The ‘Wisconsin 14′ returned to Madison on Saturday to take part in what has been called the largest rally to date for worker rights in the state. Some 85,000 people are estimated to have taken part, including off-duty police officers. Video, including of the 14 state Senators’ arrival after the jump.
UPDATE: police estimates now put the rally size at between 85,000 and 100,000
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Despite last week’s passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill, the senators said they did the right thing by fleeing to Illinois last month in an unsuccessful bid to block the legislation.
And they vowed to fight the law in the courts and at the ballot box in a longer struggle to restore the collective bargaining that was eliminated for most public employees.
As they made their way up the steps of the Capitol, they heard the roars of a crowd that clogged Capitol Square, and listened as chants of “thank you, thank you” rained down.
Other speakers were even more blunt, with one union leader deriding Walker “and his band of thieves and liars.”
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who (along with State Sen. Lena Taylor) has emerged as a spokesman and one of the stars of what many Wisconsans call the “fab 14,” lauded his colleagues during his speech, saying “I just want to talk about 13 people I had a really, really weird trip with.”
Video: The ‘Wisconsin 14′ take the stage, and get a rapturous welcome from the crowd:
A closer view, as police leading the W14 through the crowd get high fives themselves. Jesse Jackson manages to get in on the love, and if you watch closely, you’ll also catch “Monk” actor Tony Shaloub, who later addressed the crowd:
Susan Sarandon joins the protests:
And another view of the stage, and the huge crowd, as they chant “Badgers are righteous … badgers are strong … badgers are proud … and we will not rest until our rights are restored,” adding “can you hear us now, Governor Walker?”:
Of course, not everyone was glad to see the Senators (not that they seem to much care):
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) issued a withering statement ahead of their return.
He called the senators “the most shameful 14 people in the state of Wisconsin” and said it was “an absolute insult” to hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites that the senators ran away to Illinois to block Walker’s budget-repair bill.
Fitzgerald wrote: “To the Senate Democrats: when you smile for the cameras today and pretend you’re heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted. And I hope you’re embarrassed to call yourselves senators.”
The senators showed no such shame as they took the stage, one by one, and addressed the audience that fanned out on muddy ground and spilled out into State St. Other demonstrators kept up a continuous march in the square, the scene all playing out beneath cloudy skies and a brisk late-winter wind.
State Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) told the demonstrators, “Thank you for being our voice while we were gone. Thank you for being Wisconsin’s voice while we were gone. Thank you for being America’s voice.”
Coggs said it was time for the “fabulous 14″ to “come back and unite with you.”
“We want to unite, we want to fight, we want to get back workers’ rights,” he said. “The people united will never be defeated.”
“This is not the end. This is the beginning of phase two,” said Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison).
In a news conference earlier Saturday, the Democrats talked about their future plans. They have returned to a Capitol that has been transformed by a bitter political battle. They had been held in contempt by their Republican colleagues in the Senate while they were away.
“They won the battle; we’re going to win the war,” said Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay).
Meanwhile, the teacher Scott Walker touted in his Wall Street Journal op-ed justifying taking away collective bargaining rights from teachers and other workers objects to her story being used by the governor:
Walker writes: “In 2010, Megan Sampson was named an Outstanding First Year Teacher in Wisconsin. A week later, she got a layoff notice from the Milwaukee Public Schools. Why would one of the best new teachers in the state be one of the first let go? Because her collective-bargaining contract requires staffing decisions to be made based on seniority.”
The back story: It’s true that Sampson experienced the effect of what’s commonly known in education circles as “last hired, first fired” union policies, which dictate that in times of layoffs, young talent gets cut before teachers with more seniority, no matter how much promise or potential they hold as educators. We featured Sampson’s story in an article about the MPS layoffs in June.
But it’s unclear if Walker knew that Sampson, after being laid off from MPS, applied for and received a job teaching English at Wauwatosa East High School. That’s the same school Walker’s two sons attend. MPS attempted to recall Sampson in August, but she declined.
Sampson said in an e-mail exchange with the Journal Sentinel Thursday morning that she felt uncomfortable with the governor using her story to push an agenda.
“My opinions about the union have changed over the past eight months, and I am hurt that this story is being used to make me the poster child for this political agenda,” Sampson said. “Bottom line: I am trying to do my job and all this attention is interference and stress for me.”
And despite the exuberance of Saturday, one MJS columnist worries about the longer term effects of lowered teacher morale (an issue that could also effect other states with tea party governors, including Florida…)
… marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War by staging a new one in Wisconsin will have long-term consequences on teachers and teaching. Some maybe on the upside. Some will have lasting effects as downers. Who goes into teaching, who stays, what the work is like – there will be big issues to sort out.
Attitude is not a small matter. I’ve never heard anyone describe a successful school where the prevailing staff mood was gloomy. Someone needs to provide a convincing vision to teachers and to the public of a vibrant future for public schools. That hasn’t happened so far. If it’s not going to come from Walker, maybe it has to come at the local level, from superintendents or school boards or principals. An awful lot of them are mired in gloom, too. But at some point, educators do need to figure out how to move forward, preferably with some positive sense of mission.
More pics and video from the March 12 protests from MichaelMoore.com.
Meanwhile, there’s a new ad up from a group called the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which could be the template for the way pro-labor groups will fight governors like Walker, John Kasich in Ohio, Chris Christie in New Jersey, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, and Rick Scott in Florida. Watch:
Related: the Main Street Movement