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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Rep. Tammy Baldwin rallies protesters, leads them up State Street to Capitol
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Baldwin: "It's about human rights."
Credit:Kenneth Burns

This morning's protest on Library Mall was organized by Fair Wisconsin, the Madison-based group that advocates for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. But other than a rainbow-painted sign here and there, it didn't really look like a rally for gay rights. The placards held by people in the crowd focused squarely on Gov. Scott Walker and his plan to strip public-sector unions of most of their bargaining rights.

Still, for Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who was there to address the crowd and march with it to the Capitol, the link between gay rights and worker rights is clear.

"We were the first state to protect gay and lesbian people from job discrimination," she told me before the rally got going. She spoke loudly into my ear to make herself heard over the chanting of the crowd, which stretched from the mall's concrete dais almost to Lake Street. "These efforts are linked. It's about human rights."

Is she in touch with the Democratic senators who left the state? Yes. "They are continuing to be resolute." Did she see Walker's efforts coming? "He did not campaign on stripping unions of their right to bargain."

I asked her how she thought the crisis would end. She answered with a wish. "What we all want is for the governor to hear the voices of Wisconsin and back off."

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz was there. How does he think all this will end? "The story's yet to be written," he said. "The Senate Democrats bought us some time, and other states are backing off."

Shortly after 11 a.m., Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger spoke from the dais. "Why would Fair Wisconsin wade into a labor fight?" she asked. "Because our government should never be in the business of taking away people's rights."

Baldwin took the stage. People chanted: "Tammy! Tammy!" "I have never been so proud to be a Wisconsinite and to represent you in the U.S. Congress than I am now," she said, to cheers. She listed strides Wisconsin has made in securing the rights of women, children and gays, and she likened today's protest movement to those efforts.

"We have to draw a line in the sand!" she said. "You mean snow!" someone shouted in response, amid light flurries.

Then she led the group up State Street. Marchers chanted the chants that have become so familiar in recent days. "Kill the bill!" "What's disgusting? Union busting!" Onlookers took pictures. One shouted, "Yay Tammy! "

As the procession neared the Capitol, someone with a bullhorn, mindful of the occasion, tried to start an LGBT-themed chant. It was modeled on the gay disco anthem "We Are Family." It didn't take hold. Another round of "Kill the bill!" got going.

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