A poster reading 'Wisconsin Workers United Against Union Busting' hangs behind the bar at Hawk's.
Cheers rang through the night at Hawk's Bar & Grill on State Street in downtown Madison on Monday. They didn't end after the Green Bay Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings, but rather continued long past the game's ending, as the packed restaurant grew only more crowded for a party kicking off the campaign to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
About 200 people crowded into Hawk's for this midnight gathering, which started during the Monday Night Football game and continued into the first hour of Tuesday, November 15, the first official day of the drive to collect signatures for the Walker recall effort. Their goal -- to be among the first people to sign recall petitions at the stroke of midnight. Organized by United Wisconsin, the central group coordinating the recall campaign, this party was one of about 70 held simultaneously across the state.
"It's like Christmas Eve, and everybody is opening their presents," said Lynn Freeman, a Madison small business owner who serves as vice-chair for the board of United Wisconsin. In this case, the presents were recall petitions, which were available for both signing and distribution to campaign volunteers.
The recall campaign is limited by law to 60 days, and the party served as a preview of how its first stage will proceed. "Our statewide plan is event-driven," explained Freeman, "which involves organizing volunteers across the state, and have people come to them, at sporting events, hunting stations, shopping malls -- any place where people gather on a regular basis." Door-to-door petitioning will follow.
"The recall is about policies and principles of Wisconsin," said Freeman. "It's absolutely grassroots driven, and will be determined by people of Wisconsin."
This party was organized only a few days ago. Hawk's owner Hawk Sullivan explained that a regular patron suggested the idea, and the event came together quickly, drawing significant interest from recall supporters around town. The scene inside the restaurant was certainly exuberant, resembling a midnight movie premiere or video game release party.
"The whole idea behind this is to build awareness for the recall," said Sullivan, "to remind people that they can sign petitions now." It also served as a fundraiser, with Sullivan donating 25% of his night's revenue to United Wisconsin.
As midnight approached, the level of excitement in the room grew more palpable, cheers alternating with hushing when organizers made announcements over the restaurant's speaker system. "We are going to do this recall ethically and within the law," declared one about five minutes before the hour, asking everybody to maintain patience until Tuesday officially arrived. With a couple of minutes to go, the room erupted in a series of "Recall Walker!" chants.
The crowd was thickest around a table across from the end of the bar, where organizers flanked by a stack of recall petitions presented a clipboard to a man who was selected to offer the first signature of the morning. As the new day started, TV lights and camera flashes illuminated the room and the recall campaign commenced, while cheering broke out once again.
Shortly thereafter, the crowd sang a brief rendition of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye." Then, the first song to be played on the restaurant sound system as signing got underway: "Rebellion (Lies)" by Arcade Fire, the soundtrack to a popular video montage tribute capturing the opening days of the Wisconsin Capitol protests against Walker and his agenda back in February. (Meanwhile, talk started spreading around the restaurant, via reports on Twitter, about how the NYPD was at that moment forcibly removing the Occupy Wall Street encampment in downtown Manhattan.)
Six petition stations were set up around the restaurant, with lines swiftly forming at each. Petitions to recall Walker were white, while those to recall Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch were yellow.
One of the signers at the gathering was Mahlon Mitchell, the president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin union and high-profile protest participant whose name has been mentioned as a potential candidate for governor, pending a completed petition drive. "A lot of energy is out there, a lot of passion, and we're going to keep it up," he declared.
Mitchell said the recall is first and foremost a referendum on Walker's record, and emphasized that accumulating signatures is the top priority for the campaign. However, he also suggested that the time for finding a candidate to oppose the governor is running short. "I think a candidate needs to step forward soon," he said. "People are looking for someone to stand up."
Sullivan said he would be signing a recall petition as well. "For sure," he declared. "If Wisconsin had laws like those in Ohio, this would already have been a done deal," Sullivan continued, referencing a referendum in the Buckeye State that overturned a state law stripping collective bargaining rights from public employees. "Instead, we need to go through an effort to recall the governor," he said. "It's more difficult, but it's possible."
Presiding over the central petition table was Ann Murphy-Lom, one of a handful of Dane County coordinators for United Wisconsin. "We really just wanted to kick the recall off with a fun event, build energy, and collect a couple hundred signatures while we're at it," she said.
Given the large population of Dane County, second highest in the state, and its broadly liberal voting patterns, the recall campaign will be seeking to amass signatures locally to bolster its statewide total, which is required to reach a threshold of 540,208, plus a few hundred thousand or so more to serve as a cushion to challenges. Though United Wisconsin has not declared a specific goal for the county, the campaign has for context the vote totals in the 2010 gubernatorial election, in which the Democratic candidate, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, drew 149,699 votes to Walker's 68,238.
Murphy-Lom confirmed that the opening strategy of the recall campaign is based gathering signatures en masse. "A lot of what we're doing is having events around the county," she explained, "including drive-through sign-ups, and outside at businesses, public squares, and elsewhere. We have tons of grassroots energy."
For starters, organizers plan on having petition gatherers stationed all day Tuesday outside the State Street entrance to the Capitol.
Other events set for Tuesday around Dane County include: a morning drive-through on the west side of Madison and another in Monona; signing stations in Sun Prairie, Black Earth, Cross Plains, Salmo Pond, McFarland, and Verona; afternoon drive-throughs in Oregon, DeForest, and Montrose; a kickoff potluck in Mazomanie and pizza party in Sun Prairie; and, many others at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, including a College Democrats kickoff atop Bascom Hill and signing stations across campus, a Young Progressives signing station at the Student Activity Center, and Teaching Assistants Association tables at Union South and the East Campus Mall with an evening kickoff party at Der Rathskeller. Many more events across the state are organized through the remainder of the recall period, as detailed in an events calendar compiled by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
"It's amazing to watch all of the organizations working together to accomplish one goal," said Murphy-Lom.
Activists attending the party were likewise optimistic about the prospect of gathering enough signatures.
"From what I've seen just tonight, we're going to get the signatures within the 60 days," says Mitchell. "People standing up like this to recall the governor is something I'm not sure we're going to see again."