Saturday marked a year since Gov. Scott Walker "dropped the bomb," as he privately described it, announcing his proposal to all but end collective bargaining for most public workers.

And to mark the anniversary of Walker unveiling his plans — and the beginning of his opponents' fight against them — protesters again descended on the state Capitol despite toe-numbing temperatures with drums, vuvuzelas and signs.

Saturday's crowd at the State Street entrance to the Capitol numbered about 500, according to state Department of Administration estimates, far smaller than the peak of the spring's historic protests when tens of thousands flooded the Capitol for days on end in February and March. 

The protests had a ripple effect throughout Wisconsin and the nation, making the state a battleground for a national political fight. They sparked efforts to throw out politicians from both parties and changed the everyday climate at the Capitol. But they did not prevent Walker's collective bargaining proposal from becoming law.

"The people are down right now, but we are not out," said Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin. "This is a fight they wanted, this is a fight they started. Well, if it's a fight they want, it's a fight they're going to get."

There was a lot of talk at the rally about recalls, with Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, repeatedly shouting, "Gov. Walker, it's time for you to go."

Though opponents decried the changes as an assault on public employees and working-class families, Walker introduced them Feb. 11, 2011, as part of a bill to close a $137 million budget gap. In the year since then, his office has said the changes have allowed local governments and schools to reduce worker costs and hold the line on taxes.

When asked for a comment about Saturday's protest, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said, "The reforms put in place have improved our state and were done because Gov. Walker had the next generation in mind, not the next election."

The next election for Walker likely will be a recall. The state elections agency is determining whether the governor, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican senators will face recall elections this year after organizers submitted 1.9 million petition signatures against them last month.

The recall efforts are just part of the legacy of last year's massive protests and the showdown between Walker and his opponents. The battle at the Capitol over collective bargaining quickly morphed into a larger struggle over issues including public education spending and health care, programs for the poor and tax cuts for corporations.

"I think the impact of the demonstrations is nothing short of revolutionary in terms of Wisconsin politics," said Mordecai Lee, a UW-Milwaukee political science professor and former Democratic state lawmaker. "It's practically turned Wisconsin politics inside out and upside down."

He said Wisconsin is viewed as "Main Street USA" nationally and has come to represent the power and potential of people getting involved in politics.

Republican legislative leader Rep. Robin Vos of Rochester agreed people on both sides are more engaged politically than they were a year ago.

"For better or worse, more people know about state politics," he said. "More people know who I am."

At times that increased visibility has crossed the line into incivility or criminality. Protesters heckled Walker during his State of the State last month, and other Republican politicians have reported being followed and harassed by protesters. Vos had a Miller Lite dumped over his head by a frequent protester at a Capitol Square bar in the fall. 

The 14 Democratic senators who fled the state to avoid voting on Walker's collective bargaining bill gained their own infamy. Six were targeted for recall. Three stood for election, but all of them kept their seats. Two of the six GOP senators who faced recall elections in the summer lost. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers reported dozens of threats to Capitol Police.

Vos called the protests "part of our history" but said the state needs to move forward.

Edgerton native Jenna Pope, 21, said she was not politically active before being swept up in the 2011 wave and becoming a near fixture at the Capitol. She said she has seen the effect of Wisconsin's protests in travels to New York and Indiana to join protests there.

"I went out to Occupy Wall Street a few months ago, and I was overwhelmed with people telling me how Wisconsin was the spark that started the fire of the Occupy movement," Pope said.

She and others think of the Capitol protests, where people stayed day and night for about three weeks, as the first "occupation."

Ileen DeVault, a professor of labor history at Cornell University, agreed. DeVault said the protests changed not only state and national politics, but "I think it has reinvigorated the labor movement as well."

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