Interest groups square off at budget rally
Post by Katjusa Cisar on 10/18/2007 7:06am
While the state budget stand-off continued inside the Capitol today, Wisconsin citizens battled each other outside on the steps. Insults and cheers volleyed loudly between a rally of anti-tax conservatives and a counter-protest made up mainly of unionized workers.
Americans for Prosperity helped bus in people from as far away as Rhinelander for the anti-tax rally. The Ã¢â‚¬Å“free market grassroots groupÃ¢â‚¬Â also brought in speakers, including an African-American single mother from Milwaukee, conservative blogger Fred Dooley and radio talk show host Vicki McKenna.
Mark Block, the organizationÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Wisconsin director, estimates that 800 people showed up for the rally, but others put that number at about 400. By all accounts, at least twice as many staged the counter-protest.
The two groups of citizens were divided by police tape. Capitol police questioned anyone who didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t appear to be with the press or with Americans for Prosperity before they were allowed inside the anti-tax rally. People wearing green AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) union shirts were denied entrance.
Paul Reese, a machinist from Waukesha, said he came to the Americans for Prosperity rally because he heard about it on Vicki McKennaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s radio show. Since he and his wife are expecting a baby soon, he said he is even more concerned about money and the government Ã¢â‚¬Å“wasting it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In my personal belief, poverty is a good thing. It gets me up in the morning and to work. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a myth that people here donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have health care. Canada is sending their pregnant women here to have premature babies,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
On the other side of a strip of police Ã¢â‚¬Å“Do not crossÃ¢â‚¬Â tape, Rick Gutierrez said he wants to see the budget pass soon, doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want his health care benefits to change and wants to see health care extended to all people. He worries about the future of his children and grandchildren.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re all making under ten dollars an hour. They donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have health care. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m taking care of it for them, but pretty soon itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to run out because IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be under the ground,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Gutierrez, an electrician and business representative in the electrical workers union of Milwaukee.
Josh Prather came for the rally with a group of fellow students at Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown. He said the proposed budget is Ã¢â‚¬Å“ridiculous as far as health care.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s taking away your personal choice. Fifteen-year-olds can now go get things done so they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have kids and they can do it without parental consent. It costs the government way too much money,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Kelda Helen Roys, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, who was standing in the counter-protest ring around the rally said such concerns have nothing to do with tax increases, since birth control programs for teens already exist. But these programs are being threatened by the stalled budget: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Wisconsin stands to lose millions of dollars in federal funds to provide healthcare for low income women. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re talking about basic cancer screening, pap smears, things that really save the state a lot of money. And the Republicans in the assembly are willing to sacrifice the health of young women who are receiving the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver and other low income services to protect their friends in the big oil and big tobacco industries from paying their far share of taxes.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Jake Jacobson and Gretchen Wheat were standing on the outskirts of the counter-protest holding signs and said they came Ã¢â‚¬Å“just as concerned citizens.Ã¢â‚¬Â Both are involved in the local theatre company Mercury Players, which Jacobson said is being affected by the budget impasse. The company received a grant from a state agency but the money is being held until the budget passes, he said.
Vicki MeKenna was the last speaker with Americans for Prosperity and got the anti-tax crowd fired up before they dispersed.
Referring to the threat that some University of Wisconsin campuses may be forced to close down second semester if the budget doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t pass, she said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“If we need that much money to have our kids study foosball and modern dance at the UW, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care if they close. They want to tax everything in my life, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. My beer, my cigarettesÃ¢â‚¬Â¦How much before none of us can afford to open the door to go to bed?Ã¢â‚¬Â
With these words hanging in the air, Vicki McKenna threw pink stuffed pigs at the crowd.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I want a pig! I want a pig!Ã¢â‚¬Â yelled Josh Prather, the Maranatha student.
Lee GreenwoodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s country song Ã¢â‚¬Å“God Bless the USAÃ¢â‚¬Â played on loudspeakers as the crowd left the Capitol steps. The smell of cigar smoke wafted through the air.
Scott Jackson, of Janesville, stood on a bench holding a sign that said Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gassholes,Ã¢â‚¬Â with the SÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s crossed to make dollar signs. He had glued photos of George Bush and Dick Cheney onto the sign.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Think for yourselves!Ã¢â‚¬Â he yelled at the anti-tax crowd.
A woman wearing a gem-encrusted American flag pin on her lapel yelled back, Ã¢â‚¬Å“DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you know that gasoline is the life blood of the economy?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Asked to respond, Jackson said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know how to dignify that. It speaks for itself.Ã¢â‚¬Â
All photos by Mark Sadowski.