The voices of University of Wisconsin staff members, students and community members shouting “Kill this bill” reverberated through the Capitol rotunda Monday as nearly 1,100 protesters marched down State Street to the governor’s office door.
The event, organized by the Teaching Assistants’ Association, included handing off thousands of valentines reading “I heart UW, Governor Walker, don’t break my heart,” signed by UW students and faculty members in opposition to potential state budget cuts for the university.
The ranks of the protesters continued to swell throughout the march from Memorial Union to the steps of the Capitol. Organizers distributed homemade signs and flags and led chants in support of union rights as the masses entered the building and began the approach to Gov. Scott Walker’s office.
Though TAA members had hoped to hand-deliver their tokens of affection for UW, Walker did not make an appearance.
Magda Konieczna, TAA member, said though the event began as a statement in opposition to a reduction in university funding, efforts were reoriented following Walker’s announcement for the budget repair bill Friday.
The proposal would eliminate extensive collective bargaining rights for state employees, including many UW faculty, staff and other unionized laborers.
UW law student and TAA event organizer Peter Rickman said the rally is the beginning of many events in the coming days to organize public service workers and students against the bill.
“It’s really exciting to see students mobilizing alongside public service members,” he said. “We’re focused on making sure our voices are heard in saying that this bill is the wrong thing for folks in Wisconsin.”
Rickman added another main objective remains to influence members of the state Legislature who are undecided on the bill.
UW sophomore and campus activist Max Love said though the proposed bill most directly weakens the unions, the potentially detrimental effects for UW have sparked involvement from students seeking to directly influence policymaking.
“The quality of our institutions would suffer if this bill passes,” Love said. “This is a student cause, and we’re seeing a lot of people who really care about this issue.”
Love also said the proposed bill would directly affect students because TAs and professors will likely sustain the equivalent of a 5.2 percent wage decrease if they lose the ability to collectively bargain for benefits.
Markus Nevil, a UW sophomore who attended the rally, said students and members of the campus community stand to gain nothing from the signing of the bill but stand to cede major concessions.
He said though the issue will affect employees and citizens across the state, student services and activities would likely suffer as an indirect result of Walker’s proposal.
“The student body is such a powerful force, and we can contribute one of the strongest voices around that can do something about it,” Nevil said.
Rickman said thousands of students and union members from around the state will rally on the Capitol Square today at noon and on Wednesday. Public meetings in the home districts of “swing senators” are also planned before the scheduled vote in the Legislature on Thursday.
Rickman added TAA and other groups are focusing efforts on events before the vote and are not yet considering strikes or acts of civil disruption if the bill is passed.