Daily Union: Rallies occupy Whitewater; '99 percent' protests against '1 percent
By Ryan Whisner, Union regional Editor
WHITEWATER - Whitewater officially joined the Occupy movement Thursday as University of Wisconsin-Whitewater students, staff and area residents rallied at the south mall of the Andersen Library grounds.
At the high point of the event, approximately 60 to 70 people were together on the mall to protest the economic disparity between the 1 percent and the 99 percent of Americans, as well as support recall efforts against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Some, such as Faye Kufahl and Bill Krupinski of Jefferson, simply wanted to lend their moral and physical support.
"We want to let people know that we are here to recall Walker," Kufahl said.
About 20 "Occupy Whitewater" participants stayed overnight in tents, including two foreign students, one from Germany and another from Finland. One student even spent the night wrapped up in a hammock strung between two trees.
Members of Forward Whitewater, the UW-Whitewater College Democrats, the student group Peace, Education and Activism through Creative Engagement (PEACE) and the American Dream movement jointly organized the event.
Primarily, the Occupy movement is directed against social and economic inequality. Held days after recall efforts against Gov. Walker got under way, Occupy Whitewater included that as a significant component of its movement.
PEACE President Sam Newton said that, as a student and a prospective teacher, she was very worried about the economic disparity between the 99 percent and the 1 percent of Americans.
With a minor in English as a second language, Newton said, she knows that virtually all her students will be part of the 99 percent.
"A lot of my students will be in extreme poverty," Newton pointed out. "There are huge gaps between the races."
She questioned why the median income for an African-American family is around $35,000 and that for a white family is $60,000.
"There is more than just the people above us and the rest of us," Newton said. "There are huge inequities within the 99 percent and we need to find ways to address those problems and solve them."
Recognizing that those problems are not "easy fixes," she noted that part of the purpose of the Occupy movement is to bring attention to these inequities and bring them to the forefront of people's minds so everyone can work together on a solution.
Newton said it was very important to bring the Occupy movement to Whitewater.
"I don't think a lot of students here really understand what the Occupy movement is," she said. "While setting up the tents for the evening, someone came by and asked what it was about."
Newton asked if they had heard about the Occupy movements across the world and the student replied "no."
"Just really getting the word out (is important) because some people don't know what this is about and just because I know doesn't mean the rest of the student population does, and they should," Newton said.
A counter-rally sponsored by the UW-Whitewater College Republicans supporting Gov. Scott Walker was held simultaneously in response to the Occupy Whitewater/Recall Walker event (see related story on page 1). Approximately 50 participants holding signs and a cardboard cutout of the governor gathered just beyond where Occupy Whitewater was being held.
Occupy Whitewater organizers welcomed the counter-rally participants.
"One of the biggest lessons we can have here is let's not be divided," College of Education
Secondary Social Studies Program coordinator James Hartwick said of the students. "Let's find a way to talk to each other. While we fight for the scraps, they eat the cake. I'm hoping we can talk to each other."
"If we would like our elected officials to cooperate and to compromise, then we need to do it at the individual level first," she said. "If we set the example, they can follow."
As part of Occupy Whitewater, teach-ins were held addressing student debt, labor history, and other topics of special concern for college students.
The event was highlighted by remarks presented by state Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson and Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. The featured speaker of the evening was state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton (see related story on page 1).
The legislators addressed those gathered for the event in the Timmerman Auditorium at Hyland Hall.
Jorgensen, the 37th Assembly District incumbent, is expected to move a few blocks from his current home in order to seek office in the recently reconfigured District 43, a seat currently held by state Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater.
He quickly dispelled the notion that the participants in Occupy Whitewater were from out of state with a show of hands; only two non-Wisconsinites raised their hands.
He pointed out that not everyone in attendance was from the Democratic Party, either.
"There are some Republicans here and ... I'm glad you're here and I appreciate the respect and the politeness that you've shown tonight because there are some people in the Capitol that could really learn some things from this event," Jorgensen said. "At the end of the day, we may be Republicans and we may be Democrats, but to have one side declare victory over the other and say that's what it's all about, (well,) that is not what it is all about. We're all on the same ship together. If the ship sinks, we all do."
He said both sides being represented at the Occupy Whitewater event said something good about the community.
"We are here because we are the 99 percent," Jorgensen said. "We are hardworking, honest people doing our best to provide for our families, trying to live the American Dream. That's what this Occupy movement is all about: highlighting the fact that there is a great social and economic inequity in the American dream today."
He pointed out that the Occupy movement didn't start on New York City's Wall Street.
