We’d rather be in the classroom, but it was time to speak out


If you had told any of our group of eight teachers a month ago that we would be spending a sunny afternoon in February picketing at the state capitol in Madison, we would have thought you had lost your mind. As elementary school veteran staff, we would be 100 times more likely to be correcting math papers or putting up a bulletin board. Yet that is exactly what happened on Saturday, as we joined tens of thousands of fellow public workers and their sympathizers on the Capitol Square to protest the bill that would unilaterally dump our collective bargaining agreements, sick leave, retirement language, preparation time, and general union rights under the guise of “a moderate proposal” to balance the state budget.

Most teachers I have heard from are willing to negotiate paying a greater portion of health care and retirement, but Governor Scott Walker has not offered to negotiate. Therefore, a trip to Madison was in order.

Everyone we saw was peaceful and orderly. Signs were even posted inside and people marched around with signs stating, “This is a PEACEFUL demonstration.” Many streets were blocked off by police for the demonstration, but when they weren’t, people waited for the walk light and allowed others to pass. Although there was abundant chanting and singing, we saw no altercations.

We were present during the planned Tea Party demonstration. There appeared to be at least several hundred people present. After the gathering, small groups of them spread out along the street and occasionally wove through the marchers. I did not hear any verbal interaction.

Some of the more memorable sights:

  • The many groups who traveled across the country to help in the effort. We saw people from Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.
  • The building trades union from the Green Bay area who went through the effort necessary to provide fresh grilled free brats to anyone who wanted one.
  • The sign that named the four states which have eliminated collective bargaining for public employees and showed their ACT scores near the bottom and then showed Wisconsin’s ranking at #2.
  • The young man who wandered through the rotunda with two grocery bags full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, offering them to whoever he met.
  • The mother of an Assemblyman, who happened to be standing outside his office when I stopped to thank him for supporting us, who proudly stated, “We raised him right.”
  • The many “thank yous” heard throughout the day from marchers to bystanders; from the bus drivers on the shuttle bus, from demonstrators to police officers.
  • The airplane circling overhead with the banner, “We support working families.”
  • The firefighters in full dress, who belonged to unions unaffected by the bill, who marched beside us.
  • The amazing feeling of having tens of thousands of people united for a common cause.

Terry Schoessow has 31 years of experience teaching in Wisconsin public schools and is a member of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the union representing 98,000 public education employees.

Scenes from Saturday’s demonstration

Photos by Terry Schoessow

Marchers fill the streets surrounding the state Capitol. In the distance are the placid waters of one of the many Madison-area lakes.