By Lindsey Seavert, WCCO-TV
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Saturday brought what may be the largest protest yet in Madison, one day after Gov. Scott Walker signed a divisive law that eliminated most union rights for public employees.
Thirteen of the 14 Democratic state senators who left Wisconsin to block the vote returned to speak before demonstrators.
Among the throngs of protesters were approximately 150 teachers with Education Minnesota. The group boarded buses early Saturday outside the Minnesota Capitol in what they called a move to stand in solidarity with Wisconsin educators.
“I am going today because the middle class needs to be saved. Teachers especially need to be able to bargain collectively,” said Myrna Doran, a retired educator from Osseo District 279.
Madison Police estimated the crowd at 85,000. Among the thousands, farmers barreled outside the Capitol on a brigade of tractors. They said Walker’s new law removing collective bargaining rights impacts their prices and access to farmland.
Some carried signs for what they call the “Fabulous 14”, after the Democratic senators who emerged from hiding with harsh words at a press conference before marching with the crowds.
“Eighteen Republican senators stole democracy from the state of Wisconsin and the people of Wisconsin,” said Sen. Spencer Coggs D-Wis.
“We left for democracy and we’re not apologizing for that at all. We did it for the right reasons and the people have picked up the banner and I couldn’t be prouder,” said Sen. Dave Hansen D-Wis.
Walker maintains his plan is necessary to prevent layoffs, and expects more public support with a more efficient government.
Minnesota teachers said that with the new law, public workers have lost their voice.
“Because the conditions that we work in are the conditions that the students learn in,” said teacher Bruce Mulder of ISD 287 in the western Twin Cities. “I think it’s an overreach on the Governor’s part and we are hoping we can undo it.”
The Democrats say they’ll now shift their energy toward recall efforts already underway against some Republican colleagues. Some Democrats also are facing recall efforts.