Madison — The crowd swelled to an estimated 65,000 on Saturday as citizens from across the state gathered on the Capitol Square to condemn Governor Scott Walker for his year of assault on all that Wisconsinites hold dear: Workers rights, education, healthcare, the environment, First Amendment rights, voters rights, public safety, women’s reproductive rights, human rights, animal welfare and even clean drinking water.
The “Reclaim Wisconsin” rally, organized by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, was reminiscent of a street festival as people marched around the square with signs and brightly colored flags, led by the Forward Marching Band.
One year after the sudden passage of Act 10, which stripped public workers of collective bargaining rights, the people have mobilized in way that has never been seen in this state. Strong bonds have formed between folks from all walks of life who first met during the capitol occupation last winter or throughout the year on social networking sites. United in their effort to bring democracy back to their capitol, they share information through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Skype. Saturday’s rally was a reunion of sorts for many of them, as locals greeted friends who had traveled a great distance to take part in the event, some of whom they had never met in person.
Marching in the peaceful, yet upbeat, crowd yesterday was Roberta Retrum of Eagle River, who personally collected 897 signatures to Recall Governor Scott Walker and Lt.Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Art Howell, a photographer, came down from Hudson. Samantha Masterton, a religious education director traveled from Antigo. Terry Fritter marched along with his wife, Patty. Terry is known for the heartfelt testimony he gave at a public hearing back in November. All have been actively involved throughout the year in pushing back against the governor’s agenda.
The rally featured speakers who have now become familiar faces to many: John Nichols, Mahlon Mitchell, Phil Neuenfeldt and state Senator Jen Shilling. Lori Compas, grassroots organizer of the campaign to recall Scott Fitzgerald and now a state senate candidate herself, gave a sincere, impassioned speech.
“This past year, Governor Walker, Scott Fitzgerald and certain other people who we pay to work for us in the capitol, have used their power to try to undermine some of our state’s best traditions — traditions of open government, civility, and a bipartisan commitment to progress,” declared Compas.
In reference to the independent, homegrown nature of the mobilization of the people, Compas stated, “This winter we rose up. In the cities, in the small towns and the farms. And we worked; patiently, persistently, peacefully. And through our hard work, we’ve made them answer for what they’ve done. And the beauty of that work, especially for those of us out in the small towns and in the countryside, is that it’s shown us that we aren’t alone. It’s shown us that people all over this state share our concerns. And these aren’t Democrats’ issues or Republicans’ issues, they’re the concerns of ordinary people who want a decent life for themselves and those whom they love. They want to feel secure in their jobs, they want access to healthcare, they want good schools for all our kids, and most of all, they want their voices to be heard.”