I’ve never been so proud to rep Wisconsin.
More than the Packers bringing the Lombardi trophy back to its birthplace, more than the moment I introduced my boys back in DC to the glories of a cheese curd, the massive uprising to defend workers’ rights that has erupted over these past two weeks in Madison has cemented my Badger pride forever.
I’m 2000 miles away from the action inside the Capitol Rotunda, but through text messages, Facebook reports, and (sweet Jesus!) decent coverage from the national media, I feel like I’m just down the block on State Street.
While my analysis is secondary to the activists and agitators in the trenches (snow trenches, to be exact), I want to offer some notes on what has made all this so amazing:
The Movement is Growing By the Day — And Shows No Signs of Stopping.
Since people first learned of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed death-to-unions legislation two weeks ago, the protests at the Capitol haven’t stopped. The numbers of labor demonstrators has grown from 1,000 the first day, to 5,000 a couple days later, to over 100,000 people this past Saturday. Thousands of whom have been occupying the Capitol 24/7, sleeping over in the building despite Walker’s attempts to kick them out. People simply won’t go home — and that’s the most powerful part.
The indefinite, growing action is what has created the legislative crisis and national spectacle. As opposed to most political actions (an anti-war rally or even a fair trade “week of action”), the people’s uprising in Madison has no definitive end date that the Governor and his friends can use to just wait them out. And that’s why they’re scared.
The Democrats Have Showed Some Backbone.
No, not the national Democratic Party, but “The Wisconsin 14“– the Democratic state senators who fled the state to block Gov. Walker’s attack on workers. The state senate needs a quorum of 20 legislators to act on the bill, but the Republicans only have 19 senators. So the Democrats used what power they had, and voted with their feet.
Far too often, Democratic politicians across the country give in (or worse, lead the attack) on workers’ rights and social justice. Let’s support them on the rare occasion they do the right thing — and remember that those 14 senators could only make their stand because 100,000 people in the streets gave them the political space to do so.
The Right-Wing Puppet Masters have been Exposed.
Scott Walker is a stooge, a puppet of national corporate interests. Thanks to a liberal blogger’s prank phone call, we all know who’s pulling Walker’s strings: the billionaire Koch Brothers. Charles and David Koch are viciously right-wing industrialists best known for being the primary funders (some would say creators) of the Tea Party. In the prank call where Walker thought he was talking to David Koch, Walker showed his true allegiance — and it wasn’t to the people of Wisconsin.
The Cops are with the Good Guys?
This is something you don’t usually see: rather than following the standard police playbook of “Taser first, ask questions later,” the police announced their solidarity with the people occupying the Capitol. Wow. The police understand that even though Walker exempted their union (and the firefighters) from the bill, they could be next. Now, many of them are joining with their union brothers and sisters. This is big — just look at Egypt and (hopefully) Libya. When the police join the movement, that’s when the revolution happens.
America has Hope Again.
Van Jones said it best earlier this week: “In the past 24 months, those of us who longed for positive change have gone from hope to heartbreak. But hope is returning to America — at last — thanks largely to the courageous stand of the heroes and heroines of Wisconsin.” Wisconsin is awakening a strong, grassroots Left-labor movement that has been asleep in America for far too long. This past Saturday saw solidarity protests in all 50 states, and there’s even talks that a general strike is on the table in Madison if the bill passes.
This is about more than unions. This is about whose state, whose country this is. To paraphrase George W. Bush, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the billionaire oil tycoon Koch-heads.”
With that said, here’s some things for my Badgers in the streets to keep in mind:
1) Keep the Crisis Going as Long as Possible.
The longer we occupy the Capitol, the longer the Democrats stay in Rockford or wherever the hell they are, the better for our side. It gives us time to frame the debate, show the real issues, build our power and organization, and make the Republicans come to us on our terms.
Gov. Walker might not budge, but 3 Republican Senators very well could. That’s all we need for the vote to fail. Many of those Republicans districts have a lot of union members, and are vulnerable come election time. Many folks are already calling for recall elections. That said, don’t get caught up in electoral politics. Our power is at the grassroots. And remember that Walker did NOT run on a campaign to bust unions. His election was not a mandate for this bill.
2) Make this Bigger Than Just the Unions — Because It Is.
This bill (and soon Walker’s full budget) doesn’t just attack organized labor: he is privatizing UW-Madison, decimating state health care, and attacking unemployed people and all sorts of workers not in unions. If the broad-based movement of the past two weeks doesn’t continue after whatever happens with this one bill, then we’ve lost either way.
Build new relationships — and organization! Wisconsin (and the whole country) needs a real, ongoing coalition of workers, students, civil rights groups, faith leaders, women’s and LGBT groups: the full rainbow spectrum. Some of this is already happening with Wisconsin Wave, Defend Wisconsin, and others. The fights will keep coming — let’s keep fighting united.
3) This Can’t Just Be a White Fight.
This is going off the last point. Let’s be honest — most the teachers, social workers, and other public workers who have been the majority of faces in the protests are white. Wisconsin is about as white a state as they come. But when it comes to serious oppression in the Badger State – massively disproportionate incarceration, unemployment, and immigration raids – the people most impacted are usually black and brown. Several Republican legislators have already called for an anti-immigrant law as harsh as Arizona’s. If this movement’s call is to “defend Wisconsin,” who are we defending it for?
The conservative game plan is always to divide and conquer, in this case to pit ‘lazy’ public-sector workers against ‘hard-working’ private-sector workers. Sound familiar? In our appeal to class solidarity, let’s recognize that there are deep racial divisions in Wisconsin — in our schools, our housing, and yes, our unions. Let’s be up front about it, and make this the time to start doing it different. Racial justice groups like my old friends at Freedom Inc. have already joined the fight.
4. Target the People and Structures Behind Walker.
I’m not just talking about the Koch brothers, I’m talking about Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, who protesters smartly picketed last week for being the main sponsor of the current bill. I’m talking about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, giving corporations free rein to buy politicians through campaign donations. I’m talking about unregulated capitalism, and the idea that human beings are mere commodities to be bought and sold to the highest bidding billionaire. The people in the Capitol are starting to think BIG. Let’s keep it up.
5) Expect to WIN!
This is the most important one. The momentum is on our side: the people, the Packers, even the police are on our side. The nation is with you. Don’t give in on pensions and health care before negotiating. Don’t give in on cuts to Badger Care or turning UW-Madison into “a country club with a nice library.”
I remember walking to a protest on Library Mall once and thinking, “This isn’t going to change anything.” And you know what it? It didn’t. Too often, we think we’re going to lose, and so we don’t even play hard in the game. This time, Madison, you’ve taken your gloves off. I can see it in your eyes. You know you can win. So go do it.
I’ll be there with you, proud as hell.