Protestors marched down State Street and into the state House Tuesday as part of a Week of Action commemorating the 17-day occupation of the Capitol building that took place a year ago.
The Capitol was captured first by a Valentine’s Day student-worker march and then by a rally led by Madison Teachers, Inc. later in the afternoon.
The Valentine’s Day march started at the steps of Memorial Union, where protesters held signs criticizing Gov. Scott Walker for the state of the economy and lack of job creation.
Teaching Assistants Association co-president Alex Hanna said people were there Tuesday to commemorate last year’s mass protests against Walker and his controversial budget repair bill and to oppose the $250 million in cuts made to the University of Wisconsin System in the biennial budget, along with a budget lapse that may cut an additional $65 million from the System.
Student labor unions and a 12-piece band led the protest down State Street and into the Capitol to join additional protesters at the middle of the rotunda. As the protesters entered, they dropped dozens of signed “I Still Love UW” valentines into the middle of the rotunda floor. Last year, students marched to Walker’s office on Valentine’s Day to leave valentines that read “We <3 UW. Governor Walker, don’t break my <3.”
Several speakers who followed the group sing-along addressed the need to protect public education in Wisconsin.
Kevin Gundlach, recently elected president of the South Central Federation of Labor, said at the rally it was a shame that on a day of love like Valentine’s Day, the rally would be protesting such large cuts to the Wisconsin’s education system.
Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, criticized the nature of the protests.
“For roughly a year, the halls of the Capitol have been filled with protesters who shout and yell, bang on drums, heckle lawmakers and their staff and generally try their best to disrupt government proceedings,” Knodl said in a statement.
Knodl added while the right to free speech is paramount, he questioned the Capitol’s decision to tolerate adults who he claimed routinely scream obscenities at elected lawmakers.
During the Madison Teachers, Inc. rally later Tuesday afternoon, fewer than 100 protesters marched around the Capitol and heard several speeches, including one from Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison.
Pocan thanked the teachers for showing up at the rally and told a story of how the 17-day occupation of the Capitol began a year ago.
Pocan said as Capitol security escorted the protesters out for the night during one of the occupation protests, a security guard whom he did not want to name came to him and said that if the legislators scheduled a hearing, the Capitol could stay open.
Seconds later, the meetings were scheduled and the protests continued for the next 17 days.
“It’s not just the attacks on collective bargaining,” Pocan said, “but also the … cuts to education throughout the state and a 30 percent reduction in funding to tech schools.”
The Week of Action is scheduled to end Feb. 19 with a statewide planning session called the “WisConvocation,” where participants will deliberate on issues and formulate proposals for candidates to use in the upcoming recall elections.