Madison’s rally yields thousands of participants

Story by Taylor Kuether

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The Capitol building in Madison yesterday was alive both inside and out with thousands of protesters assembling to oppose Gov. Scott Walker’s recent budget repair bill.

During the scheduled 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. protest and for the majority of the day, protesters marched up the steps of the capitol, even before the scheduled circle of the building, and they even gathered on all three levels of the inner rotunda. Chants echoed off the marble; participants shouted  “Kill this bill,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Scott Walker has got to go!”

Unions gathered together wearing t-shirts supporting their cause; the Beaver Dam Fire Department marched down State St. led by bagpipes.

“I’m here with my local union to ask our legislators to vote no on this contract, to not take away our collective bargaining rights,” said Dave Fischer, a steelworkers’ union member from Red Granite, Wis.

Nicole Samrau, a Friesland, Wis., resident, Dodge County Department of Corrections facility worker, and mother of two young children, said she feels like an injury to one is an injury to all.

“I feel like a lot of people have this conception that we’re here about the pay,” Samrau said. “It’s about taking away our rights, our protections. I work in the prison system, it’s about my safety, my security. I’ve worked there for ten years and it’s not gonna mean anything anymore.”

While any job in the public sector is subject to change under this bill, teachers and students had the largest voice at Madison’s Wednesday rally. Students of all ages – elementary school to college – were represented at the rally, each holding handcrafted signs. Many signs stated simply: “We love our teachers.”

Fourteen-year-old Madison East High School student Allegra (last name withheld) was there to support both her teachers and her parents, both of whom hold state jobs that will be affected by the proposed changes.

“I think it’s pretty unconstitutional (to take) away unions,” she said. “I mean, it’s the first amendment, freedom of speech and right to assembly.”

The Madison school district had cancelled class Wednesday for students and teachers alike to support the protest.

Eleven-year-old Sean (last name withheld), of Madison, stood on a pillar outside the capitol building and waved a large Wisconsin flag as his mother looked on. Ten feet away, four UW-Stevens Point students stood on an adjacent pillar, waving an American flag, holding signs of support and chanting.

“This budget bill is something that’s going directly against teachers, as well as all other state employees,” said Jacob Vandevelde, a UW-Stevens Point student. “We feel that it’s our job to come out here and stand up for our teachers and their rights.”

Protesters and passersby gathered on the lawns of the capitol to listen to various speakers for hours in the afternoon. The unseasonably warm day brought out people of every age, from youth to retirement. Several speakers told of how their own jobs and families will be affected, reiterating the impact the bill will have on students and children.

Another common topic was the call for communication. “We’re reasonable people,” Samrau said. “We’ll negotiate. It’s about the right.”

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