SPRINGFIELD - Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Saturday in front of the Illinois Statehouse to show solidarity with state workers in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Assembly approved a proposal Friday, backed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, that would strip most public employee unions of their right to bargain collectively for benefits and working conditions.
The measure has sparked massive protests in the Wisconsin state capitol, and Democratic senators have fled the state, hiding out in Illinois, to prevent it from moving forward.
The Springfield rally was organized by MoveOn.org, a national liberal advocacy group. Demonstrations were planned at state capitols and major cities across the country, including Chicago and Carbondale.
Protesters held signs such as "Solidarity with Wisconsin labor" and "Unions protect my future" and chanted slogans like, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Scott Walker has got to go."
According to the MoveOn.org website, 363 participants registered online, but Capitol police estimated the crowd to be between 500 to 700 people. The demonstration spilled across the street, near a counter-protest by several people.
Public unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 and the Illinois Education Association encouraged members to attend the rally.
"We don't go backward in America, we don't take rights away from our citizens," said Steve Preckwinkle, political activities director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, while speaking at the rally.
About 50 people carpooled from Bloomington, including Dawn Dannenbring, a community organizer for Illinois People's Action, a faith-based social justice group.
Dannenbring said both the right and left benefit from unions.
"A lot of the benefits that we have today directly result of union organizing," she said.
Susan Burt, an English professor at Illinois State University, held up a sign that said, "Illinois supports Wisconsin against plutocratic oligarchy. (If you can understand this sign, thank your teachers.)"
Bob Broad, another ISU English professor who carpooled with her, said they were there in "support of all union workers, especially the teachers in Wisconsin."
Some demonstrators wore red and white, the colors of the University of Wisconsin Badgers.