The state capitol building in Madison, Wis. had two faces Saturday, Feb. 19.
On one side, the union supporters gathered. People with megaphones chanted and pontificated.
“It’s time to stop these budget cuts,” one man yelled. “It’s time to tax the rich.” A speaker led the crowd in a song.
“We are the union, the mighty, mighty union.”
On the south side of the building, the Tea Party rally was beginning.
In the coffee shops surrounding the capitol, supporters of both sides gathered to grab a bite to eat and a hot drink to warm their hands.
Amy Almendinger and Ann Scharfenberg, two New Richmond, Wis. high school teachers, arrived in Madison on Friday evening. Scharfenberg, who teaches economics, said that she thinks that what’s happening at the capitol is too important to watch on TV.
“I’m fighting for my community,” she said.
Alemndinger, an English teacher, agreed.
“It’s an issue for everyone. It’s going to affect everyone,” said Almendinger, who was attending the rally with her son.
Scharfenberg said that she thinks Governor Scott Walker still isn’t listening to what the union supporters are saying. She says he is still talking about money, but to her, it’s not about the money. It’s about the ability for meaningful negotiation, she said.
To have a voice taken away hurts everybody, Almendinger said. She mentioned that the protests during the past week have had a bigger turnout than the Vietnam War protests.
“This is an education right here,” Alemendinger said.
Steve Hamill is a stock analyst for a mutual fund, and a supporter of the Tea Party. His group was gathering on the other side of the capitol.
“I’ve been involved in Republican campaigns in the past,” he said. He’s a big supporter of Governor Walker and his campaign. He helped to organize a trip to Madison to show his support.
“There are very few options when you look at how big our deficit is,” he said. He believes that the benefits packages for union workers have gotten too large and supports them being cut.
“I appreciate and understand that this is going to cost the union workers money,” Hamill said. But, he added, taxpayers can only afford so much. He believes they have reached the limit.
Ray and Suzette Lenzen, from River Falls, are both self-employed. He works as a contractor and landlord, and she’s a medical transcriptionist. They took a bus to Madison the morning of Feb. 19 with Hamill to join with the Tea Party supporters.
“We’re watching democracy in action,” said Ray. He said that the people in political office are carrying out what they were sent to do. His wife agreed.
“Our state is basically bankrupt. Something has to give a little,” she said. Her voice was drowned out as supporters began to chant.
“Pass the bill! Pass the bill!”
Protests and rallies in Madison have been going since Feb. 14. Jesse Jackson came and spoke Feb. 18, and the next day saw Herman Cain and several others speak at the rally in support of Governor Walker.