Rallies were held at state capitols in all fifty states on Saturday, bringing out more than 100,000 Americans to stand in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin. The rallies were a joint effort of MoveOn.org, labor unions, and progressive organizations, and were planned in less than a week. The protests, which were purported to be "the largest rallies since the Vietnam War" on Facebook and Twitter, were held in support of collective bargaining rights for all people.
In Denver, 3,000 people showed up to voice their support, carrying signs that read things like "Cairo-Madison-Denver" and "Unions are the bedrock of the middle class." Immediately following the Denver pro-union rally, a coalition of pro-choice groups rallied against the congressional attacks on women's reproductive rights. Several hundred individuals marched along neighboring streets, and back to the capitol.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that only five self-identified Tea Party activists were in attendance at the Denver rally.
As a regular rally attendee at the capitol, it was obvious to me Denver's rally was not just the typical rally crowd -- there were many new faces. A number of individuals I interviewed turned out after hearing reports about the rally this past Tuesday, which was estimated at 1,000-1,200 people. Several people said they did not belong to a union, but they believe in them philosophically. As teacher Jodi Katz told me, "If it weren't for unions, there would be no middle class. I'm a teacher and we must stand with other teachers and other union employees. We all want the same things. We need to save our jobs."
I asked a number of people in the crowd their occupations, and how they heard about Saturday's rally in Denver. Several were teachers who said they heard about the rally through MoveOn.org. School social worker Mollie Cullom said she did not hear about it through her union, the Colorado Education Association (CEA), and was disappointed they didn't encourage more members to participate. Retired teacher Robert Katz, a former member of the Denver Classroom Teacher's Association (DCTA), said he heard about the rally on the television news. He called to confirm the details with his union. "They had to put me on hold to look it up."
Several other teachers said they heard about the event through their union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Labor organizer Russell Bannan mentioned it on the radio. According to Bannan,
"This is not just a union issue," said Russell Bannan, who sits on the Board of Director for Colorado Jobs with Justice. "This is an attempt to deny workers--starting with public service workers--the right to collective bargaining, which means having a voice at work. Wall Street crashed the economy and now that's being used as an excuse to take away our rights. Well we are not going to let that happen."
Union members in attendance also included firefighters, truck drivers, grocery workers, communication workers, air traffic controllers, and pipefitters. One man wore his firefighter gear combined with a Wisconsin "cheesehead."
Humans were joined with dozens of canine "protesters," including a few service animals. Several people arrived in wheelchairs, and a number of children arrived in strollers.
In Madison, Wisconsin, the crowd was estimated to be between 100,000-150,000, depending on the source.