Fight for Your Rights

progressive apolitical event FightingBobFest comes to Chippewa Falls

Emily Anderson, photos by V1 Staff & Contributors 

NO, IT’S NOT A FIGHT CLUB FOR GUYS NAMED ROBERT. FightingBobFestNorth (a spin off of FightingBobFest) aims to bring “today’s best progressive speakers to the Midwest.”
NO, IT’S NOT A FIGHT CLUB FOR GUYS NAMED ROBERT. FightingBobFestNorth (a spin off of FightingBobFest) aims to bring “today’s best progressive speakers to the Midwest.”

Robert La Follette was an influential U.S. Senator as well as Wisconsin Governor in the early 1900s. Affiliated with the Republican party for most of his career, his adamant support for progressive reform and frequent clashes with other members of Congress gave him the nickname "Fighting Bob." Specifically, La Follette fought for the protection of workers' rights, an end to monopolies and corruption in government, and open primaries – among many other issues. From his progressive ideas, the FightingBobFest was born.

The event was founded in 2001 by Edward Garvey after 10 activists from the Perrier-Nestle fight for Wisconsin's spring water in 2000 came together to discuss the success of their fight and to carry their victory forward to other issues. The first official FightingBobFest was held in Baraboo in 2002 with more than 1,000 people in attendance. The festival has been growing every year since, with roughly 8,000 in attendance last year.

“We are not campaigning for anyone. ... (Speakers) are not there for for their party; they are there for their ideas.” – Jim Dunning, an event coordinator of FightingBobFest

Every year, speakers from all over the nation come to the event to address issues facing the state of Wisconsin and the nation as well as promote progressivism and forward thinking. Some of them include Mike McCabe, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, Stan Gruszynski, Jim Hightower, and Nancy Unger. Other notable speakers are past presidential candidate Ralph Nader, former senator Russ Feingold, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. The big 10th annual celebration will take place in Madison this September.

Soon after the festival's establishment, there was a desire to hold the event in different locations and at multiple times during the year. Thus, the idea for FightingBobFestNorth was born and they set their sites on the Chippewa Valley. Jim Dunning, one of the event coordinators, said, "The intent was to spread the message. We've got a good thing going ... let's multiply it."

This year marks the first annual FightingBobFestNorth, and the environment will be similar to its parent event in structure and in purpose, Dunning said, as neither event is about any particular political party.

"We are not campaigning for anyone. Some of the speakers may be politicians, but they are not there for their party; they are there for their ideas," he said, adding that it's more about progressivism and forward thinking.

Both branches of FightingBobFest aim to provide information to attendees on current affairs. Dunning and his fellow organizers want to make attendees, "Aware of the issues at hand and how they can affect the current situation."

The theme for this year's meeting is "Money and Democracy." Although chosen more than a year ago, this topic has become even more relevant to our state in the last few months. Speakers will give presentations about the ways money can influence elections, campaigns, government, etc. "To make the community aware of what affect money has on our political process," Dunning added.

Speakers include Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a non-partisan committee that tracks money in state politics. Also John Nichols, contributor for The Progressive as well as The Nation magazine and The Capital Times, and Stan Gruszynski, director of the Rural Leadership and Community Development program at UW-Stevens Point. Stan has spoke at FightingBob since 2003 and has become an event favorite. Ed Garvey, the event's founder, will also speak.

Attendees can also visit informational booths on the grounds that are run by regional progressive organizations and businesses or check out mini breakout sessions that cover topics such as labor unions and allow for group discussion. In addition, there's also music and entertainment, and food and beverages.