Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore urged protesters in Madison on March 5 to fight Republican-backed efforts to strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights, telling them, “Madison is only the beginning.”
The crowd roared in approval as Moore implored thousands of demonstrators to keep up their struggle against GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation, comparing their fight to the revolt in Egypt. He also thanked the 14 state Democratic senators who fled the state to block a vote on the bill, saying they’ll go down in history books.
“We’re going to do this together. Don’t give up. Please don’t give up,” Moore said.
Protesters have become a permanent fixture in and around the Capitol over the last three weeks. Police said a crowd of about 70,000 showed up on Feb. 19, and an even larger crowd rallied on Feb. 26.
Moore said the wealthy have overreached, first taking the working class’ money and then taking their souls by shutting them up at the bargaining table. The crowd yelled, “thank you,” before Moore began to speak, and he responded, “All of America thanks you, Wisconsin.”
Walker has said the legislation is needed to help ease a budget deficit projected to hit $3.6 billion by mid-2013, though opponents see it as an effort to weaken unions.
Two Democratic senators from Wisconsin joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Chicago to urge Walker to negotiate with workers. Sen. Lena Taylor said Democrats left because they “needed to slow the bill down” after it was approved unchanged in the state Assembly.
Walker, however, has said repeatedly that he would never negotiate with lawmakers. He’s responded to senators’ defection with threats to revoke their parking passes at the Capitol, end automatic deposit of their paychecks and dock them for missing work. He’s also threatened massive lay offs of state workers if the senators don’t return to Madison.
GOP leaders have repeatedly sent state police to the senators’ homes to intimidate their families and have ordered their arrest.
Sen. Chris Larson urged protesters in Chicago to stay strong.
“We’ve been here for the last 16 days we’ll continue to be here until workers’ rights are removed as the target in this budget repair bill by our governor,” he said.
Activists began a sit-in at the Capitol on Feb. 15, and although a judge ended protestors’ overnight stays late last week, several hundred were back in the rotunda Saturday chanting, “Who’s house? Our house” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Scott Walker’s got to go!”
Renee Peplinski, a fifth-grade teacher in Wisconsin Rapids, said she doesn’t mind making financial concessions to help the state even though it would hurt her family. She’s more concerned about losing her collective bargaining rights. Without union protections, teachers would be at the mercy of administrators who could decide to fire them for any perceived slight, she said.
“Every teacher I know is depressed,” said Peplinski, 42. “Every minute of the day there’s this black cloud.”
Walker has exempted police and fire unions from his budget proposal. Those unions backed him for election. Nevertheless, thousands of police and fire personnel have joined the demonstrations in Madison.