On April 8, 2011 more than fifty people participated in a “Rally to Protect Wisconsin Elections” at the Waukesha County Courthouse with the intent to demand fair and honest elections. A little over one year later, we were back at the Courthouse making similar demands. Twenty five of us gathered for the “Demand that Kathy Nickolaus Resign!” rally on Wednesday evening. While there were some similarities between the 2011 rally and the 2012 rally, the differences were glaringly apparent to those of us who had attended both.
Both rallies were organized by groups outside of Waukesha County, with the majority of participants arriving by bus. The AFL-CIO was responsible for the 2011 event, and Occupy Riverwest organized the 2012 rally. All of the participants with whom I spoke had heard about the rallies through Facebook and other social media sites. The reasons attendees of both rallies gave for coming all the way to Waukesha were the same as well: to demand that Waukesha County Clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, resign.
Tyson, a Milwaukee public school teacher and the organizer of the 2012 rally, had this to say: “Wisconsin deserves fair elections, transparent elections, and has to have faith in the election process; there has to be a sense of voter confidence. With all the debacles that have gone on with Kathy Nickolaus in the past three elections, it’s just not there anymore, and it’s time for her to resign. Stepping aside, as the county executive suggested, is not enough.”
When asked what he hoped to accomplish with Wednesday’s rally, he replied, ““I’m hoping that as the public pressures her and more people are stepping up to make that plea for her to resign that she’ll reconsider and actually resign.”
Donna, also an MPS teacher, agreed. She said there have been “too many human errors in the past and it’s time for Kathy to completely resign to ensure it’s fair for the citizens.” She continued, “It’s a bipartisan issue; it’s about fairness.”
Greg Banks, from the Greater Milwaukee Green Party, was concerned about election integrity as well. “These state elections…are affected by the Waukesha corrupt election policy and affect the whole state; they definitely affect Milwaukee,” he said. He told me that he came to the rally “hoping to get Kathy Nickolaus to resign and raise awareness that this is a serious problem in Waukesha.”
There were many Milwaukee public school teachers in attendance, as this week is their spring break, but private sector employees were there, too. Sarah, a woman in her twenties who works for an area hospital, said the issue of transparent elections run by competent clerks is extremely important to her. She said in the last couple of years her peers had wondered what the point of voting was, that they didn’t think their voices were really being heard.
“I really feel like there’s been a lot of faith lost in the system,” Sarah said. “As things have heated up in politics I think more and more people have been have been voting but there seems to be rising suspicions that the elections are fraudulent and that our voices really aren’t being heard,“ she said. Sarah is worried that if people think the elections are not fair, they’ll check out of the process completely, and then their voices really won’t be heard.
Of course, not everybody agreed, and there were a few detractors who drove by and shouted at the group. Most of them were young, white males, and most of the yelled, “Get a job!,” “We love Walker!” and a couple of them flipped us off. There was a sixty-something white man in a Cadillac who gave us the finger as well. One of the more interesting taunts came from a thirty-something in a red pickup truck. “What about voter ID, you hypocrites?” he shouted.
But what made this rally so different from the 2011 rally is the obvious lack of anger and outrage from the opposition. Whereas last year those who drove by were so livid they could barely contain themselves, this year felt slightly anti-climactic.
Last April I vividly remember shaking with fear as I stood on the median while drivers-by screamed and swore at me, then doubled back to take my picture with their phones. Some of those people drove by three of four times making obscene gestures at me. I could taste the disgust, and so could the other protesters.
But this year we received many “democrobeeps,” thumbs up, and smiles. One carful of women even pulled over to ask us for directions to Carroll University. Despite the fact that there were no police officers stationed outside the Courthouse this year, it felt very safe, almost mundane. The contrast between last year’s rally and this year’s rally was stark.
At 6:30pm, Tyson led the remaining protesters (about 15 of us) over to the employee entrance. Two frightened-looking women left the building, but there was no sign of Kathy Nickolaus. At about 6:45pm, slightly disappointed that we did not get to yell, “Resign now!” at Nickolaus, we decided to wrap things up. As the group boarded the bus to go back to Milwaukee, we said our goodbyes. Until the next rally.