Walkerville, Wis., Tent City Splits Political Personalities

Monday, 13 Jun 2011 03:02 PM

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Wisconsin’s newest village — if one can call it that — is named after the governor, although it’s hardly intended as a tribute to Gov. Scott Walker. Rather, Walkerville, which recently won the permission of Madison officials to establish itself as a tent city near the state Capitol, is an enclave of protest of the Republican governor’s policies.

Walkerville, logo,
The logo for Walkerville punches home its message. "Residents" of the tent city are expected to camp through June 20, as the Legislature debates the state budget.
It’s an offshoot of the unofficial, but similarly named, Walkerville that sprung up around the Capitol when thousands of protesters converged on Madison in February and March to protest Walker’s strict budget proposals, most notably ending collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

The initial Walkerville appeared ragtag, more like a shantytown rushed into existence to provide protection from the severe Wisconsin winter. The new tent city, entering its second week of existence, seems more organized and civilized, with dozens of tents housing hundreds of campers in friendlier temperatures. Both are reminiscent of the Hooverville encampments of homeless people named after President Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression.

But some things are different, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Although the encampment “has attracted union leaders, nurses and teachers — many of the same people who loudly but peacefully called the Capitol's marble hallways home four months ago — it also has attracted protesters whose more aggressive tactics stand out,” the newspaper of the state’s capital city observes.

“In the past week, students dressed as zombies interrupted a Special Olympics ceremony featuring Walker before occupying the office of Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, a move that prompted their arrests. Police say others tried to bypass police checkpoints in the Capitol and were arrested,” the paper reported, among other things,” the State Journal reported.

Nearly 20 of the 59 Capitol arrests since protests started in February came since the new Walkerville arose June 4, according to the state Department of Administration. Many were repeat offenders, as the State Journal noted that four protesters have racked up almost one-third of the total Capitol arrests since February.

Many detractors denounce Walkerville as "Entitledtown."

The encampment hasn’t swayed the governor, as a spokesman says Walker the legislative leaders in the Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly “are going to continue to enact pro-jobs and budget-balancing legislation no matter who decides to sleep on the Capitol lawn or dress up as zombies."

But even some Democrats lament some of the over-the-top protest incidents of recent days.

"Sadly, there have been recent instances in the Capitol where enthusiasm to express a difference of opinion has crossed the line and endangered the safety of those working in the Capitol," the State Journal quoted Sen. Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee as saying.

Sen. Robert Jauch, D-Poplar, expressed similar regrets when protesters drowned out lawmakers during a Joint Finance Committee hearing.

Many of those who have taken up residence in Walkerville apologized to Jauch for the behavior when he walked through the encampment.

"People do feel pride in what they're doing and want it to be seen in a positive light," he told the State Journal.

Organizers expect the tent city to continue through June 20, while lawmakers debate the state budget bill. State officials expect big protests this week, the State Journal reported.

Stirring the potential for protests Sunday night was former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, who delivered a rousingly partisan speech at Walkerville.

Republicans "went right for the jugular" when they set out to slash the state budget, today's State Journal quoted him as saying.

"Why are we in a place called Walkerville today?" the State Journal quoted him as saying. "Because we will not stop until we win."

Feingold, who lost his seat in November to Oshkosh businessman Ron Johnson, told tent city residents and visitors that Democrats must marshal their forces to win the majority in the Senate and Assembly and defeat Walker, whom he labeled a Republican Party tool.

Chants of "run, Russ, run" rippled through the crowd, but Feingold didn't address his own political future. He spends his time these days teaching at Marquette University, writing a book, and leading a political action group.

"I got the feeling he'd like to run for governor," Bob Bergman, a machine operator from Oshkosh, told the State Journal.

Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, had told the State Journal in a previous story that there could be large teacher protests at the Capitol during the budget debate, as teachers and students start summer break.

"People are very concerned," she said.

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