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Reclaim Wisconsin rally draws tens of thousands to Capitol, focus on recall elections
Labor activists gather in front of the State Street entrance to the Capitol for the Reclaim Wisconsin rally.
Credit:Katherine Krueger

Chants of "This Is What Democracy Looks Like!" and broken pieces of "Solidarity Forever" once again filled Capitol Square on Saturday for the "Reclaim Wisconsin" rally. Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out to mark one year since the passage of Gov. Scott Walker's legislation to drastically limit collective bargaining rights for public employees, as well as to build momentum for the upcoming recall elections this summer.

Familiar signs dotted the crowd during the rally which recalled memories of last year's pro-union protests. Organizers announced crowd figures around 60-65,000 people, while the state Department of Administration offered estimates between 25-35,000 in attendance.

One year later, speakers at the rally declared the statewide movement catalyzed by the passage of Act 10 is alive and well. In recent months, that movement focused on a series of recall campaigns focusing on Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican senators, an accomplishment that rally speakers pointed to as merely their first step.

Sen. Jen Schilling (D-La Crosse), who was elected in a recall election last summer, said recall petitioners' dedication has already helped make history by collecting over 1 million signatures against the governor, but there is still much to fight for to restore and rebuild a polarized state.

"[I saw] a blatant disregard for open and transparent process -- like democracy was optional, or something," she said.

Lori Compas' turn at the rally podium provided one of the best symbols this ongoing movement, as she displayed a memo from the Government Accountability Board declaring the validity of a recall against Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Horicon). She organized the camapaign to recall the senator, and is the only declared candidate in the race to unseat him.

Compas said the trials of the past year and the test to unions has only strengthened the movement that began more than 13 months ago. "People have used their power to try to undermine some of our state's best traditions," she said. "There is a renewed sense that all of us matter."

Stacey Noel, a member of the Associated Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2412 and volunteer marshal at the event, said she still feels the benefit of union membership despite the passage of Act 10.

As a services associate at UW-Madison, she explained that while the university is setting up committees to devise a way forward on union relations, the atmosphere is "wait and see" on bargaining practices. "The same work still goes on, but as far as being at the table, we're not necessarily asked to be at the table anyone -- that's what's changed," she said.

Noel also said she is keeping an open mind before pledging support for a gubernatorial challenger to Walker in the recall election.

In contrast, others at the rally used the venue to canvass and gather support for former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), both of whom are running for governor in the recall election. Though neither candidate spoke at the rally, Falk held a program before it officially started.

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