Three days of protests in Madison

It happened in an instant. Protests exploded at the Wisconsin State Capitol after Senate Republicans removed fiscal provisions from Governor Walker’s bill that stripped most collective bargaining rights from most public employees.  For weeks, the bill had been stalled by 14 Senate Democrats who had fled the state to avoid voting on the bill.  However, with the fiscal provisions removed, the Senate Republicans were free to pass the bill and send it to the Governor and that’s what they did.  In seconds, Twitter and Facebook lit up and thousands of protesters stormed the Capitol.  That’s about the same time I got the call from News Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl asking if I wanted to come down to Madison to help cover the unfolding events with him.  It was a no-brainer.  Less than an hour later we started our six hour journey to Madison.

A little background.  Wisconsin Governor Walker is cutting local aid to cities and counties along with schools on levels never seen before in Wisconsin.  He believes these cuts are necessary to finally balance a budget without fiscal and accounting tricks used by previous administrations.  Part of this process is stripping the collective bargaining rights from public employees so that they can only negotiate on things such as salary.  Asking the public employees to pay more for their pensions and health care will bring those employees more in line with what the private sector pays says the Governor and stripping collective bargaining rights will give the tools municipalities need to combat the impending cuts.  Union workers and Democrats say this is a way to bust unions while delivering a powerful blow to Democrats’ fundraising sources.

I had been following the protests for a couple weeks and really wanted to go down there.  The first week of the protests I was in Las Vegas at WPPI International.  The second week things appeared to be dying down and then this happened.  We arrived in Madison early Thursday morning and got to work.  The first day was the longest and most chaotic.  With an estimated 600 protesters still in the building, they had to be cleared for security purposes before the Assembly met to approve the amended bill.  Most of them were holed up in the antechamber blocking access to the Assembly chamber.  After a couple hours of intense negotiating by Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs and with no end in sight to the protestors’ plans to block the chamber, Wisconsin State Troopers began forcibly removing protesters one-by-one.  This went on for over an hour until the antechamber was clear.  There was a lot of yelling and angry shouting, but no violence.

The trick to walking through 80,000 tightly packed people is to walk where it's really muddy. I'm sorry shoes.

The second day was the calmest and the only big item on the agenda was Governor Walker performing a ceremonial signing of the bill in front of the media.  After he used his 26 pens (no exaggeration) to sign the bill, he addressed the media for about 30 minutes before leaving.  The entire time he was in the conference room addressing the media, hundreds of protestors gathered outside to scream and yell.  At this point, it was time to send images back to the newspaper and then prepare for what was supposed to be the largest rally yet.

We got up early Sunday and made our way to the Capitol only to find the press room locked.  At 8a.m. when the doors to the Capitol opened, protesters began taking up spots in the rotunda and making their presence known.  At 10:30, tractors began a parade around the Capitol square driven by farmers supporting the union workers.  From the early morning until early afternoon, people kept entering the Capitol square until it was shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets around the entire square.  The 14 Democratic Senators were also supposed to make their return to the Capitol and march around.  That happened at 2pm and started at the Inn on the Park.

This was probably the most chaotic part of the day for me by far.  Thousands of people wanted to put their hands on these Senators and shake their hands and give them props.  The police were only able to open a path about 15 feet wide for them to march and on each side were police and other security.  It took them about 45 minutes to walk around the square and the entire time I was walking backwards running into police, protesters and tripping backwards over wheelchairs.  At one point, I was walking backwards and turned around and immediately ran into the Rev. Jesse Jackson.  With a giant smile on his face, he shoved me aside.  Not everyday that happens.  He walked along with the 14 Democratic Senators until they reached the State Street side of the Capitol and each gave a fiery speech.  When all the speeches by the Senators were done, it was time to file and begin the trip back to Duluth.  I was supposed to get a lot of images of Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) as he is in the News Tribune’s coverage area and I was pretty happy with what I was able to come away with of Jauch and everything else during a very chaotic day.

