Several candidates with ties to Wisconsin Capitol protests running for local office in Madison this spring

By: John Waters

Published on The Isthmus Daily Page on 2/21/13

On his city council campaign website, a photo of Christian Hansen shows him posing in the State Capitol rotunda wearing a button bearing the orange-and-blue logo of the #wiunion movement. The message Hansen is trying to convey is clear even if the connection between the Capitol protests of two years ago and the Madison Common Council are not.

"It's not just the event," Hansen says, referring to the protests in which he proudly participated. "It's a lot of work, doing the organizing, making phone calls, getting people to work together, it's not just what's seen by the public."

Hansen, who is running in District 8 in downtown Madison, is one of a number of candidates for local office this spring with ties to the protests which erupted at the State Capitol after Gov. Scott Walker revealed his budget repair bill two years ago this month. Hansen was arrested once during the protests, remaining in the Capitol with a small group when the building was being closed.

"We were expressing the need to bring attention to the Capitol," he says, adding what he brings to the race isn't civil disobedience, but a "level of commitment that you can't back down from."

Hawk Sullivan, the owner of Hawk's Bar and Grill on State Street, found himself involved in the protests in a different way. Sullivan has been involved in different city committees and boards over the past ten years, so the protests were not his first experience in politics, but they marked a departure from his other roles.

"One of my big supporters, Jenni Dye, @legaleagle, was involved in the protests very early, talking on Twitter about what was happening, and she was looking for a union-friendly business downtown" says Sullivan, who is running in District 15 on the east side. "It was very easy for me to come out early and be supportive of collective bargaining."

This interaction led to Hawk's becoming the monthly meeting place for a group organized by Dye called "Democracy Addicts." Also it became a spot where protestors and other interested people knew they could meet, talk and have a beer.

"A couple people were turned off by it, but the vast majority really appreciated that we gave them a place to meet and talk to like-minded people," says Sullivan.

Sullivan says he hopes through his campaign to tap into the energy created by those he saw bonding at his bar during that time.

"It was all walks of life, it wasn't just a bunch of lefty hippies like some would want you to believe," he says. "It spanned the spectrum of jobs and plenty of moderate Republicans. You learn we have more in common than we have differences and we need to work on those things, moving forward the things we have in common."

Zack Madden, running for the District 13 seat on the south side, is a student at Edgewood College and through the protests learned a lot about what the tone he hopes to set as an alderman.

"For me, the big disconnect on the state level was people felt like their representatives weren't listening," says Madden. "In 2011 I was represented by Republicans in the state Assembly and Senate and had sent them both letters, emails, phone calls and I never heard from them. I wasn't listened to and my concerns didn't matter."

Madden says it was that disconnect that led people, himself included, to "see and understand politics in a different way than they did before. Every election counts and every representative counts."

Madden thinks people in Madison weren't as engaged in local politics before the protests, but are now much more active. Sullivan echoes this idea saying he thought the protests "woke a sleeping giant" with people getting involved.

Leslie Peterson, running in District 12 on the north side, agrees.

"The entire community has been reenergized and reactivated since the Wisconsin uprising of 2011," she says. "Myself included."

Peterson, who has lived in Madison for 25 years, says her first exposure to the protests was on the news, but it started to help with a free food table after seeing her son and his Madison East High School classmates march to the Capitol. Her son texted her "mom that was the best thing I've ever done."

"I realized it was huge for the people who cared about middle class values," she says.

Peterson says that after an "unfortunate incident at the Capitol" where her heart-shaped balloon was slashed by a Capitol employee, she realized she could turn a negative into a positive by bringing heart balloons to all the rallies "as a means to inspiring and building the community." She believes her ability to bring people together toward a common goal, along with her professional and personal experience as a small business owner would be useful on the council.

"I think it takes a social movement like that to inspire different types of people to do all sorts of things," Peterson says.

Sullivan believes it's not so much the ideas from the protests themselves that have inspired he and the others to run, it's the fundamental notion of representative democracy they confronted every day.

"It's not about me, it's not my vision," Sullivan says. "The alder first is an advocate for the district. You have recognize the importance of that."