Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, is quiet and thoughtful in one-on-one conversations. She’s a middle-aged, cheery, bespectacled woman whose dimpled face is surrounded by a thick corona of whitish-gray hair.
But when fighting for her members, Bell forcefully projects her belief in teachers’ right to respect, decent pay and union representation. At a rally with tens of thousands at the Capitol on a snowy, bitter Feb. 26, Bell expressed outrage at Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals for the near-total stripping of union rights for teachers, librarians, highway workers, prison guards and other public workers across the state. Yet her anger was tempered by her humor and her belief in Wisconsinites’ fundamental commitment to fairness and public education.
The rhetoric Mary Bell used that day about “Wisconsin values” was no stretch for her, because she perceives herself as a typical Wisconsinite, sharply different from the image of the insular Madison insider, as Walker likes to portray his enemies.