It was a long three days, but definitely fun to be back in the photojournalist mode covering a historic news event.  Enjoy.

 

Farmer Joe Mathers of Fitchburg, Wisc. waves a flag while driving around the square of the Wisconsin State Capitol Saturday morning in Madison, Wisc.

Assembly minority leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) holds a lighter to the a book containing the laws of the congressional procedure while accusing Assembly Republicans of running amok of those laws Thursday afternoon at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

Union protesters march around the inside of the Wisconsin State Capitol Friday morning before Gov. Scott Walker signed his budget repair bill in Madison, Wisc.

A protester refuses to get up after being hauled out of the room outside the Assembly chambers by the Wisconsin State Patrol Thursday morning at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

LEFT: Wisconsin State Patrol officers pull a protester from the room outside the Assembly chamber before the Assembly convened Thursday morning at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc. RIGHT: Protesters stand outside the Wisconsin State Capitol Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisc.

Representative Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson) yells at Representative Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc, not pictured) about his vote for Governor Walker's collective bargaining bill Thursday morning at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

Wisconsin State Patrol officers pull a protester from the room outside the Assembly chamber before the Assembly convened Thursday morning at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

Democrat representatives Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse, middle), Donna Seidel (D-Wausau, to the left of Shilling) and Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton, furthest right) attempt to fist bump a protester after they were hauled out of the hallway leading to the Assembly speaker's room Thursday morning at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

Angry protesters shout outside the Governor's conference room shortly after Gov. Scott Walker signed his budget repair bill Friday afternoon at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) high fives supporters after assembly debate over Governor Walker's collective bargaining bill ended Thursday afternoon at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

Wayne Neis (left) and his wife Pat Neis (right) of Benton, Wisc. show their dismay after Gov. Scott Walker signed the budget repair bill into law Friday afternoon at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

A copy of the budget repair bill awaits signatures from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Friday afternoon at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

Surrounded by supporters, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs a copy of the budget repair bill Friday afternoon during a ceremonial bill signing at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisc. Immediately to Walker's left is state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Surrounded by supporters, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs a copy of the budget repair bill Friday afternoon during a ceremonial bill signing at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisc.

Wisconsin State Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs (2nd from right) convinces protesters Neporsha Hamlin (left), Yaman Amer (2nd from left) and David Vines (right) to leave the Capitol peacefully Thursday evening in Madison, Wisc.

LEFT: The Orpheum on State Street in Madison, Wisc. makes light of the protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol. RIGHT: Lissa McLaughlin of Madison, Wisc. attempts to put a shirt over the statue of Civil War hero Hans C. Heg during protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol Saturday morning in Madison, Wisc.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson made an appearance at the protests in Madison, Wisc.

From left: Wisconsin State Senators Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point), Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) wave to supporters minutes after exiting their vans and stepping onto the Capitol square for the first time 22 days Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisc.

Senate minority leader Mark Miller (D-Monona) reacts to supporters after stepping onto the Capitol square for the first time in 22 days Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisc. Miller and 13 other Senate Democrats fled the state to stall a budget bill by Republican Gov. Scott Walker that stripped most collective bargaining rights from public employees.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson (center) marches with Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison, right) after Risser and 13 other Senate Democrats stepped onto the Capitol square for the first time in 22 days Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisc.

Wisconsin State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) walks through a crowd of supporters to cheers and applause after stepping onto the Capitol square for the first time in 22 days Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisc.

Protesters flood the Capitol square on Saturday afternoon during the third week of protests against Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill that would strip most collective bargaining rights from most public employees.

Protesters shout during speeches outside the Wisconsin State Capitol Saturday afternoon in Madison, Wisc.

A large crowd estimated at over 80,000 gathers on the square outside the Wisconsin State Capitol Saturday afternoon to listen to speeches by Senate Democrats and to protest the passage of Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill in Madison, Wisc.