At the Wisconsin state capitol, the annual lighting of the state’s Christmas tree is generally a sleepy affair. Kids sing, the governor talks, an honored guest flips a switch, and everyone gets back to their business.
Not this year. Call it “Occupy Santa.”
Controversy actually began weeks ago, when Gov. Scott Walker determined that for the first time since 1985, the tree would actually be called a “Christmas tree,” as opposed to a “holiday tree.” But that’s not what the protesters who lined the capitol rotunda this morning had in mind.
Instead, they intended to send a message to Governor Walker about his plan to effectively eliminate collective bargaining for state and local government employees, which has been in effect for several months now. Union activists are currently circulating petitions attempting to recall Walker from office — they claim to have already collected 300,000 of the 540,000 signatures needed to force an election. Earlier in the year, many of these same protesters slept on the same capitol marble floor while protesting Walker; later, they would try to disrupt every one of his public appearances, including one where he handed out awards to Special Olympics participants.
This morning, a reported 200 people showed up for the ceremony, many holding “Recall Walker” signs. Even the timing of the event turned political when Democratic state senator Bob Jauch charged that Walker held the ceremony early in the morning to keep protesters away. “He has screwed up one of the finest traditions in the state Capitol … He set this up early in the morning so as few people could get here and he could protect his image,” Jauch said. (If Jauch is to be believed, protesters can’t possibly be expected to wake up before the crack of noon.)
During the ceremony itself, Walker dedicated the tree to members of the military. During this dedication, some protesters were photographed giving the “Heil Hitler” Nazi salute to the veterans.
While children sang traditional Christmas songs, protesters turned their backs on them to indicate their displeasure with Walker. Several booed Walker as he spoke to the gathering.
“They booed and protested a ceremony that honors our veterans and lights the Capitol Christmas tree,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to the Wisconsin State Journal. “Every time you think they’ve crossed the line, it’s like they invent a new line to cross.”
With the recall organizers having collected more than half the signatures they need, an election is likely to occur in May or June of 2012. That should give protesters the time they need to draw up new signs comparing the Easter Bunny to Hitler.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.