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Several hundred demonstrate at Illinois capitol in support of Wisconsin public workers

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 27, 2011 - Sallie Clark of Edwardsville stood outside the Illinois Capitol building in Springfield early Saturday afternoon, bundled up against the biting cold and holding a sign demanding "a voice for all educators."

Clark, an eighth-grade special education teacher at Liberty Middle School, was among several hundred teachers, union members and political activists who gathered to show support for public sector workers in Wisconsin who have been protesting for two weeks an effort by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to limit collective bargaining for state workers.

"I came out here today because I had to support my brothers and sisters in education. Their rights are being taken away from them," Clark said.

The rally was part of a 50-state effort organized by the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org. The demonstrations, dubbed "Save the American Dream" rallies, were also held outside the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City and in Chicago.

Speakers representing various unions warned the crowd that the attempt to roll back collective bargaining in Wisconsin would be repeated in other states, including Illinois.

Amy Demoss of Pekin, Ill., said she brought her children to the rally to show support for their teachers.

"I want them to see that everything they hear on the news may not be accurate," Demoss said."These are the workers of American. The people who make things happen. We're hearing that they're un-American. These are their teachers, their firemen, their snowplow drivers -- everybody who makes the world the world. If they're going to have a chance at a good future, they need to stand up for it now."

The rally also attracted a handful of people who voiced support for Walker's actions in Wisconsin.

Ed White, 70, of Springfield stood down the street holding a hand-lettered sign that said "Go Walker Go." 

'We have a big problem brewing, and everybody seems to be asleep,'" he said.

White, who is retired, said he used to represent the state of Illinois in negotiations with unions. He decided to come Saturday when he heard that MoveOn.org was organizing the event.

"At the drop of the hat they said everybody go to the state capitol and protest what's going on with Gov. Walker -- and nobody should have that kind of power,'' White said. "The president could tell people to go to all the state capitols and you wouldn't have this kind of showing." 

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.