Chicagoans show support for Wis. protesters

February 26, 2011 4:11:23 PM PST
People rallied in solidarity with protesting Wisconsin workers in downtown Chicago Saturday afternoon.

Hundreds gathered at the Thompson Center to speak out against the Wisconsin bill that would take away the collective bargaining rights of state workers.

This all is happening as another protest is held inside and outside the state capitol in Madison Saturday. The protests in Wisconsin have now raged for nearly two weeks.

The spending plan proposed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continues to spark emotional demonstrations.

"Ya'll ready to save the American dream. Then why don't you scream so loud that they can hear you all the way in Madison, Wisconsin," said William McNary, Citizen Action Illinois.

Chicagoans gathered outside the Thompson Center as the tense standoff over Walker's budget repair bill continues.

It proposes to strip most public employees of their collective bargaining rights among other things.

"Governor Walker's agenda in Wisconsin goes way beyond the budget. He's trying to destroy a basic American right," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., at Saturday's rally.

Walker insists his state is broke and says his plan is needed to ease a deficit projected to hit $137 million by July and $3.6 billion by mid-2013.

But unions believe Republican Leaders and the conservative billionaires who support Walker are trying to eliminate them.

"The Koch brothers are determined to have a world without unions where people are left defenseless and working people have no voice," said Roberta Lynch, AFSCME Local 31.

Demonstrators again flocked to the state capitol for a 12th straight day, after the Wisconsin State Assembly approved the budget measure.

It now goes to the Senate where 14 Democratic lawmakers fled the state to prevent a vote on the bill.

Walker threatened to begin laying-off some 1,500 public employees if the Senate does not pass the bill by the end of the week.

A vote can only happen if at least one of the Democratic senators returns to create a quorum for a vote, and during a visit to Operation Push, Democratic Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor says it will not be her.

"We believe in protecting the rights of people. His agenda is wrong for Wisconsin and we're standing with the people," Taylor said.

For JinJa Davis Birkenbeuel, however, the showdown means much more.

"He's only 6 years old, but he's got to know what happening here," Birkenbeuel said.

At least one major state employer -- the schools -- has already begun sending out preliminary layoff notices.

Republicans hope their colleagues on the other side of the aisle will be compelled to return to Wisconsin soon.

Meanwhile, Republican leaders in several other states have softened their attacks on public employee unions in an effort to avert the demonstrations that have gripped Madison.