Wis. Capitol Becomes A Stage For Demonstrators Demonstrators are keeping up their nearly weeklong protests in Madison, Wis., amid anger about a plan by Republican Gov. Scott Walker to take away collective bargaining rights for many public employees. Legislators have abandoned the Capitol, and so has the governor, turning the building into something of a giant performance space.
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Wis. Capitol Becomes A Stage For Demonstrators

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Wis. Capitol Becomes A Stage For Demonstrators

Wis. Capitol Becomes A Stage For Demonstrators

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. Im Liane Hansen.

In Madison, Wisconsin, where legislators remain deadlocked over a plan to balance the state budget, demonstrators continue their nearly weeklong protests. They're angry about a plan by Republican Governor Scott Walker to take away collective bargaining rights for many public employees. Yesterday, for the first time, supporters of the governor's measure showed up in large numbers.

From Madison, NPR's Larry Abramson reports.

LARRY ABRAMSON: Supporters of Governor Walker, tired of listening to a week of pro-union, anti-Walker rhetoric, brought in some Tea Party firepower. Joe the Plumber stopped by to salute the crowd, and other conservative activists made it clear they were here to turn this issue into a national platform.

Ned Ryun, of the national group American Majority told the crowd they are on the leading edge of a movement that is already rippling across Ohio, Indiana and other states.

Mr. NED RYUN (President, American Majority): I want to thank Governor Walker for leading the charge, together with other fiscally conservative leaders from across this country to stop this death spiral of spending and government excess that is crippling our economy.

(Soundbite of protesters)

ABRAMSON: Day after day last week, union leaders and their members had characterized Walker's so-called budget repair bill as a mean-spirited attack on working families, because it would cancel many public workers' right to bargain over anything but wages. But on Saturday, protesters poured in from more conservative parts of the state to argue the plan would help their families.

State Treasurer Kurt Schuller said that the Governor is just trying to spread the pain that everyone is feeling.

Mr. KURT SCHULLER (Treasurer, Wisconsin): And so while the rest of Wisconsin has been going through three years of layoffs, increasing health insurance premiums, cut hours, our state employees have been largely untouched and we have two Wisconsins.

ABRAMSON: One local remarked he'd never seen so many conservatives gathered at one time in notoriously progressive Madison.

Unidentified Woman: Thank you, teachers. Thank you, public sector.

ABRAMSON: But before the sun set, most Walker supporters went home. And union forces owned the streets once again, marching around and around the capitol building.

On the curb, teacher Leah Gustafson held a sign.

Ms. LEAH GUSTAFSON (Teacher): My sign says: Scott, your son is in my class - I teach him, I protect him, I inspire him.

ABRAMSON: Gustafson says she teaches Governor Walker's son in a school outside Milwaukee. Like much of organized labor, Gustafson says she accepts the need to pay more for pensions and in health care.

Ms. GUSTAFSON: I get that. I understand that, and I am more than willing to do that. But it's the bargaining rights that really scare me. I'm afraid that if we lose our bargaining rights, we're not going to be able to get teachers to start teaching.

ABRAMSON: Teachers across the state came here and shut down many schools last week. Madison teachers meet today to discuss when they will return. Anti-union forces say the teachers' job action demonstrates the need to curtail their power.

(Soundbite of protesters chanting, This is what democracy looks like)

ABRAMSON: Legislators have abandoned the Capitol, so has the governor. So the building has turned into what amounts to a giant performance space.

(Soundbite of protesters chanting, This is what democracy looks like)

ABRAMSON: Democratic legislators continue to stay out of sight. Without them, Governor Walker appears unable to pass his bill. Yet without negotiations, Democrats cannot force a compromise. So while the legislative process stalls, politics by other means continues in the streets and in the hallways.

Larry Abramson, NPR News, Madison, Wisconsin.

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