It was a beautiful sunny day in Madison on Saturday as throngs gathered around the capitol square in the ongoing and historic protest that has risen up against Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting bill.
By my estimation, there were 75,000 union supporters there -- the largest crowd yet.
There were also about 7,500 tea party members. I spent an hour or so interviewing them. They were almost 99 percent white and mostly middle aged. Many were from Waukesha County, one of the most conservative in the state. A few were from Illinois. The women were much friendlier -- or at least more polite -- than some of the men I spoke with.
One woman was holding a sign that said, "Tea Party Protest: Not Racist, Not Violent, Just No Longer Silent." I started to ask her a question when her husband interrupted and demanded to know who I was. When I told him, he said, "Go to hell." So his wife refused to talk with me.
One man was holding a huge American flag and wearing an NRA hat. He declined to give me his name, but he said he was there to "support individual liberty." He added: "We've got a state that's bankrupt, and we've got unions demanding more than we have. And they're doing it collectively, not individually."
Scott Schultz, 49, of Cottage Grove, WI, was holding a sign that said, "We Won, Get to Work," on one side, and on the other, "Liberals and Unions Make Me Sick." He said he was there "to support Governor Walker and support my children who stayed in school when the teachers didn't."
Jack Pease, 59, of northern Illinois, carried a big sign that said, "Shove Your Union Intimidation." He said there are three kinds of people: "hard workers, taxpayers, and elitists." The "elitists" are "the recipients of our tax dollars, the government workers." He complained that his father, who was "a used car salesman who did everything right," is 80 years old now and has "$240,000 in the bank but he gets only $2,400 in interest." I asked how that was the fault of unions, and he said, "Unions are pushing for more and more benefits, and working people will retire with less and less."
Richard Clements, 56, also of Illinois, was holding a sign that said, "US Ranks 18th, Thanks to Teachers Union." We need to "get our fiscal house in order," he said. "Finally, we've got some people in there that want to make that happen." He added: "I'm not against teachers. I've got a sister-in-law who is a teacher."
I met a teacher from Madison who is a member of MTI, the local teachers' union. She carried a sign that said, "MTI Member for Walker." She's 54, but didn't want to give her name. "I'm a public servant," she says. "I don't think the little guy should be paying my full benefits. As a citizen, I feel I should pay my fair share."
Another woman held a sign that said, on one side, "I'd Have Been Here Sooner But I Had to Work," and on the other: "2 Chronicle, 7:14." That biblical passage reads: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." She said, "I'm a worker in construction. I don't get benefits. I believe in honest work and honest pay. I should get paid for how well I do my job."
Tammy Betras, 52, of Green Bay, had a similar sign that said, "Sorry I Couldn't Get Here Until Today, I Was Working to Pay for Your Benefits." She's an accountant. "I know what I have to do to balance a budget, and the state has to balance a budget, too," she said. "We just can't keep going like this." But she wasn't totally hostile to unions. "My dad was a union man," she said. "There's a place for unions." She said she is more concerned about the part of the bill dealing with the state's finances than with collective bargaining rights.
Valerie Knueppel, 57, of Waukesha County, held a sign that said, "Elections Have Consequences." "I was a former Milwaukee County employee, and my husband is also a retired city employee," she said. "I saw greed on the part of the unions, always demanding more. Our government spends money that we don't have, and we all have to tighten our belts."
Sharon Lutzen, 49, held a sign that said, "Teachers and Unions Are Not the Same." She said something that several others mentioned to me: "Those signs [by the pro-union people] linking Walker to Hitler are appalling."
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Glorious Rallies in Madison, Ground Zero of the Fight Back."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.