Bush visit met with protests

MILWAUKEE – A carnival atmosphere greeted George W. Bush as he arrived here for his third visit in several months. As Bush gave a perfunctory policy address at the University of Wisconsin, using the 37th anniversary of the Social Security Act as an occasion to criticize Democratic presidents’ anti-poverty measures, about 150 mostly labor and Democratic Party activists lampooned Bush and Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum at a “circus,” complete with jugglers and clowns. Then, as the “unelected president” hosted a fundraising luncheon for McCallum, about the same number of citizens gathered across the street to beat the drum against war with Iraq.

The morning protest was sponsored by groups including Citizen Action of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democratic Party. Citizen Action’s Roger Bybee played ringmaster, introducing the Bush/McCallum “three-ring circus of inequality and unfairness,” representing “the world’s biggest redistribution of wealth upwards in human history.”

All acts, said Bybee, were performed “with no safety net for working people.” The various displays, like a Republican Health Care Shell Game, helped draw cameras from local television stations.

Gary Gerdman spoke about his experience, forced into early retirement from OMC-Evinrude a year before its bankruptcy. “Every new CEO was worse than the one before, but they always seemed to walk away with millions.” Many workers, meanwhile, were left without insurance, and management took tens of millions of dollars from the pension fund, leaving it one million dollars short. “We need our pensions protected 100 percent,” said Gerdman.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federatsion of State, County and Municipal Employees, was the featured speaker. McEntee spoke about the poor economy, the struggle of the West Coast longshore workers and McCallum’s vulnerability. “Today’s the day you gotta start, labor to labor and neighbor to neighbor,” McEntee said. “If you educate them, if you only tell them the truth, we will win.”

The noon rally, the main focus of which was peace, featured representatives of the Sierra Club, Esperanza Unida and the Milwaukee Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba. The rally’s main speaker was Brian Verdin, Green Party candidate for Congress. “I’m tired of seeing peiople in line at St. Benedict’s because they don’t have anything to eat,” Verdin said. “The real axis of evil is war. The real axis of evil is economic oppression.” One of his goals, he said, was “an emergency jobs program yesterday.”

As Republican contributors began to exit the convention hall, some waved flags and jeered at the anti-war demonstrators. Ramesh Kapur, CEO of the state’s largest civil engineering firm, said of the protesters, “They’re losers. This is the best country in the world. To see them, it makes my blood boil. They should get a job instead of living off my tax money.”

Peace marcher Gina Bianci, however, called that a “stereotype.” “A lot of us are working class and most of us work and we truly are patriotic,” said Bianci. “We don’t want corporations running our government and our future.”

Since 1983, Kapur’s firm has made most of its money from taxpayer-funded projects.

The authors can be reached at g.grass@justice.com