"I think it started about 10 months ago just about an hour from here at our state Capitol," the Assemblyman said. "When Gov. Scott Walker introduced his so-called budget repair bill, he declared war on the State of Wisconsin. Gov. Walker decided he would take money out of the pockets of our friends and neighbors, only to give hundreds of millions in tax breaks to his buddies in big business and his wealthy donors. When he did that, Wisconsin occupied the Capitol."
For weeks in February and into March, protestors gathered and even slept in the Capitol. Similarly, he said, the Assembly Democrats occupied the Assembly for 60 straight hours of debate, during which the Republicans would not budge.
"In this session, they slashed funding for education; they passed the buck on our fiscal problems, forcing local governments to cut staff or services; they raided taxpayer funds that help provide clean and fair elections, and passed the most restrictive voting laws in the country, and now they are in the process of dismantling life-line healthcare programs," Jorgensen said. "Unfortunately, they haven't been focused on what Wisconsin wants and needs right now and that's jobs," Jorgensen said.
Despite Gov. Walker declaring Wisconsin "open for business," he said, a report shows that the state lost 9,700 jobs in October, bringing the total since the budget-repair bill was passed to 27,600.
"This isn't rhetoric; this is what the numbers are," Jorgensen said. "The truth is, as Wisconsin has lost jobs, the nation as a whole has gained them."
During the recent special "jobs sessions" of the state Legislature, he said, the Republicans spent time passing bills on trespassing and early-morning alcohol sales.
"Time and again, he said, "the GOP Assembly members refuse to take the common-sense ideas from the Democrats and instead play politics," he said.
Jorgensen reminded his audience that Walker never campaigned for office on stripping state workers of their rights.
"If you run on something like that, you're going to lose," he said. "As he gets his message out, more and more people are saying 'this guy has to go.'"
Jorgensen proclaimed his stance with those opposed to Gov. Walker.
"I will be with you in the future," he said. "Our side, if there is a side, we don't have a lot of the money. If we stand together, the 99 percent is strong."
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha also addressed those assembled. Borrowing a line from one of the signs displayed during the Occupy Whitewater rally, the former congressman focused on the concept that Gov. Walker's policies simply are not working out.
The sign read: "Dear Scott (Gov. Walker), It's just not working out. Sincerely, Wisconsin."
Echoing Jorgensen, he pointed to the loss of 9,700 jobs in October, which just added to the 12,400 lost in September.
"That's since the governor passed this budget package that he said would make Wisconsin stronger and better," he said. "After all of that, 27,600 Wisconsinites are no longer employed. How's that working for you?"
Barca noted that the governor promised to create 250,000 new jobs.
"We're not moving forward, we're moving backward," he said. "We have the wrong motto because he, unfortunately, doesn't want to take us forward. It's going backward."
He assured the Occupy Whitewater participants and recall supporters that they would not rest until the rights were restored, referring to the near-elimination of collective-bargaining rights for state workers included in the budget-repair bill.
Barca cited 50 years of labor history in Wisconsin, which the governor wanted to eliminate in six days.
He praised Sen. Jon Erpenbach and the 13 other Democratic Senators who fled the state to delay a vote and give people a chance to learn more about the budget bill.
"We were able to expose what the governor was trying to do," Barca said. "It wasn't just one department. That was bad enough. It went beyond that. He wanted to have 37 cronies, for about a 10 percent increase, to replace civil servants that look out for the public good that now look out for his political good. That's not what 'Fighting Bob' La Follette taught us."
Barca noted that Walker also gave unprecedented authority to cut back on BadgerCare, cuts to the University of Wisconsin System and reductions in recycling.
"Gov. Walker, unfortunately does, not share the heritage of this great state," he said.
During the past 10 years, Barca said, he has had an opportunity to travel the world.
"I always took such great pride in saying I was from Wisconsin," he said. "This is a state that has always stood for something. This is a state that started worker's compensation, unemployment compensation and collective bargaining. This is the state that believes in the dignity of work and supporting the workers to help advance our great state's interest."
He said those in Walker's administration want to move beyond Fighting Bob La Follette and beyond Aldo Leopold.
"They do not understand the heritage of this great state," Barca said.
As a politician and a resident, Barca said, he always has been proud of Wisconsin's clean, open and honest government.
"Having a democracy that encouraged people to participate," he said. "That's not what this state stands for today. Not with a governor that concentrates power for all the rules that can lead to corruption.
"It doesn't work for me, Gov. Walker, when you want to excuse people from ethics laws in this state," Barca concluded. "Thank you all, Occupy Whitewater. You're on the right track."