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Live Reporting from the Massive Protests in Wisconsin -- Over 30,000 Assemble at the Capitol

Live updates from the ground.
 
 
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Tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents are flooding the State Capitol in Madison in protest of Governor Walker's proposed budget "repair" bill that would end 50 years of collective bargaining for Wisconsin workers. Center for Media and Democracy reporters are providing live coverage of these historic events. Votes are scheduled for Thursday, February 17 and Friday, February 18. Send us your stories, photos and videos to editorATprwatch.org!


3:08pm Erica Pelzek sends a photo from the front lines.

No more room

2:52pm This is what the rotunda looks like packed to capacity. Photo shot from the catwalk on the capitol dome.

  Packed

Photo coutesy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

2:14pm Brendan Fischer reports that a rumor is circling in the Capitol that Representative Kapanke's office told teachers that their opinion did not matter because they do not produce anything.

2:00pm Mary Bottari reports that the state capitol police are scouring the Wisconsin Capitol in an attempt to track down the Wisconsin Senate Democratic Caucus. The Wisconsin Senate was slated to vote on the budget bill today, but they were prevented from doing so because all Democratic Senators walked out denying the Republicans a necessary quorum. The Republicans issued a "call of the house" empowering the state capitol police to round up missing Senators, but the Democrats were prepared for this and promptly departed the building and may even have left the state. From WisPolitics:

"Sen. Jon Erpenbach told WisPolitics this afternoon Senate Dems left the state in an attempt to force Republicans to negotiate a compromise to proposed changes to the bargaining rights of public employees. Erpenbach would not disclose where he was or how many of the Dem senators were with him. But he said he believed all 14 were already out of state by early this afternoon. "We were left with no choice," Erpenbach said. Erpenbach said Republicans should look at how the proposed changes are tearing the state apart and realize a different path is needed. "This isn’t anything that we do lightly at all. This isn’t a prank. This isn’t a joke. This is Democrats standing together saying slow down."

As long as Senate Democrats stand together and remain missing, there can be no vote on the Governor's proposal to end Wisconsin's 50 year history of collective bargaining.

1:52pm Brendan Fischer reports that the hearing room explodes in applause when Representative Hebl announces all Democrats are out of the state.

1:47pm Brendan Fischer reports that hundreds are blocking Senate exits.

1:45pm Lisa Graves has provided the following information for your convenience:

     Governor Walker's official e-mail address:  GovernorWalker@wisconsin.gov
     And, here is the switchboard for his office: (608) 266-1212
     And, here is his fax number: (608) 267-7888

1:40pm Erica Pelzek reports that a fast-marching swarms of high school students shouting "kill the bill" are approaching the Capitol. Guess they are doing something with their day off!

                                 High Schoolers March on State Street

1:37pm Lisa Graves reports on tracking the specific effort to "repeal collective bargaining rights for University of Wisconsin hospital and clinics" employees.  When right-wing politicians say they are just "repairing" the budget, that's newspeak for stripping nurses of their right to organize.  Here is the link to the precise proposal, tucked into the budget as an "addendum":  http://www.thewheelerreport.com/ 

1:30pm Mary Bottari reports from the 3rd floor of the Capitol where she has spotted a young man holding a sign that says “I went to Iraq and came home to Egypt?”. His name is Zach Laport from Spooner, Wisconsin. He served in Iraq from 2004 to 2007 and is now a student at the University of Wisconsin Madison. When asked why he was at the rally, he said “My Grandma is the librarian at Spooner Elementary School. My Mom is a public health worker. My Aunt and Uncle are teachers. Spooner is four and a half hours away and they couldn’t be here, so I came for them. My brother and I signed up for the military because we needed the extra income to go to college. Wisconsin has some of the best benefits in the country for its students, and we don’t want to lose that. I feel that Scott Walker is acting like a dictator. He is not negotiating, he is just giving orders. This week he came after worker rights and next week he is going to take one billion dollars out of K-12 education.”

