buildings in Denver, St. Paul and Columbus, while even larger crowds were seen in San Francisco, Chicago and New York.