Wisconsin demonstrators party like it's 1968

MADISON, Wisconsin Sun Feb 20, 2011 6:45pm EST

Protesters crowd the State capitol grounds as members of the Wisconsin State Government discuss a proposed bill by Republican Governor Scott Walker in Madison February 18, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Hauck

Protesters crowd the State capitol grounds as members of the Wisconsin State Government discuss a proposed bill by Republican Governor Scott Walker in Madison February 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Hauck

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MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) - The issues were serious but the mood was cheery on Sunday among demonstrators in Wisconsin protesting an effort by the Republican governor to reduce the bargaining power of public employee unions.

Protesters, marking the start of a second week of mass action, jammed inside the state Capitol's rotunda, protected from the sleet and wet snow outside, to munch pizza donated by sympathizers from out of state and from foreign countries.

"It's like a street festival," said Tyler Pagel, 29, whose wife is a teacher, one of tens of thousands of workers who could be affected by Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to roll back pay, benefits and bargaining rights of government employees.

Pagel joked that even in Madison, which was a hotbed of student activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the protests were extraordinary.

"This is Madison. So it's not hard to get 200 people to protest anything. But 2,000? Or 20,000? It's unbelievable," he said.

Adding to the festive atmosphere was the sound of someone blowing a vuvuzela, one of the buzzing horns whose sound permeated the World Cup competition last year in South Africa.

Draped in a Wisconsin state flag, Pagel distributed pizzas paid for by a supporter in Minnesota and delivered to the Capitol where some 1,500 people were camped inside on Sunday.

A local pizza parlor called Ian's posted a sign listing where it was getting donations for pizzas to be delivered to the demonstrators -- 40 of the 50 U.S. states, Korea, Finland, Denmark, Australia, Turkey, Canada, the Netherlands, China, Australia, China, England, Egypt and elsewhere.

Demonstrators have been pouring into the state capital of Madison for days since the governor made his controversial proposal, numbering as many as 55,000 on Saturday.

A mass rally was expected on Monday, a mandatory furlough day for state workers.

"GROUND ZERO"

Jeff Rae, 30, who works for the Transport Workers Union in Washington, said he arrived in Madison to gather intelligence on the controversy. His union sees Wisconsin as the first in a series of battles nationwide, he said.

"This is Ground Zero," Rae said. "Ohio's next."

Like Wisconsin, Ohio is looking to cuts in spending to balance its budget. In Ohio, however, the odds are seen favoring organized labor more than in Wisconsin, Rae said.

Robert Koenig, a 49-year-old employee with the agency that oversees Wisconsin's retirement system, said he had accompanied members of his daughter's seventh-grade class to the capitol earlier in the week to watch the political drama unfold.

"I told them, 'You're not going to school today. But you're going to learn an important civic lesson,'" he said.

Pagel said he planned to spend the night sleeping in the rotunda where on Saturday night, some 400 people slept inside.

They are allowed to stay because a handful of Democratic Assembly members were holding an ongoing hearing on the third floor to listen to testimony from people opposed to the bill and thus the building remained open.

Local residents posted signs advertising space in their homes for those looking for a free place to sleep.

(Reporting by James Kelleher; Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Peter Bohan)

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Comments (25)
Herefortruth wrote:
Very beautiful!

Feb 20, 2011 7:05pm EST  --  Report as abuse
whoamI22010 wrote:
I was a strong union man all of my working years, wearing a hard hat and carrying a lunch pail. BUT – I worked in the private sector where we endured strikes. Today, the namby pamby teachers and every other cradle to the grave government paid employee seems to think they have the same entitlement. Sure, we had sweatshops and child labor years ago and we also had the shooting of striking coal miners and their families, but let’s face it people – Civil Service, regardless of whether they be teachers, cops or firemen get their pay from the taxpayers and not private industry and should not be allowed to unionize. I walked the bricks on many occasion only to be harassed by the same arrogant cops that today demand that they need a union. Why? so they and their firefighter buddies can retire at 50 with a pension that pays 100% of their salary? Some will say – Well Duh – they’re laying their life on the line for us! Are they? How many die each year? If you want a comparison, ask the ones in the Armed Forces how much they earn and how many die. It’s time we faced reality, these jack-wagons have seen the events in Cairo and think they have a point to make – sadly they only exude ignorance and as they demonstrate, they still draw a salary that the tax payer provides.

Feb 20, 2011 7:11pm EST  --  Report as abuse
whitehaint wrote:
I love it, people being upset that the govt is trying to reduce the strength of unions that are/have bankrupted businesses.

Feb 20, 2011 7:11pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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