Zach Laport

1:20pm Lapham elementary school student Zoey White stands up for her teachers.

Zoey stands up for her teachers.

1:15pm Read Erica Pelzek's piece about the rally. Find it here.

UW-Madison student protesters, including shouting Teachers Assistant Association (TAA) members swarm outside the Wisconsin Capitol's Mifflin and State Street corner, their chanting growing more impassioned as the clock nears 1 p.m.

Gov. Scott Walker's radical and controversial budget-repair bill would strip all UW System employees and many unionized workers of their collective bargaining rights for wages, hours and working conditions, to help patch an alleged $137 million state deficit.

But most in Wisconsin will tell you that Walker's budget-repair bill is not about fixing the deficit. It single-handedly seeks to bust unions across the state and punish those who did not support Walker's election campaign.

Cue mayhem across the state, with teachers, nurses, steelworkers and even cops and firefighters -- who would be exempt from the curtailing of their collective bargaining rights under Walker's bill--descending upon Madison to storm the Capitol.

Watching the action are three business representatives from Milwaukee's Teamsters "General" Local Union No. 200, their navy hats proudly emblazoned with gold crests.

12:40pm Mary Bottari reports that the big ape says...

Kill the bill! So easy a caveman can do it! Or a gorilla!

Big ape says...

12:35pm Mary Bottari reports that thousands of Madison Memorial High Students storm the state Capitol.

Students storm the Capitol.

12:20pm Mary Bottari reports that Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfelt wrapped up the noon rally: "Ok so now you have heard from workers whose lives have been changed for the better because of the union. I hear there is not a lot of room inside the capitol building.  I hear that the Senate is having a little trouble getting a quorum together, so you are going to be sticking around right?  You are going to be here at 5pm tonight right? and we'll be back here at 12 tomorrow too." Neunefeldt announced that MSNBC's Ed Schutlz "a great friend of labor" would be broadcasting live from Madison's capitol tonight at 9:00 pm to another roar from the crowd.

12:05pm Mary Bottari reports on where to go from here now that the Senate Democrats have walked out. According to Article 8, Section 8 of the Wisconsin Constitution, in order to pass an appropriations bill 3/5 of the body must be present. Senate Republicans have 19 members, and would need one more person to pass the bill. But for now, all Senate Democrats have walked off the floor.

12:15pm Mary Bottari reports that today's noon rally was lead by a throng of firefighters. Firefighters were exempt from the budget bill's provisions gutting collective bargaining. A speaker from the stage explained why they were there today: "We are here for three reasons. First, when firefighters see and emergecy, we respond. Second, if we see a party, we gotta be a part of it. Third, we are part of a union and we stand with our union brothers and sisters." Joe Conway, President of Madison Firefighters added: "Scott Walker tried to split us up, separate the firefighters and the police from the rest of the workers, but that's not going to work. If our actions today mean that we will become part of this bill, so be it."

Firefighters for Labor

Firefighters show their support

Firefighters from across the state show their colors and their bagpipes!

 12:00pm Mary Bottari reports from another massive rally at the Wisconsin capitol at noon. Inside the building the 4 story capitol was packed to the rafters, chants echoing off the gilded capitol domes. Outside thousands kept up a constant march around the capitol on a continuous basis. At noon many thousands more gathered to hear speakers on the King Street steps. The mix of activities make it hard to estimate how may people are really in attendance. But clearly as many as yesterday's crowd estimate to be around 30,000.

11:50am Erica Pelzek sends photos of creative signage from inside the Capitol. This one reads: If I jam this in here, it'll balance, right?

                       If I jam this in here, it'll balance, right?

11:45am Steve Horn reports that Iron Workers Local 383 just took center stage of the rotunda.

11:41am Mary Bottari Reports that thousands of workers jam the house of the Capitol today. Their chants echo up to the top chambers of the building as the Senate debate begins. It is difficult to hear the proceedings over the roar of the crowd of about 5,000 people inside the building and many more outside. It looks like Senate Democrats have stood up and walked out en masse as the crowd cheers.

