If one needed further proof that cold weather doesn't scare Wisconsinites, Monday morning's protest outside of Gov. Scott Walker's inauguration ceremony at the Capitol in Madison would definitely cover it.
Partially informal, and partially organized by a coalition of interfaith, labor and neighborhood groups from Milwaukee, somewhere between 400 and 600 citizens gathered on the State Street side of the building around 10:30 a.m. ready to make their voices heard -- despite temperatures in the 20s.
Around 300 of those were part of a group bused in from Milwaukee, who had come to demand "good jobs for Milwaukee" and the state. They included regular citizens, as well as members and representatives of Citizen Action Wisconsin, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregation for Allied Hope, League of Young Voters, Voces de la Frontera, and the Milwaukee Area Labor Council.
Protesters held signs calling on Walker to keep to his promise to create 250,000 jobs, excoriating him for sending back an $810 million federal grant for high speed rail and the resulting loss of work at the Talgo train factory. There were plenty of other messages on display as well, most of which could be seen during the previous Democratic administration but seem to have gone from calling for an expansion of social justice related rights to demanding there be no erosion of those rights that already exist.
As with most Madison protests there were small but noticeable schisms between the attendees and their agendas. A contingent of black-flag-waving anarchists was present and frequently appeared to irritate those from the coalition by chanting "Walker's head!" instead of "Jobs!" in response to the "What do we want?" chant. One masked member of the group heckled a speaker from the faith community for mentioning God in his speech, shouting "God's dead and we killed him!"
Halfway into the protest and once the crowd had begun encircling the entire Capitol building, a woman was detained by police for apparently attempting to enter the Capitol from a restricted entryway. There were calls to let her go and some agitation among a core group of protesters, though she was eventually driven away in a police SUV.
The rally was otherwise peaceful and colorful. Several speakers from the Milwaukee contingent gave brief but impassioned speeches. Each focused almost exclusively on the need to bring good paying, family-sustaining jobs back to Wisconsin -- and to Milwaukee's hard-hit neighborhoods especially.
Milwaukee Area Labor Council Chief Operating Office Sheila Cochran voiced the frustration that many in the crowd no doubt shared.
"I think it's an absolute travesty that the man who is about to take the governorship of the state of Wisconsin would find victory in giving away $810 million dollars," Cochran said. "Aside from becoming the laughingstock of the rest of the nation a lot of us just can't understand why you'd give away a grant."
Cochran finished her speech with a promise, saying, "This is our Capitol, this is the people's house, the people have come to Madison. For those of us who aren't dressed to the nines today, who decided to stand outside today, we are being peaceful and we are being respectful, but we want to serve notice on this governor and this legislature that we will not be silenced. Our voices will be heard. And we have no intention of not holding him accountable. He says that the state of Wisconsin is open for business, I want him to know that we mean business."
An out-of-work mother spoke passionately of wanting to find employment not only for her, but also that there would be good jobs waiting for her young daughter -- who played on the steps in front of her, happily oblivious to the situation.
Ministers and citizens alike echoed the pressing need to bring jobs and opportunity to their struggling communities. One of the final speakers put it bluntly when he declared, "Gov. Walker does not care about the workers!"
Afterward, the group spiled up into several contingents so that each of the Capitol's entryways had at least a few dozen demonstrators watching it. The reactions from those going to attend the inauguration ceremony ranged from sympathetic to bemused to hostile. A man headed inside frowned and commented that he was "sure [the protesters] are all being paid to do this" as he walked by.
There was hope among those assembled that they would have the opportunity to be seen and heard by the incoming governor, but Walker was either brought into the building much earlier or via a less visible entrance. Around 12:15 p.m., fingers tingling from the cold but cheerful nonetheless, the Milwaukee group headed back to their buses for the trip home. Many vowed that, so long as Wisconsin was still losing jobs, it would not be their last trip to the state Capitol to express their views.