One year to the day after announcing a bill to eliminate collective bargaining for most public employees in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker continues to draw vociferous opposition. Hundreds of protesters returned to the Capitol Square on Saturday afternoon to kick off a week commemorating the anniversary of the announcement and weeks of demonstrations that followed.
Organized by Wisconsin Wave, the rally was led by speakers who were among the leaders of last year's protests, including: Mahlon Mitchell, president of Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin; Ben Manski, executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation; John Nichols, associate editor at The Capital Times; and Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), Minority Leader of the Wisconsin Assembly.
"A lot of folks around the state, and a lot of groups realized that the anniversary had a lot of power, and that we should mark it in a formal way that was on our terms," said Adam Porton, a field organizer with Wisconsin Wave. "There was a lot of talk about the media choosing the 15th [as the anniversary], but that's not a date that's any more special than any other date for most people involved in organizing the initial protests. And so we wanted to reclaim the idea of the anniversary... the 11th made sense because it was the day [Walker] announced the bill, and it was also the day the resistance to that bill started."
Despite temperatures well below freezing, protesters gathered on the State Street steps to the Capitol chanting "One year longer, One year stronger!" and singing labor classics like "Union Maid" and "Which Side Are You On?"
Unlike last year's initial demonstrations, aimed primarily around efforts to oppose Walker's bill to restrict collective bargaining rights, today's protesters came armed with a longer list of grievances. Along with labor issues, they also decried health care and education cuts, AB 426 (a bill that would alter regulations for opening an iron mine in north-central Wisconsin) and other environmental policies, restrictions on tenants' rights, and the ongoing John Doe investigation that's embroiling Walker's staffers from his time in the Milwaukee County Executive's office.
"I don't like what [Walker] is doing to teachers, or how he's funneling money to the rich," said Scott Lyman, a construction worker from Milwaukee. "I don't like what he's doing to old people, and to Badgercare. And I don't like how he's restricting voter's rights. I'm here to support the recall. I want to show him that you can't do things for the rich while taking away from working people."
Maryanne Julian, a retired medical technologist from Madison, added her own set of objections.
"I believe that the governor is wrong in most of his policies, and he's certainly hurting a lot of people," she said. "Jobs are down -- it's kind of embarrassing to be the lowest state in the nation, job-wise. We've lost aid to healthcare, we've lost aid to education, and now he's trying to raid the money that should go to people who have foreclosure problems and put that to the state budget. I think most of his policies have failed."
Capitol Police estimated turnout at 500 people, while rally organizers offered a figure of over 1,000.
After the demonstration on the State Street steps, protesters filed into the Capitol. Although police did not allow them to set up a PA system, they filled the Rotunda with chants like "Whose house? Our house!" and "Tell me what democracy looks like!"
Although the turnout did not match the levels of the massive protests last year, organizers said they were satisfied, and expected more people to attend other events over the next week.
"Given how the energy has faded over the past year and how cold it was today, I though the energy was very high," Porton said. "And we're going to see more crowds over the week."
Scheduled events include an "Ocupation Documentation" station at the Capitol, which will collect the stories and memories of protestors, as well as a public planning session on establishing long-term goals for the movement.
"We have a lot of challenges in the year ahead, we have these recall elections. But we have to make sure this social movement yields concrete long-term victories, and doesn't only get a few things that we lost, back," said Porton.