Be like Bob: Festival raises sprits of a political kind
If you go
What: Fighting Bob Fest
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Coliseum at Alliant Energy Center, Madison.
Tickets: Admission is free. Donations are encouraged.
Kickoff event: 7 p.m. tonight at the Barrymore Theatre, Madison. Tickets $10 at the door.
JANESVILLE Before electronic media consumed our lives, politics was an in-person, sideshow kind of affair with music and comedy on improvised stages, interspersed with speeches.
That's what Fighting Bob Fest tries to be.
"It's a hoot," said Norm Aulabaugh of Orfordville, who will head to Madison on Saturday for the 10th annual Bob Fest.
Aulabaugh sees the event as a refreshing alternative to business as usual.
"I think if somebody wants to get involved in an event that is political but is not the Republican convention or the Democratic convention, this would definitely be something to go to," Aulabaugh said.
"Fighting Bob" La Follette made his mark 100 years ago by fighting corrupting influences in American politics. He pushed for more open government tax reform and worker rights.
La Follette was a Republican governor and U.S. Senator who saw himself as an advocate for the common person against control of things by the rich, much as today's leftists rail against increasing poverty while wealth is increasingly concentrated among the richest Americans.
Bob Fest will feature some of today's top speakers on the left, including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and radio host/authors Thom Hartmann and Jim Hightower.
Wisconsin speakers include Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and John Nichols of the Capital Times.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, R-Ohio, is scheduled for tonight's kickoff event.
The fest also includes entertainment, such as the Fighting Grannies, a comedy/musical group.
"I think people are looking for radical changes," said Ted Kinnaman of Janesville, a frequent fest-goer. "Whether you end up calling it socialism or not is kind of immaterial. The important thing is the alternative to the wealthy calling all the shots and owning all the wealth."
Bob Fest pulls no punches with its politics. Its theme this year, for instance, is "Class Warfare: Fight Back."
That message resonates with Margie Jessup of Milton Township, a former Republican who now finds President Barack Obama too far to the right.
"People are losing their homes, jobs are leaving the country, and all this is very depressing to see how the middle class is going down, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," Jessup said.
Jessup said she sees mothers and fathers both working two jobs while they try to raise their children.
"This is not the world I used to know," Jessup said. "I think since 1980 it's just gotten harder and harder. The corporations are not taking care of their share of things."
But once a year, Jessup gets to feel good: "When I go to Bob Fest, I am with other people who think like I do," although not everyone agrees on every issue, she said.
"You feel good when you go there," Aulabaugh agreed. "Sometimes you get down in the dumps and say nothing's going to change, but this kind of boosts your spirit."