Protest fatigue? Not in Wisconsin.
Three months after Governor Scott Walker proposed to strip state, county and municipal employees and public-school teachers of their collective bargaining rights, the governor’s agenda remains stymied. Legal challenges,moves to recall Republican legislators who have sided with the governor and the fear on the part of legislative leaders of mass protests have prevented implementation.
That fear is well-founded.
The Wisconsin protests have inspired similar demonstrations in states across the country, including state Capitol confrontations in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and, most recently, California and New York.
Yet, the energy in Wisconsin remains unmistakable, and unrelenting.
Three months to the day after the first large demonstration against Walker’s proposal, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites returned to the great square around the state Capitol and to town and village squares across the state to declare: "This Fight is NOT Over!"
"We’ve stopped Governor Walker’s plan to take away workers rights for three months — but he is not done. He has expanded his attack to seniors, college students, local schools and more. And he is still intent on ending collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin," went the message from the Wisconsin unions and their allies — along with the "This Fight is NOT Over!" battlecry.
Saturday’s mass rally in Madison and other demonstrations came at a time when the Republican-controlled state legislature is weighing Walker’s budget proposal, which seeks to cut more than $1.5 billion from education and local services, while restructuring state government to take power away from elected school boards and local governments.
The fight inside the Capitol over the budget, and the rest of Walker’s economic, social and political agenda will be intense in coming weeks. Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt warns that Walker and allies are rushing “to ram through their right wing priorities on corporate deregulation, school privatization and voter suppression before recall elections.”
The union leader was referring to special elections, which are expected as soon as July, that will determine the control of the state Senate.
Six Republican state senators face the threat of recall elections that could remove them, while three Democratic senators are similarly threatened.
The political intensity of the moment has kept the state on high alert, as Saturday’s demonstrations illustrated.
Organizers of the Madison demonstration — the We Are Wisconsin and Wisconsin Wave coalitions — estimated that Saturday’s rally drew between 15,000 and 20,000 Wisconsinites. Smaller rallies and events were held over the weekend across the state.
The crowd in Madison extended far beyond the base of public employees and teachers to include farmers, small business owners and students.
The demonstration in Madison took place on the same day as University of Wisconsin graduation ceremonies. A number of new graduates, wearing their caps and gowns, made their way to the Capitol after collecting their degrees.
One young woman stood outside the Capitol with a large sign that read: "UW Graduate — Thanks to Wisconsin Public School Teachers!"