It is unlikely a state Capitol building would ever be mistaken for a sports arena, but on Thursday the Wisconsin Capitol building was rocking like the Kohl Center as thousands of people flocked to Madison to protest Governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget bill.
The Capitol echoed with chants of “kill this bill” and “this is what democracy looks like,” loud applause, and the banging of drums.
The loudest moment of the day occurred just after noon when it was announced that the 14 Democratic state senators had fled the Capitol, delaying a vote on the budget bill.
If a vote is held, the bill will likely pass with ease as Republicans outnumber Democrats 19-14. But as long the Democrats remain absent, no vote can be held per senate rules that state 20 senators must be present.
While most of the red-clad protesters were members of the public unions being threatened in the bill, members of private unions also joined the protests in solidarity.
As night fell, over 50 uniformed members of the Madison Fire Department marched behind their bagpipe band down the streets surrounding the Capitol before entering the rotunda to boisterous applause.
The protests also drew many high school and college students, most of whom had their classes cancelled as teachers across the state called into work sick so they could protest.
Seniors Alex Dorn, Doug Krapf, Christian Foster and Connor Kelly of Waunakee High School wanted to support their teachers.
“It’s been an amazing experience, so glad we came here,” said Dorn.
For Dorn and his classmates, the bill also hit home. Dorn is the son of two state workers who are union members.
“My mom is a teacher, I came to support her. She does so much for me and her students, it’s only right I try to do something for her,” said Krapf.
“My mom is a state worker, and she deserves better than this,” said Foster.
While Connor Kelly did not have any family members affected by the bill, he still had a strong opinion.
“I’m here to support the underpaid and the under-appreciated,” said Kelly. “Making state workers take pay cuts is the wrong way to help the budget. There are ways to help without hurting education.”
The protesters are being heard loud and clear in the governor’s offices, said Patrick Roetker, a policy assistant for Gov. Walker.
“It’s been crazy, we can definitely hear everything in our offices, but we’ve just been trying to do our normal work,” said Roetker. “We expected some backlash, and we planned for it, but we didn’t expect this.”
I wrote this story in Feb. 2011 for my advanced reporting class at UW-Madison. I’m covered the Sherman neighborhood of Madison, WI.