There’s nothing that gets a true progressive’s heart a-thumping and their corpuscles jumping quite like the Fighting Bob Fest. Fighting Bob Fest is an annual Chautauqua featuring progressive speakers, networking opportunities, and entertainment. It carries on the tradition of Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette (Wisconsin’s great progressive governor and senator) by providing a forum for progressive ideas on issues facing Wisconsin and the nation.
This year’s 10th anniversary event is expected to draw 10,000 to Madison – its first time in the Capitol city – to celebrate America’s progressive heritage and future. The lineup of scheduled speakers includes among others:
- Senator Bernie Sanders
- Congressman Dennis Kucinich
- Jim Hightower
- Thom Hartmann
- Dr. Cornel West
- Greg Palast
- Tammy Baldwin
- John Nichols
“For me, ‘Fighting Bob’ was always someone who was looking for ways to get more power into a greater number of people’s hands,” said Ed Garvey, the founder of the event and current editor and publisher of FightingBob.com. “He was always concerned about too few people having too much power. And look at today – that’s still the problem. The Koch Brothers are the best example of that. The concentration of power is still a problem that impacts all of us and one we have to work though.”
This year’s event is moving to Madison from its original site at the Fair Grounds in Baraboo, Wisconsin, to accommodate larger crowds and to provide more indoor space to avoid any weather-related problems. The festivities begin Friday night (September 16) with a special event at the Barrymore Theater and the all-day Saturday schedule includes speakers and break out sessions. A full schedule can be found at http://fightingbobfest.org/schedule.cfm.
The growth and popularity of Fighting Bob Fest can be directly attributed to the work and organizational skills of Garvey. Reflecting back on what he remembers about the first fest in Baraboo in 2002, he laughed and said: “I remember driving over to Baraboo not knowing what to expect. We had no money; there was no advertising and I’m thinking if we only have 50 people I’ll tell Paul (Senator Paul Simon) that those are the 50 most energized progressives out there.
“Then we got there and there were nearly 500 and almost 1,000 by the time Paul finished his speech. People want and need to be inspired. It was true then and it’s true today. I often get told, ‘Ed, you’re preaching to the choir’ and I tell them the choir needs inspiration too.”
And what better place to hold the 10th anniversary fest than in Madison, the city in which the spontaneous outcry against right-wing Governor Scott Walker’s attempts at union busting mesmerized the nation. It was as if Fighting Bob’s spirit had resurrected and you could hear his voice reverberating throughout the chants of “This is what democracy looks like” that the more than 100,000 shouted for weeks in the cold of late winter in Madison.
“I don’t think the people expected Scott Walker to go after collective bargaining or to gut education,” Garvey said. “You can’t blame the people of Wisconsin for the Walker wrecking crew. But now, when you see all the people who came to the Labor Temple on Labor Day, those coming to the Fighting Bob Fest, those fighting for campaign finance reform and the overturning of Citizens United, the involvement of the younger people in all of this, that’s the best thing to come out of what happened in Wisconsin.
“I’m most enthused by the younger people…and I wouldn’t have said that two years ago. I spoke at two college campuses (in Wisconsin) and the students weren’t interested. Public Service was a dirty word to them. Now they see it differently. They see you can come together and have a positive impact. I’m encouraged because they now see that we can win on these issues.”
And what excites Garvey most about this 10th anniversary event? “I’m most anxious to see Bernie,” Garvey said of the independent senator from Vermont. The two have fought gallantly over the years to keep progressive ideas front and center in political discussions. What a sight, come Saturday afternoon, September 17th to see two great progressive voices of today honoring the heritage of Bob LaFollette.
My heart’s a thumping and my corpuscles are jumping just at the thought of that.