MADISON, Wis. - Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold led more than 1,000 firefighters, nurses, farmers and a motorcade that included taxi cabs and an antique fire engine, in a demonstration that encircled Capitol Square here Monday.
As the marchers approached the Capitol, they drew spirited cheers from the residents of Walkerville, a tent city full of protesters who have been camping out for four days in an action invoking the Depression-era protests against then President Herbert Hoover.
The marchers and rally-goers here and the people camping out in Walkerville are protesting against the proposed budget pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. It slashes funding for education, health care, and seniors' programs while it destroys collective bargaining rights for public workers.
At least three protesters were arrested on June 6 and given citations for sitting in the street and refusing to move.
News reports said that two brothers, C.J. Terrell and Damon Terrell were cheered by fellow protesters as they were arrested. "This is nothing to be thanked for, this just has to be done sometimes," Damon told his cheering supporters in the 95 degree heat.
Jeremy Ryan, a protest leader and executive director of a community group called Defending Wisconsin, was arrested for standing in the street on his Segway and holding up a banner. He was handcuffed by police and removed from the scene.
Several others were arrested for civil disobedience actions inside the Capitol.
Marchers led by Feingold carried signs calling upon lawmakers to pay attention to Wisconsin working families and not to the rich and the big corporations that the Walker budget caters to.
Karen Hickey, in the AFL-CIO office of field communications, said that last night public employees in the Walkerville encampment held a mock listening session that included stand-ins for Gov. Walker, his billionaire backer David Koch, Republican state senator Glenn Grothman and Sarah Palin.
"The laughs were rolling as the cast of elected officials discussed and debated with their local constituents," Hickey said. "Helen the health care worker, Fred the forester, Ronda the road worker and Charley the correctional officer explained how their jobs provide essential services to the community. These workers keep us healthy, our roads drivable, our environment clean and our streets safe."
"I'm here because it troubles me that the 40 hour work week, decent health care and safe working conditions could become something called history," explained Charley the correctional officer.
Helen the health care worker explained how the "biggest single factor in keeping the middle class strong is the union. Unions fight for all workers and help to raise wages and working conditions for every member of the community."
Many see the protests in Madison this week as only the latest in a series of actions that, taken together, constitute an unprecedented uprising by workers here and nationally against radical Republican policies.
They occur with recall elections for six Republican senators who backed the Walker budget bill only a month away, on July 12.
As unions and their allies mobilize for those elections, Republicans, determined to delay possible defeat, are reaching deeper and deeper into what opponents call the GOP's bag of dirty tricks.
There are reports that state Republican Party officials are lining up spoiler Democrats - Republicans who run as Democrats with no intention of winning - in all six recall elections.
The idea is that the phony candidates will force a Democratic primary and push back the recall election by a month. This would give Republican senators busy now in Madison pushing through their right-wing agenda, more time to campaign in their districts before angry voters go to the polls.
Photo: Public employees stage mock listening session, June 6. Wisconsin AFL-CIO.