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Voices from the 100,000-Strong Protest for Workers’ Rights in Wisconsin

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More than 100,000 people rallied in Madison on Saturday against Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to remove the collective bargaining rights of most public-sector workers. It was the largest demonstration Madison has seen since the Vietnam War. We broadcast some of the voices from the rally. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryFeb 25, 2011Wisconsin’s Uprising: A Guided Tour of the 11-Day Protest Encampment Inside the State Capitol in Madison
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Labor protests in Madison, Wisconsin, have entered their third week. Hundreds of demonstrators defied police orders and slept inside the State Capitol building on Sunday night to oppose to the Republican Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of the right to collectively bargain. Governor Walker had ordered the Capitol to be emptied by 4:00 p.m., but Capitol police decided not to enforce the order after hundreds of labor activists, students and supporters refused to leave.

Meanwhile, on Saturday as many as 100,000 people packed the freezing streets of Madison in the largest protest the city has seen since the Vietnam War. Tens of thousands of people marched in solidarity protests in other state capitols. While it may have been the largest labor protest in the United States in years, the demonstration in Madison received little attention by the corporate press. Today we broadcast some of the voices from the Madison rally.

JEFF SKILES: I’m Jeff Skiles. And two years ago I was being honored in this very Capitol building as a hero for being one of the pilots in the Miracle on the Hudson. But I’m here to tell you that on that day there were many, many heroes: pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, firemen, policemen, crews of the ferry boats, EMTs. We didn’t abandon those passengers to save themselves; we all worked together to save everybody. That’s a lesson that people in this Capitol building need to learn. All those trained professionals put aside the fear for their own personal safety to get the job done. And every one of them was a union member. Unions help their people do their jobs better.

And I’d like to talk to you today about one group that has touched my family’s lives. I’d like to talk about the educators in my home town of Oregon, Wisconsin, these professional men and women who have devoted their lives to develop and nurture our future, our children, and they have given my children and myself a priceless gift: I have watched my kids grow into responsible, intelligent and caring adults due to their contributions. Just yesterday, my youngest son, J.J., got his ACT college entrance exam scores in the mail. He got a 26. What do you suppose Scott Walker got? That’s a good enough score to get into Wisconsin’s flagship campus, here, the UW-Madison. But J.J. won’t be going to college next year, because J.J. is only in the eighth grade. That didn’t happen because of Scott Walker. That happened because of the educators in the Oregon School District, and that happened because of all of you.

But teachers are only one small collection of voices among the hundreds of thousands of nurses, public employees, state and local workers who will be impacted by this bill. Our federal government has acknowledged our basic right to join together and make our collective voices heard by union membership. The Supreme Court has defended that right. But this budget bill will strip Wisconsin public workers of the protections and rights enjoyed by other Americans. This bill will regulate public workers to second-class status in America. Are we going to let that happen?


JEFF SKILES: Let’s not forget how this budget crisis came about, and let’s not let this governor and this Republican legislature shift the blame for what’s wrong with America from corporate profiteers and instead demonize our teachers, our nurses and our public-sector employees.

MARY BELL: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you for coming out. You are an amazing display of Wisconsin democracy. It is a great February Wisconsin day for a rally. And I can tell you, for those of us who have been here for the last two weeks, we continue to be inspired by your desire to set aside everyday work to come out and have your voice heard.

Oh, wait, wait, wait, wait! I have a phone call. Hang on! I’ve been trying to get through to this guy all week long. Let’s see if he’s on! Just a minute. Uh, oh, yeah, Governor Walker? Governor Walker, this is Mary Bell. I’m the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Yeah, now, well, I know you might not know who I am. I have been walking kind of around the Capitol for a couple of weeks. You might have seen me with one of those signs that says, you know, “Please stop the attacks on working families.” Oh, yeah, I know, you’re a busy guy; you’ve got a lot of things to do. You probably don’t have time for a junior high teacher from Wisconsin Rapids. It’s tough. But you know, yeah, yeah, Governor Walker, Wisconsin Rapids is in Wisconsin!

On behalf of all the hard-working families across this state, Governor, I thought I’d take one more chance to explain why the people, over a quarter of a million Wisconsinites, have turned out to tell you this is the wrong approach. You see, public employees like me, we’ve already agreed to the financial hit in order to help the state meet its budget shortfall. But it isn’t about that. We will not accept taking away our rights. As a teacher, I cannot have you take away my say in the lives of my school and my students.

Oh, what? You have another call coming in? A call from, like a Mr. Cook? Oh, Koch! I see, I see. Well, I guess if an out-of-state billionaire is more important than a quarter of a million Wisconsinites, I’ll have to let you go. Bye bye.

Well, it’s a pretend conversation, but it’s the only one I’ve had with the Governor, so… It feels like the same one-sided discussion we’ve had for the last two weeks, replayed day after day after day. We send the same message: it isn’t about economics; it’s about our rights in the workplace.

RALLY M.C.: This is what democracy looks like. This is what people power looks like. This is what union power looks like. And I am so excited to be able to announce, all the way from the West Wing to his native Madison, let’s give a shout out for Madison East proud graduate class of 1977, Mr. Bradley Whitford.

BRADLEY WHITFORD: When a governor gives huge tax breaks to corporate special interests that just paid for his campaign, and expects teachers, nurses and first responders to pay for them, he needs to know this will not stand! When Wisconsin workers offered a compromise on wages and benefits, but the Governor refuses to negotiate, he needs to know this will not stand! When a governor lacks the capacity for genuine leadership and instead uses his budget as a Trojan horse to deny American workers a seat at the table to negotiate their wages, benefits and safety, he needs to know this will not stand!

AMY GOODMAN: Voices of the Madison rally, the largest since the Vietnam War. Up to 100,000 people marched in Wisconsin’s capital on Saturday, protesting the anti-union bill of Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll speak with a Wisconsin State Assembly member who was with the protesters in the Capitol building last night when they refused to leave the building. And then we’re going to be going to Libya to hear from people there. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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Defying Gov. Walker, Wisconsin Protesters Refuse to Leave Capitol Building

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