Hundreds turn out to demonstrate against Walker
Gov. Scott Walker spoke Tuesday at Forward Janesville's annual dinner. Hundreds of people turned up to protest his appearance.
JANESVILLE Michael Dorn's voice stood out from the crowd of hundreds.
Not because it was particularly loud or piercing. In fact, it was conversational more than anything.
"Enjoy your dinner, but please walk out on Walker," Dorn said to people getting out of their cars in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express & Janesville Conference Center.
By 5 p.m. Tuesday, hundreds of people were gathered to protest Gov. Scott Walker's speech at Forward Janesville's annual dinner. The crowd lined Midvale Drive near the south entrance to the hotel parking lot and Wellington Court, which runs from the front entrance of the convention center east to Deerfield Drive.
The crowds were thickest near the parking lot entrances.
Dorn, however, walked by himself on the sidewalk along Wellington Place, which runs north-south in front of the hotel.
Dorn is the president of the Milton Education Association and a math teacher at Milton High School. He said that despite their differences, the protesters and the dinner attendees had the same goal: a prosperous Rock County.
"They're here because they support Janesville," Dorn said about the Forward Janesville members. "They want it to be a prosperous place with jobs, with opportunities, with good schools.
"So do we."
Unlike Dorn, Gary Livingston, a retired GM worker from Janesville, wasn't about to say anything friendly to the dinner attendees. He stood near the Midvale Drive entrance of the parking lot and joined the portion of the crowd that harassed people driving in.
A Forward Janesville pass was required to park in the lot.
Livinston's booming voice rose above the crowd as he shouted, "Shame! Shame!" at the passing cars.
Sometimes, the drivers and passengers were union supporters looking for a parking spot. The pro-worker drivers gave thumbs-up or honked to the rhythm of the "This is what Democracy looks like" chant made popular in the Capitol rotunda.
When they realized the drivers were pro-worker, the protesters would stop in mid-boo to cheer.
Livingston said he is very concerned about the increasing gap between the very rich and Wisconsin working families. He said he would shop in Madison to avoid supporting the people who attended the dinner.
"There is such a wage gap," Livingston said. "This is the only way you can fight, by doing what we're doing."
Many of the protesters were dressed in union T-shirts or pro-worker hoodies. Vivian Creekmore, however, said she wore a long, faux fur coat and silk scarf to look like she was dressed for the dinner. She said she wanted to show how little difference there is between the Forward Janesville members and the protesting workers.
Creekmore of Janesville is the vice chairwoman of membership for the Democratic Party of Rock County. She said few Rock County residents, if any, are wealthy enough to benefit from Walker's plan to "corporatize" Rock County.
"There aren't five wealthy people in there," Creekmore said. "People are mistaken about what wealthy is."
At the other end of the event, Mitch Terhaar of rural Beloit was one of eight people holding a long yellow banner bearing the word "shame" in black letters. He stood near the intersection of Wellington Court and Deerfield Drive where many people pumped their arms to encouraging passing semitrailer truck drivers to honk.
Terhaar is the business agent for United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers of Green, Rock and Walworth counties. He said he was protesting Walker's speech because he thinks Walker next will try to restrict the rights of private-sector union workers.
"We know the 'Right to Work' bill is next," Terhaar said.
The Janesville Police Department estimated that between 1,000 and 1,200 people gathered outside the event, according to a department news release.
None were arrested, Deputy Chief John Olsen said.
A total of 35 Janesville officers worked the event, Olsen said. Some were on-duty second-shift patrol officers. The department scheduled 20 off-duty officers to work the event and called in six more, Olsen said.
Forward Janesville will foot the bill for the police protection at the event, Olsen said.
"For the number of people that showed up, I thought it was great," said Olsen, who worked inside the convention center. "They got their voices heard and behaved themselves."
The protest appeared to be vastly anti-Walker. A Gazette reporter saw only two people who appeared to be harassing protesters.
By 7 p.m., the crowd was thinning quickly. By 8 p.m., 100 protesters remained between the two main exits of the hotel parking lot.
One of them was John Resch, clad in his Local 95 jacket. Resch said he was tired because he had been outside the hotel since 2:30 p.m.
But it took only one question to prompt Resch to speak passionately about why he opposed Walker's plan. Cutting union benefits won't bring more jobs to the state, he said.
Workers will move from Wisconsin to find jobs with better wages and benefits, Resch said.
"This state won't be open for business."