Democracy Now! reports from the streets of Madison, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker prepares to sign legislation that will strip away the collective bargaining rights of most public employees. On Thursday, more than 1,000 Madison students walked out of classes; firefighters called for a boycott of a bank with ties to Walker; and the AFL-CIO pushed for the recall of Republican senators. More than 100,000 people are expected to fill the streets of Madison on Saturday. [includes rush transcript]
Democracy Now! producers Mike Burke and Nicole Salazar filed this report.
JUAN GONZALEZ: We go now to Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker is preparing to sign a controversial bill that will strip most public employees of their right to collectively bargain. On Thursday, the State Assembly passed the bill in a mostly party-line 53-to-42 vote. Republican senators approved the bill in a surprise vote on Wednesday.
Democracy Now! senior producer Mike Burke is in Madison and filed this report.
PROTESTERS: Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!
MIKE BURKE: The chants of protesters filled the Wisconsin Capitol Thursday after the Republican-led Assembly passed a bill to strip most public employees of their right to collectively bargain. Prior to the vote, the Wisconsin Capitol was in a state of lockdown.
ELIZABETH DiNOVELLA: My name is Elizabeth DiNovella, and I’m the culture editor at The Progressive magazine, which is based here in Madison, Wisconsin. I was inside the Capitol. I tried to get in this morning around 10:00, and the Capitol was on lockdown. They weren’t letting anybody in. And when I was at the doors trying to get in as media, Representative Joe Parisi, who is a Democrat in the Assembly, was trying to get in, and he was denied entrance. Legislators were climbing through the windows to get inside, including Elizabeth Coggs from Milwaukee. She’s a Democrat. So, the Democrats had a hard time even getting inside the building, to begin with. Meanwhile, while the media and people outside were not being able to be let in, that’s when the police were removing demonstrators from the Assembly. People had slept out inside the Capitol overnight, and they were being removed.
MIKE BURKE: We met up with one of the Democratic Assembly members who voted against Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill.
REP. CORY MASON: My name is Cory Mason, and I’m a state representative from Racine, Wisconsin. And we just had a big piece of Wisconsin history taken away from us. They took away 50 years of collective bargaining rights, closed down debate on the minority before we could even finish our arguments, took the vote and passed it. So it’s a sad day for workers’ rights. It’s a sad day for democracy here in Wisconsin.
MIKE BURKE: Calls are increasing to recall many of the Wisconsin Senate Republicans who have backed the Governor’s anti-union agenda. This is Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt.
PHIL NEUENFELDT: We’re asking all Wisconsin patriots who are offended by this assault on civil rights to join the recall efforts in the eight Senate districts where recalls are underway and against those who voted for this bill. This is exactly what recall laws are for. And the amount of time, energy and resources about to be unleashed on those who supported the attacks against us is going to be enormous.
MIKE BURKE: Earlier in the day, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson addressed thousands of protesters who had gathered outside the Capitol.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: There’s something that’s gone awry, the reason why your march is sending a shock wave around the nation — in the last few years, around reversal of our fortunes and to move toward the states’ rights, "right to work more" ideology, an ideology that’s basically anti-labor, anti-civil rights, anti-workers, anti-women’s rights. So, it’s a straight line. Today we fight to move back on the course — say jobs.
REV. JESSE JACKSON: And justice.
PROTESTERS: And justice!
REV. JESSE JACKSON: And right to bargain.
PROTESTERS: And right to bargain!
MIKE BURKE: Over 1,000 high school and middle school students walked out of classes Thursday to join the protests.
QUINN JACOBSON: I’m Quinn Jacobson. I go to Madison East High School. And at 10:00, we had a set time, that just about everyone knew, mostly through word of mouth but also through the internet and that sort of thing, and we got up, and we left, and we marched to the Capitol. And I think it makes a powerful statement. This whole bill is really a very misguided attack on the middle class, and I think it’s trying to put a financial burden and a lot of blame on people who don’t really deserve it. I definitely think that there are people who are at fault for our financial woes, and I think that firefighters and policemen and teachers are not those people.
MIKE BURKE: Madison students have called for nationwide student walkout for this afternoon.
RILEY MOORE: My name is Riley Moore. I am a senior at Madison East.
JESSE BANKS: And I’m Jesse Banks. I’m also a senior at Madison East.
RILEY MOORE: And tomorrow, the group that we founded, called Wisconsin Students in Solidarity, is planning a nationwide walkout, followed by a Madison area teach-in at Library Mall. The walkout will be at 2:00.
JESSE BANKS: We feel that, as students, it’s our right to have a strong education system and a well-funded education system, and that we feel like the legislation that’s been coming out of the state government is an attack on the autonomy and the strength of the education system. And we don’t — we don’t like it one bit.
MIKE BURKE: Wisconsin firefighters held several rallies on Thursday, including a protest outside the state’s largest bank.
ELIZABETH DiNOVELLA: There was a demonstration at the M&I Bank, which is right here on the corner, and they were, I believe, the second-largest contributor to Walker’s campaign. And the Firefighter’s Association went in and took out their money, because they’re very upset with M&I. And then there are reports that the M&I Bank on the square actually closed down because so many people were going inside and withdrawing their accounts.
MAHLON MITCHELL: Mahlon Mitchell, state president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin. Firefighters and police, teachers — we’re all alike — have all come out and spoken against the bill. Right now, polls show about 74 percent of people are against the bill. And we’re just trying to let them know that it’s not — it’s not democracy. It’s what — people want to be heard. Last night. we were at the vote, and we weren’t even allowed in the room. That’s not democracy. That’s not a public hearing. It’s against open records law. There’s a whole slew of things that are just — that are banned against it, and we just want to let them know that. And that’s why we’re out here.
MIKE BURKE: Inside the Wisconsin Capitol building, protesters were removed shortly after 6:00 p.m. No one was allowed to stay the night. We caught up with one protester as she carried her blankets and pillow out of the Capitol.
NEPORSHA HAMLIN: My name is Neporsha Hamlin. I have been here for 25 days, and I’ve been here fighting for union rights, collective bargaining. It’s just a bitter feeling getting kicked out of our House, and I miss laying on my stone floors. I can’t get back used to a regular bed now.
MIKE BURKE: How many nights did you spend inside?
NEPORSHA HAMLIN: I spent the night 18 nights. And we got kicked out that Thursday.
MIKE BURKE: And what is your message to Governor Walker?
NEPORSHA HAMLIN: My message to Governor Walker — I’m going to pray for him. I hope he sleeps well at night knowing, you know, he’s done all of this stuff.
MIKE BURKE: While protesters were forced to leave the Capitol Thursday evening, plans are underway for another massive demonstration here on Saturday.
For Democracy Now!, this is Mike Burke, with Nicole Salazar.
AMY GOODMAN: And this is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’ll continue to follow the uprising in Wisconsin, especially what happens on Saturday. Over 100,000 people are expected to rally at the state’s Capitol.