The premier event of progressive politics is coming to La Crosse for the first time on Saturday, giving locals an opportunity to hear well-known speakers and share their thoughts on government, power and policy.

The 2017 Fighting Bob Fest, in its 16th year, was created by late Wisconsin labor attorney Ed Garvey and named for Progressive Party founder and former Wisconsin Gov. and U.S. Sen. Robert La Follette, who used his platforms to oppose corporate power. In past years, the event has been held in Madison and Baraboo, drawing up to 8,000 people, and this year will be divided in half-day sessions in both Milwaukee and La Crosse. The La Crosse event will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. in Copeland Park.

“We always wanted to take it on the road,” said Sarah Lloyd, statewide co-chair of Our Wisconsin Revolution, an independent democratic-populist organization with many active members in La Crosse. “The event is really about coming together and networking.”

This year’s speakers include John Nichols, writer for The Nation and the Capital Times, Al Gedicks of the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Attorney General candidate Josh Kaul. Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower will return for the 15th year, while Our Revolution president Nina Turner will speak for the first time.

“She’s a fabulous and inspired speaker ... people should definitely come and hear her,” Lloyd said. “We’re thrilled she’s coming to Wisconsin.”

In addition to speakers, the event will feature 20 booths with representatives from local and statewide organizations and citizen panels on racial justice and environmental concerns, including fracking and water quality.

Admission is free and food will be available for purchase.

“We’re getting citizens geared up to take action and think about the elections in 2018,” Lloyd said. “We’re building a citizen movement and everyone’s invited.”

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Emily Pyrek covers human interest stories, local events and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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