Only four short days after recall efforts officially commenced against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, tens of thousands of people rallied Saturday in downtown Madison. Cheers rang around the Capitol Square when organizers announced that over 105,000 signatures were collected over the first four days of the recall.
The rally, organized by We Are Wisconsin, United Wisconsin, and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, was a high-profile kickoff to the campaign to recall Walker. Organizers with these groups announced that more than 40,000 people were in attendance, while the Madison Police Department estimated a count of around 25,000 to 30,000. About 75 to 100 pro-Walker counterprotesters also marched on the Square to show their opposition to the recall.
While the primary focus of the rally was Walker, petition gatherers were also collecting signatures to recall Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and several Republican members of the Wisconsin Senate.
Rally attendees revived cheers and chants from the protests last winter and spring, when unprecedented numbers of protesters swarmed the Capitol daily in response to Walker's ultimately successful push to eliminate the collective bargaining rights for most state employees.
"This is what democracy looks like!" shouted protesters, responding to a speaker asking the crowd to "Show me what democracy looks like!"
In between bouts of singing parodies of popular songs tailored to sound off against the governor, about half a dozen speakers engaged the crowd, all echoing the same sentiment: Walker has got to go.
"[Walker's policies are] why I am here today, and it's why I signed a recall petition earlier -- because Wisconsin simply cannot wait," says Barb Weisenberger. "The man who campaigned on jobs, jobs, jobs is responsible for me losing mine." Weisenberger worked for Community Health Partnership, Inc. in Eau Claire which, in mid-March, announced it was cutting 10% of its workforce in part because of anticipated enrollment caps on state programs in Walker's budget.
University of Wisconsin-Madison student Beth Huang told the crowd that because of substantial funding cuts to the university, it could no longer afford to fund the same number of teaching assistants as it had in the past. This has meant longer waiting lists for classes because there are not enough graduate students available to aid professors.
"Tell the 180,000 students in the UW System that our never-ceasing annual 5.5% tuition increases are worth it when we're wait-listed class after class," said Huang.
And Sun Prairie resident and teacher Heather DuBois Bourenane rejected the governor's contention that through his budget and policies he had provided "tools to make our schools as good or better than they were before."
"This isn't just a lie. It's a slap in the face of every child in every public school in this state," said DuBois Bourenane. "It's a slap in the face of every teacher who cares about those kids, and every parent who just wants to see our schools remain at the top, not shoved to the bottom of a belligerently political agenda."
One demonstrator from Waukesha County, a GOP stronghold, said she began collecting signatures Friday in her home county and her first signers were a local Republican couple.
"It says this recall will be successful," said Roberts. "They voted him in and now they're voting him out."