Capitol protests continue with tea party rally

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Sunday, February 20, 2011
— The tea party rally got going around noon, just as the mud on the lawn in front of the state Capitol began to thaw.

Saturday was the day conservatives chose to have their say, after a week of protests by union members and supporters over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.

Thousands of union backers packed the streets around the Capitol Square, chanting and marching, however, and held their own rallies on the opposite side of the Capitol. They easily outnumbered the hundreds of conservatives who packed into one of the entranceways leading up to the Capitol.

People spilled off the walkways and treaded gingerly over the icy, muddy ground. Both sides enjoyed bright sun and crisp air.

Orange plastic fencing protected the tea party rally’s flanks, and Police lined up to keep demonstrators on one side from approaching those on the other. They succeeded only in part.

People got in each other’s faces here and there on the fringes of the tea party rally, but in three hours, one observer did not see so much as someone poking a finger into someone’s chest. Numerous earnest, one-on-one conversations took place. Some seemed almost friendly. Others were quite angry.

The tea party rally had a long list of speakers, some introduced as conservative pundits or authors. Their names and many of the words could not be heard over the din.

Union backers later circulated among the tea party members and other conservatives with their signs, some shouting slogans. But the peace held.

Some people held signs reminding others that this was a peaceful protest.

A minister who spoke to the pro-union rally Saturday morning asked that people resist the urge to demonize the other side.

“May you deliver us from that temptation today,” he prayed.

Both sides had apparently instructed their members to keep it civil and avoid actions that could be used against them.

The tea party rallying cries included three-beat slogans, “Go Scott go,” “Pass the bill,” “Pay your share” and “Do your job!” At times, they chanted to the same beat as the other side’s “Kill the bill.”

“I got a ton of family on the other side who are teachers,” said Kurt Koepp, formerly of Evansville but now of Cottage Grove.

“I worked all week to pay my 20 percent of my health care,” Koepp said, and he doesn’t enjoy many of the other benefits teachers get.

“They gotta pay their fair share,” Koepp said.

Chuck Cooke of Janesville, a receiving clerk, said Walker is doing what is needed to balance the state budget.

“We can’t keep spending money we don’t have. The state’s broke,” Cooke said.

A boy in a Janesville Craig High School jacket held a sign with pictures of Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, with the words: “They ran and hid too,” a reference to the 14 Democratic senators who have avoided the Capitol to keep the majority from having the quorum it needs to vote on the budget repair bill.

Several older men argued about the sign.

“We don’t need that hate at our rally,” one man said.

“It’s not hate. It’s true. We’ve got to fight back,” the other man responded.

The Craig student was Andrew Severson, son of Janesville School Board member DuWayne Severson, who was there with his mother, Denise. Andrew held his ground but did not speak to the men.

“Everybody has a right to express an opinion,” Denise said.

“I am not happy the senators chose to run and hide,” Denise said. “…You should have the courage to show up and cast your vote.”

Signs on both sides used inflammatory imagery. One sign showed a picture of President Obama next to a burning Constitution and a Soviet flag.

Later, a speaker at the tea party rally castigated the other side for a sign that showed Walker with a Hitler mustache.

Three Craig High students taking in the events said they back the teachers.

One of them, Joel Valdez, said he was paying back teachers for all they do for him.

“I don’t understand how anyone can tell a teacher, you don’t deserve these rights,” Valdez said.

As the tea party rally broke up, the conservatives began to leave but ran into the steady stream of union marchers on the street.

Police stepped in and at times made a hole for them to get off the square.

A handful of UW-Whitewater students stood at the corner where the two groups met, chanting “pass the bill,” and drawing counter chants from the marchers.

UW-W student Jordan Hartwig held a sign that praised Walker and Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater.

“I believe what Scott Walker is doing is the right thing,” Hartwig said, including Walker’s attempt to eliminate many union bargaining rights.

“I think when the state gets back on track, they can see what they can do (about bargaining rights),” Hartwig said.

Some tea party sign-holders later took to the streets or stood in silent protest as the pro-unionists marched by.

“Get back to work!” one man shouted at the marchers.

“You don’t know what work is. Try being a nurse,” a marcher responded.

Last updated: 4:15 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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