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The Spirit of Wisconsin

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Late on a frigid Wisconsin afternoon, an hour before another of the evening demonstrations that brought thousands, then tens of thousands, then more than 100,000 public employees, teachers, students and their allies to the great square that surrounds the Capitol in Madison, Sarah Roberts was sitting in the Ancora coffee shop warming up. With her blunt-cut blond hair and hip retro glasses, the library sciences grad student looked the picture of urban cool, except perhaps for the decades-old factory ID badge bearing the image of a young man. "A few weeks ago I asked my mom, 'What made my grandfather such a civic-minded man? Why was he always there to help someone who had lost their job? Take food to someone who couldn't make ends meet? Serve on the City Council? What made him so incredibly engaged with his community and his state?' Mom looked at me and she said, 'Labor.'"

So it was that the granddaughter of Willard Roberts-a forty-five-year employee and proud union man at the Monarch Range plant in the factory town of Beaver Dam-pulled out her grandpa's ID and pinned it to her jacket when she learned that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was proposing to strip state, county and municipal employees and teachers of their collective bargaining rights. "This state was built by people like him; this country was built by people like him. I think we all kind of forgot that until the governor woke us up," she said. "Walker thought he could bust the unions, privatize everything, give it all away to the corporations. But that was a great misfire. Because when he attacked the unions, he reminded us where we came from. We're the children and grandchildren of union workers and farmers and shopkeepers. That goes deeper, way deeper, than politics. This legislation is an affront to my whole family history."