Janesville Gazette: Occupy protests hit UW-Whitewater
By Kevin Hoffman
WHITEWATER — Occupy Whitewater protesters faced off against supporters of Gov. Scott Walker at the university’s library mall Thursday, where dozens of people petitioned for his recall.
More than 100 people took part in the demonstrations, which began around 3 p.m. It remained peaceful when a counter rally organized by the UW-Whitewater College Republicans arrived hours later.
Occupy Whitewater was put together last week by students and faculty in the spirit of the Occupy movements taking place across the nation. The groups say they oppose wealth disparity and corporate influence in politics.
A handful of students planned to brave the overnight temperatures, sleeping in about five tents set up along Main Street. They expected to end the protest this morning.
“We want people to know by doing this occupy event, it’s not only cities like New York and large cities like that that can do this,” said Bryant Plank, co-chair of the UW-W College Democrats. “Small cities like Whitewater can accomplish just as much, and let your voice be heard just as much as they are.”
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Reps. Peter Barca and Andy Jorgensen spoke to students for more than an hour, calling for more collaboration among state legislators. The three mostly talked about collective bargaining, cuts to education and health care.
“When Gov. Walker introduced the budget repair bill, he declared war on the state of Wisconsin,” Jorgensen said.
Mike Farina, a graduate student and Walker supporter, said he didn’t disagree entirely with the Occupy movement. Tying that in with efforts to recall the governor just didn’t make sense, he said.
“Scott Walker has nothing to do with that,” Farina said. “When you look at what’s been going on with the state, there’s a sense of recovery relative to what’s been going on nationwide.”
Graduate student Brian DelVecchio called the demonstration “a waste of time.”
“A lot of people are out here protesting big corporations and corporate greed,” he said. “What they don’t understand is that big corporations, look how many people are employed and look how many jobs they have. You take big corporations out of the picture and people lose their investments, and people are out of work.”
Erpenbach drew the biggest reaction from the crowd—cheers and boos—likely resulting from his decision to flee Wisconsin with 13 other senators to slow Walker’s agenda. He said debate at the Capitol has been “cordial, good but one-sided” since he returned.
Eric Compas, a geography and geology professor, told the small crowd it’s time to take a stand. As students walked by, protesters waved signs and handed out fliers urging them to fight back against policies favoring the wealthiest Americans.
“You got a new line that’s got to be drawn,” Compas said. “Not between the right or the left, but between the poor and the rich.”