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70,000 rally in Wisconsin capital

Feb. 26, 2011 at 9:27 PM   |   Comments

MADISON, Wis., Feb. 26 (UPI) -- An estimated 70,000 protesters rallied in Madison, Wis., Saturday in another show of opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's effort to curtail public employee unions.

It was the second straight weekend huge crowds filled the streets around the Capitol building to try to sway the state's Republican-majority Legislature not to pass a bill pushed by walker that would end most collective bargaining rights, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

A string of speakers, including union and religious leaders, and rank-and-file public workers, exhorted the crowd, which chanted "We are Wisconsin!" as a light snow fell, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

One -- 30-year-old Madison nurse Angela Aldous -- drew a figurative line in the snow for Walker.

"Governor Walker, I'm not faking this Wisconsin accent," Aldous said. "I was born in Wisconsin. I live in Wisconsin. And I came back early from my ice-fishing trip to tell you, 'You are not going to crush Wisconsin.'"

She then led the crowd in a chant: "We are Wisconsin."

Activist folk singer Peter Yarrow and actor Bradley Whitford lent an air of celebrity to the day by showing up to support the protesters.

The Milwaukee newspaper said Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona, said Saturday he had spoken with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, to try to work out a compromise.

"We continue to seek a resolution to this impasse," said Miller, who with other Senate Democrats are out-of-state to prevent Republicans from pushing through the bill. "We have been communicating on a daily basis with our Republican colleagues."

The "governor is the key to solving this," Miller said.

The pro-union forces have had a daily presence at the Capitol, but beginning Sunday, they will no longer be allowed to sleep overnight in the building, officials said. Additionally, protesters must leave the building by 4 p.m. Sunday so it can be cleaned, the Journal Sentinel reported. Beginning Saturday protesters were prevented from bringing mattresses and blankets into the building.

"We are closing the Capitol for a short period of time for public health reasons, as well as for general building maintenance," state Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said.

Thousands of demonstrators have occupied the building for nearly two weeks, protesting Walker's budget-repair plans.

"There's an interest by Capitol police, by the end of the weekend, to consider start going back to normal business hours at the capitol," Walker said Friday.

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, disagreed with the decision to close the building.

In a statement, Palmer said, "the protesters are cleaning up after themselves and have not caused any problems."

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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