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Joe the Plumber speaks at Madison protest 3/6/11
Joe Wurzelbacher, also know as "Joe the Plumber," speaks during a "Stand with Walker" rally by Americans for Prosperity at the Alliant Energy Center Exhibition Hall in Madison, Wis., Sunday, March 6, 2011. Photo by Amber Arnold

A four-day Wisconsin bus tour to support Republican Gov. Scott Walker concluded Sunday with a Madison rally where final speaker Brian Schimming, a veteran Republican consultant, exhorted crowd members to return to their communities "and get loud now."

The rally, held in Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center, drew about 600 people, said Matt Seaholm, state director for the sponsoring group, Americans for Prosperity. The turnout was the largest on the 10-city tour, he said.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters once again surrounded the state Capitol to speak out against Walker's plan to curtail collective bargaining, though the gathering was considerably smaller than Saturday's rally of 30,000 or so.

Much in prominence at the Capitol were members of the National Association of Letter Carriers, including union members who came in buses from nearby states.

"There is no greater force for fairness, dignity and equality in the work place than a union. That's why your fight for unions is a fight for all Americans," Nicole Ryan, a mail carrier and union official from Lincoln, Neb., said during the rally.

Pro-Walker rally

Outside the Alliant Energy Center, the number of anti-Walker protesters appeared larger than the pro-Walker crowd indoors, a point Seaholm did not contest.

"We're in Madison. If they didn't outnumber us, I'd be surprised," he said.

The rally, called "Stand Against Spending. Stand With Walker," was the second formally organized gathering in Madison to support the governor. Four people spoke: Seaholm, Schimming, former Madison School Board member Nancy Mistele and Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who became known in 2008 as Joe the Plumber after questioning then-candidate Barack Obama on his tax policies.

Protesting public sector workers are acting out of fear, Wurzelbacher said. "It's kind of new to them, not to have a guarantee in life."

Audience member Gwen Borlaug, 58, of Madison, held a sign reading, "State employee for Gov. Walker." She said she is an infection control epidemiologist with the state Department of Health Services and a member of the Service Employees International Union. She said she feels compelled to be in the union because were she not a member she would be required to make "fair share" payments to the union that nearly equal annual dues.

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"I have no choice but to pay dues," she said. "Is that freedom? I don't think so."

Controversial group

Americans for Prosperity is a Virginia-based group launched in 2004 with money from David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers whose financial support of Walker's gubernatorial campaign and alleged close ties to him have become part of the protest narrative.

Talon Williams, 24, of Madison, a non-union carpet cleaner and anti-Walker protester, called Sunday's Alliant Energy Center rally a last-ditch effort to generate support for a bill the vast majority of Wisconsin doesn't want. "They're trying to create the illusion of grass roots support," he said.

But Walker backer Myra Dashner, 42, of Madison, a part-time customer service worker, said she's an example of a grass roots supporter.

"I'm disabled, I work part time, I do everything I can to survive," she said. "I totally disagree that this is all for the millionaires. A balanced state budget benefits everyone."

On the Square

Downtown, Harry Gerakaris, a mail carrier from Downers Grove, Ill., said that as unions go, so goes the U.S. "Most people don't realize that unions are the middle class," he said.

Few Walker supporters were in evidence. One car with people holding "Stand With Walker" signs circled the square about mid-afternoon. Union supporters crowded the sidewalk near the car chanting, "Stand with Walker in the unemployment line."

After the early afternoon rally, protesters drifted down to the sidewalk and joined other protesters marching counterclockwise around the Square. They were serenaded by several people with drums, a small brass band, bagpipes, and one guy walking by himself blowing on a tuba.

[Editor's note: This story was changed to reflect a correction. State employee Gwen Borlaug was not forced to be a member of her union.]

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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