11:32am Steve Horn says that the United Council reports that 6,000 students are walking out on 12 campuses.

11:27am Erica Pelzek reports that within the sweltering rotunda there are makeshift preschools where the under-6 crowd reads picture books amidst the chanting and marching.

                                    Story time for the under-6 crowd

11:25am Steve Horn reports that Democratic State Senators have left the Capitol. This is great news because the Senate will not be able to vote because they will not have quorum. Steve urges protesters to stay in the Capitol.

11:20am Steve Horn reports that the rotunda is packed with no room to move. A drum circle beats loudly from the center of the Capitol rotunda. He estimates thousands are present both inside and outside of the Capitol.

11:15am David Johnson reported on Wisconsin protests for Campaign for America's Future. Read the full item here.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has launched an all-out attack on
public-employee unions, proposing to take away the right to collective
bargaining. He has threatened to use the National Guard to put down any action by state workers in response.

11:03am Steve Horn reports that Cops For Labor have enetered the Capitol rotunda. Donuts and hot dogs are being distributed to those who are present. Steve estimates that 4,000 people are present.

                                       The rotunda is packed.

11:02am Erica Pelzek reports on some clever signage from the rally: "I too am a college dropout, can I be Governor?" and "Walker is not a Badger, he's a weasel!"

                                  Where is Jimmy Hoffa when you need him?

11:00am Erica Pelzek reports that the Capitol rotunda is extremely loud and the protesters cheer raucously every time a new union or group of protesters shows up. Iron Workers Local 383 march around the second floor East lobby to impassioned chanting. Their signs read: "United we bargain, divided we beg"

10:55am Erica Pelzek reports that there are at least three Teamster Unions present at the rally. Local 494 IBEW is present. Larry from 494 IBEW says "Walker is trying to become like the President of the Republicans. He's just trying to bust all the unions and set a precedent across the country. Now they're trying to bust unions in Tennessee, in Ohio."

10:50am Steve Horn reports that over 2000 students showed up to march from the Library Mall to the Capitol. More instructors are gathering now in Library Mall as well.

10:45am Mary Bottari reports that the governor calls for a budget vote that would gut the collective bargaining rights of public workers, rights they have had for 50 years in Wisconsin. That union with the funny name, AFSCME, was founded in Wisconsin in 1932. Schools across the state are shut down today. Madison schools are entering their second day of the walk-out. Superbowl champions and ground zero for the war on the working class.

10:40am Steve Horn sends his photos from the midst of the State Street march.

                                Neenah loves Mike Ellis

10:35am Mary Bottari reports that one protester sat near a snow bank, waiting for a little help from Egypt.       

                                         A protester waits on a snowbank for help from Egypt.

 

10:30am Steve Horn reports that thousands of students, professors, and staff from University of Wisconsin Madison are marching down State Street headed for the Capitol now.

                               UW students, staff and faculty march down State Street

10:15am Mary Bottari reports that inside the capitol building last night, teachers gave Fighting Bob LaFollette an apple for his support and good behavior. Robert Marion La Follette, Sr. was a leader of the Progressive Movement in Wisconsin in the early part of the 20th century. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was the Governor of Wisconsin, and was also a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin (1906 to 1925). He ran for President of the United States as the nominee of his own Progressive Party in 1924, carrying Wisconsin and 17% of the national popular vote.

                                Fighting Bob gets an apple

10:00am Steve Horn reports that hundreds of students are already lined up for the march and rally to the Capitol.

9:45am Steve Horn reports that the University of Wisconsin Madison history department professors are joining their students in the march to the Capitol to take place at 10:30am today, Thursday February 17.

9:30am Read Brendan Fischer's recent piece about the Governor's proposal. Find it here.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is trying to end collective bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin, and thousands have converged on the state capitol in protest of what many consider a radical and blatantly political move. Walker's plan threatens the rights of all Wisconsin workers, and if it prevails in this state, could threaten the rights of working people across the nation, and would reverse the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and all those who have fought for economic justice through the power of organizing.

