Protesters Return To State Capitol

Protesters gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday, one year after massive protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill started.

The budget repair bill led to changes in collective bargaining rights for unions and changed the landscape of Wisconsin politics.

The Valentine’s Day rally, organized by Madison Teachers Inc., lasted about 45 minutes, with a few hundred protesters coming from many parts of the state.

The protesters marched, chanted and heard from several speakers, all with the same message — that the Walker administration is attacking teachers and schools.

Several teachers at the rally said they never saw themselves as especially political, but they said the legislation introduced one year ago hit too close to home.

“This was personal because it’s our kids; it’s our future. Children are our future, and we need to be supporting them,” said Angie Kirst, of Beaver Dam.

“What I remember so fondly being out here a year ago was how you’d just be in a crowd and a parent would come up to you and say, ‘Oh, you’re so and so, and we really appreciate what you do,'” said Jessica Hotz, a teacher at Madison East High School.

It was one year ago Tuesday when some of the largest crowds took over the Capitol building and the Capitol Square in protest of the governor’s bill.

Hotz protested on Tuesday afternoon, but was also a part of the crowds of protesters last year. For Hotz, and many others, attending rallies and becoming active in political movements was new.

“It’s been really, really sad, but it’s also been really inspiring to see people get out,” Hotz said.

On the other side of the issue, tea party member Todd Osborne said he was also energized by the political developments that started a year ago.

“The last year really polarized me more so than anything else,” Osborne said.

Osborne said he suddenly found himself attending tea party rallies and becoming an activist, because of what he saw happening inside and outside the state Capitol.

“The fire was always there,” Osborne said. “But it kind of took all of the screaming, the yelling, the fighting that happened this year to really get me fired up to become a more activist type person.”

Osborne said his support for Walker has grown — not because of Walker himself but because of protesters. Amid all the yelling and protesting, Osborne said something had to be done.

“I don’t think balancing a budget, I don’t think minor contributions to pensions or paying 1/8 of an insurance policy is worthy of a recall,” Osborne said.

Osborne said everyone has a right to an opinion — and the freedom to share it — but he said the way the left has done that over the last year has been the fuel he’s needed for motivation.

Meanwhile, those at Tuesday’s rally said they are not backing down, and their message remains the same.

Another group, the Teaching Assistants Association, marked the day with a gathering in front of the Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

They marched from the Memorial Union, to the Capitol, announcing their continued defense of public education. Those at the rally said it was also a time to reflect on the year that was.

“It was amazing to see what it did. It brought so many different people together. It brought students, brought public sector workers, private sector workers, police, firefighters, everybody came together. It was a kind of a solidarity I hadn’t seen before,” said Alex Hanna, a graduate student who attended the rally.

Protesters joined a solidarity sing along at the Capitol, and speakers addressed the recent budget lapse cut to the UW System of an additional $46.1 million.