The Raging Grannies of Madison joined Wisconsin Secretary of State Doug La Follette and dozens of onlookers in the state capitol today to unveil a new plaque dedicated to La Follette’s great-grandfather, “Fighting Bob” La Follette.
Robert M. La Follette was born in Primrose Wisconsin in 1855, and was elected to the US House of Representatives, US Senate, and Governor of Wisconsin at the turn of the 20th century. A staunch Progressive, Fighting Bob ran for President as a third party candidate twice, once in 1912, and again in 1924, where he won over 16% of the popular vote. Fighting Bob died while serving as a US Senator in 1925.
Now, almost 100 years after his death, Fighting Bob is commemorated with not only a bust, but a plaque outlining his achievements and his fight for progressive politics.
Doug La Follette, who has served as Secretary of State since 1982, first got the idea to install a plaque on the bust of Fighting Bob during the pandemic. After two years of back and forth with the committee overseeing the capitol building, that plaque is now in place.
Getting the plaque in the capitol was not an easy task, La Follette says. When he first brought the idea to the committee, it was outright denied, and they instead called for a simple nameplate to be installed on the bust instead.
“I sort of said ‘okay, I’m going to give up for now, and leave it in your hands to work on it,’” La Follette says. “So they fussed around with it, and they came back and I took what they came up with and I came out with another version, a compromise. I wanted to have more information about Fighting Bob, and some people just said ‘well, his name is enough, and maybe put his birthday.’ I said no, and we finally, finally, came up with an agreement.”
The committee agreed to the compromise on one condition: they weren’t going to pay for it. Instead, La Follette says that he was called on to come up with the $2,700 needed to install the plaque himself.
La Follette was able to raise about half of that money through a fundraising campaign, in which 12 people contributed around $1,300. At the unveiling today, the campaign received one last donation of $500 from the Raging Grannies themselves. La Follette personally paid for the remaining cost to install the plaque.
Along with a list of his accomplishments, the plaque reads, “Fighting Bob La Follette, A founder of the progressive movement, Champion of the Wisconsin Idea, ‘The basic principle of this government is the will of the people’.”
In addition to his work in politics, Fighting Bob founded a magazine called the La Follette Weekly in 1909. It’s better known today as The Progressive.
Norman Stockwell is the current publisher of The Progressive magazine. He spoke at today’s unveiling, saying that many of the issues Fighting Bob fought for at the turn of the 20th century are still being fought today.
“As Bob said when he was elected overwhelmingly for his second term in 1911, ‘tyranny and oppression are just as possible under democratic forms as any other. We are slow to realize that democracy is a life, and involves continual struggle. It is only as those of every generation who love democracy resist with all their might the encroachment of its enemies, that the ideals of representative government can even nearly be approximated,’” Stockwell says.
Doug La Follette says that he agrees, calling his great-grandfather his biggest political hero in both state and federal politics.
“The biggest thought I have is where is this man when we need him now,” La Follette says. “If he were in the US Senate representing us now? A Dream.”
Photos courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT News Team