Although federal collective bargaining laws protect private sector employees, Wisconsin has been a leader in extending those rights to the
public sector. The American Federation of State, City and Municipal
Employees (AFSCME) formed in 1932 in Madison, Wisconsin. The "dairy
state" was the first to pass collective bargaining rights for local
government workers and teachers in 1959. The push for public sector
unionization extended through the sixties.

9:15am Steve Horn will be live-tweeting from the inside. Follow his updates: @Steve_Horn1022

9:00 am News Roundup for Thursday, February 17 from WI protests:

     Wisconsin State Journal, Controversial budget bill passes committee, moves to Senate

     The Capital Times, Walker budget outrage

     WisPolitics.com, Budget Blog: Senate to take up amended budget repair bill first

     The New York Times, Angry Demonstrations in Wisconsin as Cuts Loom

     Wall Street Journal, Angry Demonstrations in Wisconsin as Cuts Loom

     Washington Post Teacher sickout closes Madison schools

7:30 am AFSCME says there will be lobbying in the capitol starting at 10:00am today, Thursday February 17, and a rally at 12:00 noon, with continued lobbying afterwards. A Senate vote today may come as early as 10:00am. It is anticipated there will be another teacher's rally at 5:00 tonight, Thursday February 17. A summary of the bill and other lobby materials resources can be found at: AFSCME.

7:00am Steve Horn reports that the Joint Finance Committee voted the bill out of committee last night 12-4. Activists in the Capitol were anxious to keep the testimony going on the bill all night long and they succeeded in the goal. Many people who wanted to testify camped out in the Capitol with sleeping bags and snacks. The majority of the activists were teachers assistants at University of Wisconsin whose pay is on the line. About 200 spent the night, and report that there were no problems with state Capitol police.

10:10pm Mary Bottari reports that another protestor says she yearns for the good old days when republicans were somewhat reasonable.

I miss Tommy

10:00pm WEAC, Wisconsin's largest teacher's union announced that its 98,000 teacher and citizens across the state were invited to the state capitol tomorrow to visit their state legislators. This means that schools across the state will be closed. Check your local TV listings for news on your local school district. Madison Schools are closed.

9:30pm Brendan Fischer reports on WI Governor Scott Walker's radical new proposal to do away with collective bargaining rights and who funds and endorses the Governor. Click here to learn more.

9:15am Wispolitics.com reports about proposed changes to the bill. It appears that the protestors are gaining a few key Republican friends. Read the whole post here.

Schultz, Wanggaard Proposing Changes to Guv's Budget Repair Bill.

GOP Sens. Dale Schultz and Van Wanggaard are proposing an alternative to the guv’s budget repair bill that would strip public employees of their ability to collectively bargain on wages, pensions and health care costs through 2013 before reinstating those rights, according to a source familiar with caucus discussion.

9:00pm What's Disgusting? Union Busting! Madisonian John Nichols reports for the Nation magazine. Read the entire article
here. (Subscription required)

I have never been prouder of our movement than I am at this moment,"  shouted Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, as he surveyed the crowds of union members and their supporters that surged around the state Capitol and into the streets of Madison Wednesday, literally closing the downtown as tens of thousands of Wisconsinites protested their Republican governor’s attempt to strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights.
 

6:30pm Mary Bottari reports that thousands of people were outside the Capitol tonight at a rally before heading inside to wait for a Joint Finance Committee vote on the budget repair bill. The vote is to take place around 7:00pm CST. It is anticipated that the vote will pass, and there will be a floor vote on Thursday, February 17 in the Senate.

6:15pm The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Walker has said he will consider changing his bill in response to pressure from Republican lawmakers. This means it is more important now than ever to contact your local representatives. Read the full item here.

Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he was responding to requests from Republican legislative leaders to make at least some changes to a bill that would strip public workers of most of their union rights.

