Thousands Protest at Capitol Against Walker Budget, Supreme Court Ruling
Crowds of protestors who flocked to the Capitol Tuesday anticipating Assembly action on the divisive collective bargaining bill, which essentially eliminates collective bargaining for public workers, were shocked to learn the Supreme Court had reinstated the law in a hotly contested 4-3 decision.
Speakers at a planned 5:00 rally were quick to lift the faltering spirits of the Wisconsin Democracy Movement. Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, told the crowd of thousands, “We’re going to be here every day. We didn’t pick this fight, but if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’re going to get.”
Mary Bell, a middle school English teacher from Wisconsin Rapids serving as president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, urged protestors to hold Republican legislators accountable for their actions by voting in various recall elections across the state.
“This extreme agenda has to be seen for what it is and what it does to our Wisconsin values. Change begins when we stand up and speak out for what we believe in,” Bell said.
Republicans Signal Approaching Court Ruling, File Fake Candidates
The 4-3 ruling reflected the sharp conservative-liberal divide that many believed would determine the outcome of the Court’s decision. In her dissent, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson attacked the implicit “partisan slant” in Justice Prosser’s concurrence and the shaky rhetorical foundation of the majority opinion.
“In hastily reaching judgment, Justice Patience D. Roggensack, Justice Annette K. Ziegler, and Justice Michael J. Gableman author an order, joined by Justice David T. Prosser, lacking a reasoned, transparent analysis and incorporating numerous errors of law and fact,” wrote Abrahamson. “This kind of order seems to open the court unnecessarily to the charge that the majority has reached a pre-determined conclusion not based on the facts and the law, which undermines the majority's ultimate decision.”
The timing of the decision surprised those who had been keeping an eye on collective bargaining proceedings. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald announced just yesterday that comittee hearings would be held Tuesday on the collective bargaining proposal, and that his Republican caucus was prepared to vote on it irregardless of a Supreme Court decision. The hearings were delayed several times throughout the day, raising a few eyebrows at the Capitol despite Fitzgerald's categorical denial of any wrongdoing or insider information.
Some protestors did in fact speculate that not all is as it seems.
“The way they passed the budget bill initially was wrong, and the fact they did this behind closed doors is wrong,” said Sarah Fuelleman, a writer at the UW-Madison Department of Ophthalmology, adding, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’m starting to become one.”
Lauren Schmidt, a 22-year-old home health care worker from Madison, didn’t mince words.
“I think its horseshit,” she said, before joining a contingent of protestors screaming and blowing vuvuzelas outside the window of Rep. Stephen Nass’s office, where the Republican lawmaker quietly ignored, and at times playfully provoked, impassioned Walkervillians.
Tuesday’s other big piece of news—that Republicans officially filed “fake Democrat” candidates in six Democratic primaries for the upcoming recall elections—didn’t come as much of a surprise. Republicans have openly admitted their intention of delaying the elections by fielding puppet candidates, but have been less forthcoming about the tactic’s collateral damage. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation, the GOP plan would cost taxpayers upward of $428,000.
Budget Cuts Start to Hurt
Teachers, steel workers, firefighters, and other union workers began their Capitol Square march at 11:00, hoisting signs that read “Recall Walker” and “RIP Democracy.” Many expressed concern that various budget provisions would leave their families reeling financially.
Stacy Farasha Rhoads, adance instructor from Milwaukee donning an all pink outfit to symbolize her opposition to proposed Planned Parenthood Cuts, worried that her two children, one of whom is autistic, would suffer from reduced funding for state-provided health services.
“I’m a single mother. I’ve got two children who are on Badgercare and I have a daughter with special needs. So all of the services that my family needs on a regular basis are under attack,” said Rhoads.
Rhoads marched in solidarity with other parents and families anticipating economic hardship, such as Chris Breihan, a part time teacher at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Proposed cuts to Family Care threaten to prevent her 21-year-old special needs son from attending an adult day services program recently recommended to him.
The mood was relaxed for most of the day, as Assembly Democrats and Republicans spent the majority of the afternoon behind closed door at party caucus meetings. At a midday press conference, Representative Peter Barca and his Democratic caucus announced their intention to offer “a couple dozen” amendments to Governor Walker’s proposed budget, as part of their effort to push back against budget cuts targeting working class families.
At the end of the rally, firefighters led protestors in a “hands around the Capitol,” ceremony. The Beatles’ “Revolution,” written in response to the anti-war protests of the late 1960s, blared from event loudspeakers as pro-union activists took their places along the square. Hand in hand, the group sang a Sconnified version of “We Shall Overcome,” signaling their intent to keep fighting back against Governor Walker’s anti-middle class agenda.
Debora Marks, a 1st grade teacher at Lindbergh elementary, vowed to keep returning to Walkerville for “as long as it takes.” The frequent trips to the Capitol haven’t, however, distracted her from what she considers her top priority.
“My job is about something far more important than Scott Walker: its about educating future generations, and that’s something teachers can not stop doing, whether the Governor wants us to or not,” said Marks.