Is Wisconsin Our Egypt? 15,000 Protest Off-the-Wall Right-Wing Governor's Policies
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The people power in Wisconsin has become too big for the local and national media to ignore. Just a few weeks ago, Milwaukee Labor Press editor Dominique Paul North told me that workers' rights rallies receive very little media coverage compared to Tea Party rallies. Last month, over 700 people gathered outside the Wisconsin State Capitol to the hold the state's first ever anti-inauguration rally, but it got very little coverage in the local media. Numbers clearly matter.
On February 15, an estimated 15,000 citizens, including union and non-union workers, surrounded the state capitol to express opposition to Republican Governor Scott Walker's plan to strip the state’s 175,000 public employees of almost all of their collective bargaining rights and require them to make larger contributions to their pensions and health insurance plans.
"In Wisconsin we're smart enough to know the truth. We know what this is all about. It's about breaking the back of the middle class," AFSCME International president Gerald McEntee told the crowd. [Watch WBAY-TV's coverage.]
Mike Imbrogno, a shop steward in AFSCME Local 171, told the Socialist Worker's Aongus O'Murchadha how union members surged inside the capital building, chanting their demands.
"I've never seen anything like it. It wasn't just teachers and union members from the University of Wisconsin (UW), where I work. There were Steelworkers, Teamsters, Pipefitters, building trades unions and more--unions I've never seen at a rally in 10 years," he said. "The most amazing thing is when the firefighters came in a delegation. Along with police, Walker has exempted firefighters from the legislation, but they came with signs that said, 'Firefighters for workers' rights.' People were crying."
Nearly 800 Madison East High School students walked out of class to join the demonstration. "Last time I checked Madison was the new Cairo," said senior Riley Moore, whose mother is a Madison teacher and father works for UW-Madison.
Viroqua high school students walked out of class and marched to the Vernon County Courthouse where they gave speeches and were joined by business owners and city employees. "If teachers are willing to stand by us when we need them, we as students need to stand by teachers when they need us," said student organizer Luke Cleiber, in an interview with WXOW. They were back in class by 11am.
That night, about 1,000 citizens, including teachers, nurses and other public employees, gathered outside of Governor Walker's home in Wauwatosa chanting, "Kill the bill," and carrying signs saying, "Stop the attack on workers' rights."
On February 16, Madison public schools were closed because 40 percent of teachers and staff called in sick to protest the bill.
On February 13, at least 100 union workers in Horicon marched in front of the home of Republican State Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald to protest the plan. "I've got a message for Scott Walker. This is my union card and you can pry it from my cold dead hand," organizer Colin Millard said to the crowd once they reached Fitzgerald's home.
On February 14, more than 1,000 people, including students, teaching assistants and professors from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee marched to the governor's door to express their opposition. "I have two pre-existing conditions and cannot buy health care on the open market," Karen Outzen, a research associate who joined UWM in July, told the crowd. In an interview with JSOnline, Outzen said her health insurance, the only source of coverage for her husband, an electrician who was laid off last year, and her children, would be eliminated under Governor Walker's proposal.