The Legislature's budget committee is expected to meet later this evening to consider changes to the bill, which also would require public employees to pay more for their benefits to help close a state budget gap. Meanwhile at least two Republican senators have put forward a plan that would amend Walker's bill.

5:45pm The Wisconsin State Journal reports that Republicans will offer amendments to Walker's proposal, but that these changes will not update the collective bargaining portion of the plan. Read the full item here.

Republican leaders are planning changes to Gov. Scott Walker's sweeping budget repair proposal, which would effectively end collective bargaining for most of the approximately 175,000 public workers in Wisconsin, a staffer confirmed Wednesday afternoon.

But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, says main provisions of the budget plan will stand. Amendments will not change the collective bargaining proposal, he said.

"It will be amended," said Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee. Beyer didn't elaborate but said the changes were "not just technical."

 

                                Protesters displayed creative signs: King Walker

5:25pm Mary Bottari reports that there were 15,000 in Madison yesterday, 30,000 at noon today, will there be 50,000 tomorrow? Be a part of history.

                              WTF Walker?

4:50pm Steve Horn reports that a first year MATC liberal arts student came to the rally today because he believes that "a society that values education respects its educated people and treats them with respect and dignity. Walker's bill proposal is the total opposite and would degrade the state of Wisconsin for generations to come."

4:30pm Mary Bottari reports that the Democratic legislators' listening session is still going on. According to counts kept by Democratic staff, since 3:00am 1,271 people have registered against the bill and 385 have spoken against the bill. No one has registered or spoken in favor of the bill. Several hundred are still waiting to speak. Rumors are swirling around the Capitol that a few Republican Senators are having doubts about the Governor's radical proposal to end collective bargaining.

4:20pm Eight year old Cleo Johnson joins her teacher Mr. Marks from Lapham Elementary School at the massive protest in Madison today.  

                                 A young girl is enthusiastic at the rally. 

4:15pm Brendan Fischer reports that a Milwaukee Public School math teacher named Cheryl takes issue with the bill limiting collective bargaining to wages. “If I wanted money, I would have become an engineer or actuary. I do this because I love my kids." The math teacher said "We are more concerned with working conditions than with wages. Our concern is with what is best for our students." 

4:00pm Steve Horn reports that he spoke with a Kenosha School District teacher who he said he had asked for the day off to attend the rally, but his request was rejected by administration. He decided to show up because he knew it was the right thing to do. "If I lose my job, I lose my job, but I had to come because it was the right thing to do for the state as a whole. Down the road there will be no more public jobs"

3:45pm Brendan Fischer reports that at the committee hearing, David Keller, corrections facility officer and Iraq war veteran, said “this is a naked power grab by Walker. I served in Iraq to unseat a despot,” only to return home to have one take control in Wisconsin. Stating “you must know how hard it is for a soldier to ask for help,” Keller asked the committee to vote against the bill and its restrictions collective bargaining rights.

3:30pm Firedog Lake is reporting on the protests in Wisconsin, with an interview with CMD's own Mary Bottari.

Madison was not the only Wisconsin town to see protests yesterday. Governor Walker’s home in Wauwatosa had 1,000 protesters out in front of it Tuesday night, blocking traffic on the residential street.

But Madison was clearly the hub for activism yesterday, with reports of up to 10,000 protesters participating. “The vote is planned for Thursday, so we want twice as many people there today and twice as many as that tomorrow,” said Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison. Bottari is also a parent, and her daughter came home with a a note from the school superintendent yesterday afternoon basically explaining that many teachers would be walking out tomorrow. At the time, local schools were still scheduled to be open, but it was clear from the message that they would not be operating under a normal schedule. By last night, 40% of the 2,600 teachers had called in sick, and the school district did not have enough substitute teachers to replace them.

