In Madison, thousands protest Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill as the labor movement embraces a new political strategy.
By: Juan Victor Fajardo
MADISON, Wis.—More than 100,000 people gathered around the state Capitol last Saturday to protest the back-door passing of an anti-union bill that will end the collective bargaining rights of organized labor groups in Wisconsin.
The protest drew the largest crowd yet of what is now a month-long series of rallies, sit-ins, and overnight vigils at the government building in the center of town, local authorities said.
Young and old, protesters welcomed home the 14 Democratic state senators who, in an attempt to halt the passing of the bill, fled Wisconsin to the neighboring state of Illinois for almost three weeks. Although Wisconsin’s Republican senators managed to pass the bill in a controversial legal maneuver, the fleeing 14 have become local celebrities of sorts. Now known as the “Fabulous 14,” they are Wisconsin’s new, if unlikely, labor heroes.
“This is what democracy looks like!” roared the thousands of students, teachers, and workers in hard hats surrounding the Capitol. “Enough is enough!” they chanted. “This is our house!”
The clamor echoed for blocks in Madison, where quiet signs of political protest littered the city.
The words “Strike Now!” were spray-painted on the walls of local grocery stores and coffee shops. A sign on a fraternity house read: “The Bro-Op Supports Workers Rights.” The marquee of the Orpheum Theater on State Street jokingly advertised Governor Scott Walker’s lead roll in the movie “Total Recall.”
For weeks, the struggle for collective bargaining rights in Madison has centered on mass mobilizations and on conquering the city’s public spaces. As of last Sunday, however, a new, more effective political strategy has been on the move.
Teacher unions and other organizing groups are currently focused on collecting enough signatures to recall Republican state representatives from their posts and repeal the union-bashing bill.
Due to state regulation, the recall process could take as little as three weeks in the case of some senators and up to a year in the case of Governor Walker himself, who is seen as the leader of a full-blown attack on the working class of Wisconsin.
State representatives must have held their post for one full year before the can legally be recalled. In order to activate the recall process, the labor movement must gather the signatures of 25 percent of those who voted to elect the representatives in their last elections.
The morning after Saturday’s protest, students and workers took to their phones and cars to gather the signatures. Some dialed numbers from call centers in Madison while others drove out to the state’s most remote electoral districts to reach distant voters.
As canvassing crews drove away from Madison on Sunday, a tense calm overtook the city. Slowly everything returned to normal.
Couples walked their dogs, a group of marathon runners sped past the university campus, and children perched along the city’s main streets to watch the Saint Patrick’s Day parade.
Outside the Capitol, a bronze statue stood in all of its stately glory with a crumpled red T-shirt hanging from its neck. “We are all Wisconsin!” the T-shirt read, and that too was part of this Midwestern town’s new “normal.”