Monday, March 14, 2011

Undaunted! More Than 100,000 Wisconsinites Rally 'To Take Our State Back!'

Undaunted! More Than 100,000 Wisconsinites Rally 'To Take Our State Back!'


John Nichols | March 12, 2011


The Nation


"Wow! You go away for a couple of weeks and look at

what happened!" shouted state Senator Jon Erpenbach, as

he surveyed a crowd that organizers estimated at well

over 100,000 that had rallied to welcome home

Wisconsin's dissident senators.


Erpenbach and thirteen other senators fled the state

Capitol in mid-February, when Governor Scott Walker and

his Republican allies were using their legislative

majorities to strip state, county and municipal workers

and teachers of their collective bargaining rights.

That move blocked a vote on the legislation for three

weeks, before the Republicans finally adopted a

"nuclear strategy" to force adoption of the anti-union measure.


While opponents of the bill suffered a momentary

legislative defeat, they enjoyed a dramatic political

victory -- as a mass movement built, attracting hundreds

of thousands of Wisconsinites to mass rallies in

Madison and communities across the state and causing

the collapse of Walker's approval ratings even in

Republican-sponsored polls.


That movement now proposes to recall at least three

Republican state senators who backed the bill, shifting

control of the chamber to the Democrats and restoring a

system of checks and balances to what is now one-party

government in Wisconsin.


Ultimately, the movement seeks to remove Walker from

office. And its plans no longer seem unreasonable, as

poll numbers suggest that the governor would be

defeated by virtually any Democratic challenger in a

new election.


The political dynamics are intense, and even the most

optimistic critics of the governor understand that

there is much work to do.


But, on Saturday, they celebrated the return of the senators.


It was a remarkable scene.


Madison Firefighters Local 311 members marched through

the crowd, with pipes and drums blaring. The Rev, Jesse

Jackson, actress Susan Sarandon and actor Tony Shalhoub

(a Wisconsin native) joined the line of march as the

firefighters wove their way through a crowd that filled

the Capitol Square. Outside a hotel opposite the

Capitol, the fourteen senators appeared.


The deafening roars of approval shook Madison's

downtown before the firefighters led the senators

through the crowd to a stage set up at an entrance to

the Capitol. A procession that should have taken

minutes took an hour, and when the group approached the

stage it was almost impossible to move. But, finally,

they arrived to chants of "Thank you! Thank you!"


Their messages, passionate and pointed, suggested

support for the removal of their Republican colleagues

and a sense of solidarity with a movement that has made

the rights of workers central to a broader message

about democratic renewal.


"We are going to take our state back. We are going to

take our rights back," declared state Senator Julie

Lassa, a central Wisconsin Democrat who told the crowd,

"I have never been prouder to be a Wisconsinite."


That was a common sentiment Saturday.


And there was a lot of pride to go around at the

biggest rally yet--a gathering that former Wisconsin

gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey put at close to



It was the largest political rally ever in Madison.


And it was one of the largest pro-labor rallies in

American history.


From the start, the numbers have told the story of

Wisconsin's resistance, and its resilience.


The tens.


The hundreds.


The thousands.


The tens of thousands.


The hundreds of thousands [1].


Wisconsinites from every background, every religion,

every politics and every job have filled the Capitol

Square for the past month.


Their message has been clear and unequivocal. They

oppose Scott Walker's assault on working families. [1]

They oppose the lawless actions of legislative leaders

who are more determined to advance the governor's

political agenda than to respect their colleagues or to

serve the interests of the whole state.


This has been an exhilarating, frustrating, depressing

and empowering time.


Emotions have soared and collapsed.


But Wisconsinites are a resilient people. Nothing Scott

Walker does to the citizens of the state will be as

long-lasting or meaningful as what those citizens will

do for the state when they remove him--and those who

have supported him--from office.


Wisconsin's resilience is rooted in its traditions.

Wisconsinites learned to work hard in factories and on farms.


Most Wisconsinites can trace their roots to a homestead

on a country road. This is and will always be "America's

Dairyland," a farm state with a regard for those who

work the land.


So when the farmers of Wisconsin arrived Saturday,

on tractors that rolled in from across the state,

Wisconsinites brought this movement full circle.


The tractorcade, organized by the Wisconsin Farmers

Union and Family Farm Defenders, began a day of

rallying at the Capitol that drew the largest yet--and

that signaled the determination of Wisconsinites to

keep fighting the Walker agenda.


"The governor wants to divide us," explained western

Wisconsin farmer Joel Greeno, who will ride his tractor

into the Capitol Square this morning. "But that won't

happen. The governor's got his corporate contributors.

But the state employees and the teachers, they've got

us. Farmers understand that when you cut funding for

road crews and schools, our rural communities get hurt.

And we've been hurt enough."


Wisconsin workers and farmers have, in the words of the

tractorcade organizers, decided to "Pull Together!"

That's a slogan that recalls the historic organizing of

the farmer-labor movements of the upper Midwest, which

had their expression in Wisconsin in the Progressive

Party that sent Robert M. La Follette Jr. to the US

Senate and elected Phil La Follette as governor in the 1930s.


It has been a long time since Wisconsin has been this

united, and since the farmers and workers of the state

have spoken in so loud and clear a voice.


On Saturday, one of the returning senators may have put

it best. Referring to the decision of the senators to

leave for Illinois in order to open up a broader

debate, Bob Jauch, a Democrat from northern Wisconsin

told the crowd: "We did not weaken democracy when we

went to the land of Lincoln. We strengthened it."


Then tens and tens and tens of thousands who were

listening to him roared their approval, chanting what

has become the slogan of the movement: "This is what

democracy looks like!" Like this blog post? Read it on

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