Bottari described the protests yesterday – separate ones at midday, and another in the early evening after teachers got off work – as lively. They included workers from all over the state, including firefighters, who are exempt from the collective bargaining changes under the bill. “They ran buses from parking lots on the outskirts of the city into the Capitol,” Bottari said. A couple Democratic lawmakers in the Capitol unfurled a large banner reading “Solidarity” during the protests.

3:15pm Mary Bottari reports that there is a lot of confusion at the Capitol about what is formally happening with the Budget Repair Bill. To recap: the official Joint Finance Committee hearing ended last night at 3:03am  They decided that they were not going to take any more registration slips. With throngs of people still waiting to testify, the the Democratic committee members continued to take testimony today. It is not clear if this testimony will count for the record. It is anticipated that the Joint Finance Committee will vote on Walker's proposal at approximately 4pm today and votes are schedule for the Senate Thursday and the Assembly on Friday.

3:00pm Brendan Fischer reports that capitol police are especially friendly and helpful to protesters. One officer said "to the best of our knowledge, we also are affected" by the bill's restrictions on collective bargaining and increases in pension and health care contributions. Municipal police officers and state sheriffs, whose unions supported Walker in the 2010 campaign, are exempted from the governor's plan.

2:30pm Brendan Fischer reports that David Giehtbrock, Bureau of Fisheries Management from the Department of Natural Resources spoke at the committee hearing on behalf of limited term employees (LTE), who will lose health insurance under the plan. Noting the importance of tourism and fishing to Wisconsin’s economy, Giehtbrock stated “if you’ve caught a fish in the last ten years, an LTE employee has had an important role” in stocking, and if LTEs lose their health insurance, they are gone. “We are not open for business if we are not stocking fish.”

2:00pm Brendan Fischer reports that protestors outside of Governor Walker’s office are chanting “up with unions, up with knowledge, hey there Walker go back to college.”

1:15pm Union Cab drivers show their colors in support of state workers as did thousands of other private sector workers today.

                           Union Cab workers show their support

12:45pm Mary Bottari reports that the largest roar from the crowd came when a phalanx of Madison firefighters marched in boots and hats down Main Street on the Capitol Square. The firefighters are exempt from the Governor's proposal to get rid of collective bargaining for workers, but they came to show their support. Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, addressed the crowd: "We could have stayed home. We could have said it was not our fight. But what do firefighters do when there is an emergency? We turn up and we go in first."

12:30pm School was canceled today in Madison, WI and many other communities. Seven year old Whitman holds a sign "No Teacher Left Behind" and stands with her Kindergarden teacher Mary Jo Yttri of Lapham Elementary School.

                            Whitman

12:15pm Mary Bottari reports that the big rally kicked off with the Star Spangled Banner and a prayer. The first speaker was Air Force veteran and nurse Dee Ives. She became a nurse in the 1990s to help serve our veterans. "I ask legislators inside to pause and think about the great harm this bill will do to our ability to provide services to our veterans," Ives said during her speech. She is a proud Reagan Republican but says this bill is not about party politics.

12:00pm Steve Horn will be live-tweeting from the inside. Follow his updates: @Steve_Horn1022

 11:30am Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post weighed in on the battle in Wisconsin.

Read the full posthere.

Workers toppled a dictator in Egypt, but might be silenced in Wisconsin

"But even as workers were helping topple the regime in Cairo, one state government in particular was moving to topple workers' organizations here in the United States. Last Friday, Scott Walker, Wisconsin's new Republican governor, proposed taking away most collective bargaining rights of public employees. Under his legislation, which has moved so swiftly through the newly Republican state legislature that it might come to a vote Thursday, the unions representing teachers, sanitation workers, doctors and nurses at public hospitals, and a host of other public employees, would lose the right to bargain over health coverage, pensions and other benefits. (To make his proposal more politically palatable, the governor exempted from his hit list the unions representing firefighters and police.) The only thing all other public-sector workers could bargain over would be their base wages, and given the fiscal restraints plaguing the states, that's hardly anything to bargain over at all."

Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project and editor of the www.BanksterUSA.org site for bank busting activists.
 
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