03/11/2011 01:04 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At Milwaukee Rally, Jesse Jackson Sees Hope For Unions In April Election

MILWAUKEE -- Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to a crowd of demonstrators in Milwaukee Thursday evening, laying out a strategy to oppose the anti-union rights legislation that state lawmakers passed hours earlier.

He focused on the upcoming State Supreme Court election, urging voters to choose a justice who would protect workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Speaking to a crowd that included teachers and public school students, Jackson said Milwaukee has become as important a battleground as Madison.

“All eyes are on Milwaukee,” he said from the steps of Milwaukee County Courthouse, as the crowd cheered. “The cameras are in Madison, the votes are in Milwaukee.”

The election on April 5 could swing the ideological leaning of the seven-justice State Supreme Court. Justice David Prosser, one of the four-justice unofficial conservative majority, sees his term expire this year. His opponent, Assistant State Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, would likely break that majority. If a legal challenge to the new legislation arrives before the Supreme Court, that shift of power could be crucial.

“We’re gonna see the same crowds in Milwaukee that we see in Madison,” declared Rev. Willie Brisco, president of Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope, which sponsored the rally. “This is just the beginning.”

Jackson, a longtime advocate for worker’s rights, had been in Madison earlier that day. He arrived at the Courthouse in Milwaukee two hours after the rally began, wearing a black hat and overcoat, while the crowd chanted, “Jesse, Jesse!” After climbing the courthouse steps and taking the microphone, he compared the current political struggle to the demonstrations that preceded the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“This is what democracy looks like,” he said.

Jackson spoke in support of teachers, who would lose collective bargaining rights if the bill is ratified. The teachers -- and students -- in the audience roared their appreciation.

One student, Carlo Goodger, a 12-year-old 7th grader in the Milwaukee Public School system, had addressed the crowd minutes before Jackson arrived.

“We’re proud to be from MPS,” Goodger said, as demonstrators exploded into cheers. “We don’t like what Scott Walker is doing to us.”

If the bill becomes law, class sizes could expand. Teachers could face wage cuts or layoffs.

Goodger, whose mother is a teacher at his school, and whose mother’s parents were also teachers, granted HuffPost an interview after his speech.

“Not only do I know how it will feel for my mom, but I know how it will feel for me, also,” he said. “I’m gonna make a change as much as I can.”

“I grew up a Milwaukee public student, and I’m gonna die a Milwaukee public student.”

His mother, Lucia Medico, 35, who teaches special education, said the teacher’s union, Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, has encouraged members to be “more passive” in their response to the bill, and to “wait it out.”

“But we as teachers want to make an impact,” she said. “Waiting it out has brought this.”

Teachers at the rally said they hoped to bring the energy of Madison to Milwaukee, and to encourage more people to support their cause. But they found themselves in the awkward position of not wanting to stick their necks out too far, for fear that they could face consequences, especially if they lose union rights. Tricia Ward, 35, who teaches special education, requested that the name of her school be withheld.

“That’s how scared everyone is,” she said. “When this collective bargaining ends, they can do whatever they want.”

WATCH Rev. Jackson's speech below (credit to Dr. Todd Alan Price, of National-Louis University):