DENVER (AP) – More than 1,000 teachers, state employees and firefighters rallied outside the Colorado Capitol on Saturday in support of Wisconsin public workers face the elimination of their bargaining rights.
The rally was one of more than 50 that took place across the country in opposition to Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recent legislation to strip public workers of bargaining rights as part of an effort to balance a state budget that faces a $137 million shortfall. Walker also wants to have public workers pay more of their pension and health insurance costs.
“Wisconsin is opening up people’s eyes a little bit, so I think that the move is to try to get people more involved in their unions and create a stronger front so that if something happens here, we are prepared,” said 40-year-old Jay Van Loenen, a union member and English teacher at Thornton High School.
Organizers estimated the crowd at around 3,000, though Colorado State Troopers at the Capitol for security estimated the crowd at about 1,000.
Photo Gallery: Saturday Rally Images
Some 25 counter-protesters rallied on the Capitol’s west steps, and troopers stepped in to stop a few passionate arguments that erupted between a couple attendees. Still, the event overall bore a more buoyant feel than a smaller but much more tense rally on Tuesday that attracted heated debate from both sides.
On Saturday, American flags waved as a red and white striped stilt-walker towered over an enthusiastic pro-union crowd that chanted “people power” and held signs that read, “We are the middle class.”
Independent community organizer Zoe Williams, 25, said the event supports workers in Wisconsin and sends a message to lawmakers in the state.
“As long as their fight keeps going, we’ll keep fighting with them,” said Williams. “And we also want to remind Denver, if that same kind of legislation comes to us, that we will also be standing up and that we’ll be at our Capitol, and we’ll be camped out here and we can’t forget that.”
John Cali, a 61-year-old architect who opposes the Wisconsin protests, carried a sign that read, “Gov. Walker is a true patriot,” and stood on the side of the road as honking cars sped past.
“I believe the union members in this case are wrong and they should reconsider,” said Cali, who described himself as a member of the tea party. “I think they’re wrong because their benefits are extravagant and overdone and I think they need to take a haircut like the rest of us in the private sector.”
– By Sheila V. Kumar, AP Writer
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)