Wisconsin Capitol sees smaller crowd on second anniversary of protests
MADISON Two years ago today, tens of thousands of people descended upon the state Capitol in Madison to protest Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker's bill that all but ended collective bargaining for most public-sector workers.
One year ago, opponents of Walker and the collective bargaining law returned in the midst of an unprecedented recall campaign.
The crowd that showed up to mark the second anniversary of those protests Thursday night was much smaller than those seen at the movement's height.
But the message it sought to send, according to teacher and Democratic Party of Walworth County chairwoman Ellen Holly, was simple: "We're going to keep showing up."
Holly was one of a couple hundred people who attended Thursday night's protest, which was organized by unions that represent Madison teachers and teaching assistants at UW-Madison.
Members of the Solidarity Sing-Along, a remnant of the protests that still gathers most weekdays in the Capitol rotunda, led the crowd in a series of pro-union and anti-Walker renditions of songs like "We Shall Overcome" and "This Land is Your Land."
Those who attended brought familiar signs from marches and rallies two years ago, reading "Stop the attack on Wisconsin families" and "Stand with Wisconsin." As the sun set, organizers distributed candles for a vigil marking the anniversary.
Holly, who was at the Capitol three days a week during the biggest protests in 2011, said it was important to show that she and other Wisconsin voters are still engaged and unhappy with Act 10.
"We're already geared up—I know Rock County is and I know Walworth County is," she said, "to restore the Wisconsin that we love."
After a year that saw Walker survive that recall effort and narrow hopes of overturning the collective bargaining law reduced to a court battle, however, it's not entirely clear where that movement is going for now.
Even if Democrats defeat him, Walker will still be governor through at least 2014 and Republicans control both houses of the legislature. That leaves the effort to restore collective bargaining in what would appear to be a holding pattern.
Democratic Party of Rock County Chair Mike Southers admitted any such effort will likely not be politically viable until after the next round of elections at the earliest.
"It would be difficult," Southers said. "From a political process, is there anything that could be done until 2014? Probably not."
United Auto Workers Local 95 vice president David Vaughn agreed that collective bargaining likely wouldn't return in the immediate future, but that didn't mean the movement was at a standstill.
Vaughn said issues that the protests over Act 10 raised—most importantly the divide between rich and poor—have gained momentum in the past two years.
Comparing it to a train that started in Wisconsin, Vaughn said the national political discussion about income inequality, which dominated the Occupy Wall Street protests and took a major role in the 2012 presidential campaign, has its roots in the fight over collective bargaining.
"That train's going to keep going around the country and people are going to be jumping aboard," he said. "As other people start losing rights, money, their dignity (and) find out that it's economic injustice, there's going to be more people that are getting on that train."
Holly said she believed that while the movement began over one piece of legislation, it has grown to encompass a variety of such controversial state issues as mining regulation and education funding.
"It's a bigger picture now," she said. "It started out with collective bargaining, but now it's a whole collection of very negative things."
Still, Holly said the issue that first brought mass protests to the Capitol two years ago would stay on her mind, and keep her motivated.
"Sometimes things move slowly, but we keep showing up," she said.