Calf muscles and political passions were burning Thursday as more than a hundred activists marched down State Street backward to symbolize the direction they perceive the country to be headed under President George W. Bush.
Starting at Library Mall and ending at the steps of the state Capitol, the protesters strutted in reverse while holding signs decrying Bush for job loss and environmental destruction during his time in the White House.
At the Capitol, numerous speakers promoted Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as a man who would create jobs and restore environmental protections.
“If you can walk 12 blocks backwards, we can spend the next 12 days looking forward and getting a new president and a new vice president and getting our nation on track for jobs and the environment,” Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk said.
Falk boasted a clean environment can co-exist with a dynamic economy. She said Bush, through outsourcing jobs and breaking with the Kyoto Treaty, has failed on both measures.
“We have proven in Wisconsin that the only way to live is having good-paying jobs and a clean environment,” Falk, a former environmental lawyer, said.
Wisconsin AFL-CIO President David Newby pleaded with the crowd, comprised largely of college students, to reject Bush’s ownership society, which he blamed for ruining a sense of community throughout the country.
Noting that most pre-election polls do not include college students, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said young voters have the potential to shake up the presidential race. He accused Republicans, such as Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, of trying to stifle the young vote by withholding ballots.
“[Walker] says that having all these new people register to vote is ‘an invitation to voter fraud,’” Pope said. “His solution … had a certain elegance to it, I have to acknowledge. It was: don’t print enough ballots, because ballots, he said, are an invitation to voter fraud.”
To stimulate job growth, Pope suggested Bush highlight just one policy — the promotion of renewable sources of energy.
Renewable energy would create “jobs that make our air clean, our soldiers safer, our economy more robust and make America a 21st-century leader,” Pope said.
The speakers at the rally limited their Bush-bashing to jobs and the environment, two areas in which the president has proven to be weak in polls.
College Republicans responded with a display of support for Bush later Thursday afternoon when a small group holding Bush/Cheney signs emerged on the pedestrian walkway above University Avenue.
Frank Hennick, vice-chair of Students for Bush, suggested the anti-Bush protesters should have kept their eyes on the Capitol.
“It’s certainly a little off-kilter and a little out-of-touch with reality based on the fact the economy has been on the rebound and America is headed in the right direction,” Hennick said. “While keeping in mind that the presidency has a limited hand to play when handling the economy, you do have to recognize the fact Bush’s tax cuts have had a significant role in helping to stimulate a rebound.”