Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rail backers demand jobs at Madison protest

Madison, Wis. – As power shifted here from one major state party to the other Monday, five bus loads of Milwaukee residents rode into town demanding jobs. They invited new-Gov. Scott Walker to appear at a community meeting in Milwaukee to explain why he killed a project that would have led to employment for thousands.

The 250 Milwaukeeans were joined in front of the Capitol by roughly 100 others, many of them students. The crowd heard labor leader Sheila Cochran bellow: “He says that the state of Wisconsin is open for business. I want him to know that we mean business.”

She and others noted that, in killing the $810 million high-speed rail project connecting Milwaukee and Madison, Walker was going in the opposite direction of his promise to create 250,000 jobs.

A coalition of organizations, including MICAH (Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope), sponsored the protest. Their first stop was Monona Terrace for a prayer rally outside as Walker attended a prayer breakfast inside. The Rev. Willie Brisco, who heads MICAH, says he gave a Walker representative an invitation to attend a community meeting in Milwaukee and that she promised to make sure Walker got the invitation. The governor would choose the date.

The group is calling on Walker to bring good jobs to Milwaukee and to explain face to face how he’s going to do that and to invest in the Milwaukee north side complex that contains train maker Talgo, which has said it would move its manufacturing operation to another state because of Walker’s antagonism toward rail.

The group prayed and sang freedom songs, such as “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Shall Overcome.”

The sky was grey and the air was cold.  But it was not the biting cold participants had feared.

Later in the morning, the protestors rallied at the Capitol, where the Rev. Gregory Lewis said, “We are living in times of desperation” due to the absence of jobs. That desperation is leading to crime, he said, volunteering that his church office was recently broken into and its contents  rifled and items taken. He led a chant: “We need jobs.”

The Rev. Leondis Fuller said, “We have a governor who's being inaugurated today, and I want you to know he does not care about workers.”

Saying the people have the power to fight back, he added: “The fight is going to be long, the fight is going to be hard. but we're going to have to stay the course because the Republicans in this building behind us, they do not care about you and I.”

He said that “Walker had already sent jobs out of state.” Because of Walker’s action, train maker Talgo plans to move its manufacturing operation from Milwaukee to a state friendlier to rail. What’s more, the federal government has redistributed Wisconsin’s $810 million to other states, where the money will create many jobs.

The federal government would have fully financed construction of the Milwaukee-to-Madison line. Walker objected to the state’s picking up as much as $7.5 million a year in operating costs, even though the project promised to generate enough taxes – by boosting sales and personal income in the state – to cover those costs.

Said another speaker at the rally: “We are tired of going to job fairs where there are no jobs.”

After the rally the crowd broke up into groups stationed in front of the entrances to the Capitol and chanted slogans and held picket signs.

Inside, Walker was being sworn in as governor, and a new regime was beginning – a regime seemingly callous to the desperate plight of workers in Milwaukee.

Photos by Gregory Stanford and Cynthia Henry

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