Undaunted! More Than 100,000 Wisconsinites Rally 'To
Take Our State Back!'
John Nichols | March 12, 2011
"Wow! You go away for a couple of weeks and look at
what happened!" shouted state Senator Jon Erpenbach, as
he surveyed a crowd that organizers estimated at well
over 100,000 that had rallied to welcome home
Wisconsin's dissident senators.
Erpenbach and thirteen other senators fled the state
Capitol in mid-February, when Governor Scott Walker and
his Republican allies were using their legislative
majorities to strip state, county and municipal workers
and teachers of their collective bargaining rights.
That move blocked a vote on the legislation for three
weeks, before the Republicans finally adopted a
"nuclear strategy" to force adoption of the anti-union
While opponents of the bill suffered a momentary
legislative defeat, they enjoyed a dramatic political
victory -- as a mass movement built, attracting hundreds
of thousands of Wisconsinites to mass rallies in
Madison and communities across the state and causing
the collapse of Walker's approval ratings even in
That movement now proposes to recall at least three
Republican state senators who backed the bill, shifting
control of the chamber to the Democrats and restoring a
system of checks and balances to what is now one-party
government in Wisconsin.
Ultimately, the movement seeks to remove Walker from
office. And its plans no longer seem unreasonable, as
poll numbers suggest that the governor would be
defeated by virtually any Democratic challenger in a
The political dynamics are intense, and even the most
optimistic critics of the governor understand that
there is much work to do.
But, on Saturday, they celebrated the return of the
It was a remarkable scene.
Madison Firefighters Local 311 members marched through
the crowd, with pipes and drums blaring. The Rev, Jesse
Jackson, actress Susan Sarandon and actor Tony Shalhoub
(a Wisconsin native) joined the line of march as the
firefighters wove their way through a crowd that filled
the Capitol Square. Outside a hotel opposite the
Capitol, the fourteen senators appeared.
The deafening roars of approval shook Madison's
downtown before the firefighters led the senators
through the crowd to a stage set up at an entrance to
the Capitol. A procession that should have taken
minutes took an hour, and when the group approached the
stage it was almost impossible to move. But, finally,
they arrived to chants of "Thank you! Thank you!"
Their messages, passionate and pointed, suggested
support for the removal of their Republican colleagues
and a sense of solidarity with a movement that has made
the rights of workers central to a broader message
about democratic renewal.
"We are going to take our state back. We are going to
take our rights back," declared state Senator Julie
Lassa, a central Wisconsin Democrat who told the crowd,
"I have never been prouder to be a Wisconsinite."
That was a common sentiment Saturday.
And there was a lot of pride to go around at the
biggest rally yet--a gathering that former Wisconsin
gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey put at close to
It was the largest political rally ever in Madison.
And it was one of the largest pro-labor rallies in
From the start, the numbers have told the story of
Wisconsin's resistance, and its resilience.
The tens of thousands.
The hundreds of thousands .
Wisconsinites from every background, every religion,
every politics and every job have filled the Capitol
Square for the past month.
Their message has been clear and unequivocal. They
oppose Scott Walker's assault on working families. 
They oppose the lawless actions of legislative leaders
who are more determined to advance the governor's
political agenda than to respect their colleagues or to
serve the interests of the whole state.
This has been an exhilarating, frustrating, depressing
and empowering time.
Emotions have soared and collapsed.
But Wisconsinites are a resilient people. Nothing Scott
Walker does to the citizens of the state will be as
long-lasting or meaningful as what those citizens will
do for the state when they remove him--and those who
have supported him--from office.
Wisconsin's resilience is rooted in its traditions.
Wisconsinites learned to work hard in factories and on
Most Wisconsinites can trace their roots to a homestead
on a country road. The is and will always be "America's
Dairyland," a farm state with a regard for those who
work the land.
So when the farmers of Wisconsin arrived Saturday ,
on tractors that rolled in from across the state,
Wisconsinites brought this movement full circle.
The tractorcade, organized by the Wisconsin Farmers
Union  and Family Farm Defenders , began a day of
rallying at the Capitol that drew the largest yet--and
that signaled the determination of Wisconsinites to
keep fighting the Walker agenda.
"The governor wants to divide us," explained western
Wisconsin farmer Joel Greeno, who will ride his tractor
into the Capitol Square this morning. "But that won't
happen. The governor's got his corporate contributors.
But the state employees and the teachers, they've got
us. Farmers understand that when you cut funding for
road crews and schools, our rural communities get hurt.
And we've been hurt enough."
Wisconsin workers and farmers have, in the words of the
tractorcade organizers, decided to "Pull Together!"
That's a slogan that recalls the historic organizing of
the farmer-labor movements of the upper Midwest, which
had their expression in Wisconsin in the Progressive
Party that sent Robert M. La Follette Jr. to the US
Senate and elected Phil La Follette as governor in the
It has been a long time since Wisconsin has been this
united, and since the farmers and workers of the state
have spoken in so loud and clear a voice.
On Saturday, one of the returning senators may have put
it best. Referring to the decision of the senators to
leave for Illinois in order to open up a broader
debate, Bob Jauch, a Democrat from northern Wisconsin
told the crowd: "We did not weaken democracy when we
went to the land of Lincoln. We strengthened it."
Then tens and tens and tens of thousands who were
listening to him roared their approval, chanting what
has become the slogan of the movement: "This is what
democracy looks like!" Like this blog post? Read it on
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