Thursday, June 16, 2011
It's not like people didn't know the budget was going to pass when they joined hands Tuesday night and sang "We Shall Overcome." But it was an inspiring moment that marked the end of one stage of the battle for the soul of Wisconsin and the beginning of another.
In the largest protest in weeks, thousands turned out to demonstrate against the budget bill on Tuesday -- on Fighting Bob La Follette's birthday, of all days -- but there was a muted undercurrent of melancholy. People had just found out about the state Supreme Court's outrageously political split decision upholding the collective bargaining bill. And it was clear that, protest or no protest, the GOP legislature would ram through the governor's budget, probably by the end of the week.
The two events -- the bill stripping public workers of their right to collective bargaining, and the budget that was "balanced" on the backs of the poor and middle class while giving tax cuts and other goodies to the rich and powerful -- marked a turning point. It's been four months now that the people of Wisconsin have been demonstrating against these atrocities in the largest and most prolonged demonstrations the Capitol has ever seen. People camped out, in a place called Walkerville. For a while it almost felt as if Walker's plans could be derailed simply by the power of our collective will. If we kept pushing, something would turn up, like Judge Sumi overturning the collective bargaining bill. Maybe, by some miracle, the Republican majority would be forced to respond to the public.
The events of this week -- perhaps the most politically cynical week in our state's history, with the Republican actions in the Supreme Court, the Assembly and the Senate -- proved this was wishful thinking. Now the action will move from the streets to the polls as the recall campaigns heat up. John Nichols and Paul Soglin talked about what's next with Sly Sylvester this morning.
This was the Capitol Rotunda just minutes after the Tuesday rally ended. The crowd dispersed quickly, and few entered the Capitol -- partly because access had been limited to one "stealth" entrance behind the outside staircase on MLK Jr Blvd while the Republican majority continued to work its mischief in the legislature. The photo symbolizes how the focus of action is now transitioning away from from the Capitol to the recall elections in nine Senate districts around the state.
People will continue to speak up in and around the Capitol (whose doors finally reopen without metal detectors June 27). We shall overcome. But it will take time, determination and sustained effort. First we need to retake the Senate. Then the governor's office. In the fall of 2012, we'll retake the Assembly. Eventually, we'll rebuild the integrity of the Supreme Court.
Perhaps then we can start to do something about what's really poisoning our politics -- the unrestricted power of corporate money. It corrupts both parties, but you know the saying, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." That would be today's Wisconsin Republicans.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I took this photo yesterday afternoon during the rally, with Walkerville in the background. A new poll tends to support the sign. By a 50-47 % margin, Wisconsin residents want Scott Walker recalled. In potential matchups, Russ Feingold beats him by 10 percentage points and Tom Barrett by 7.
Of course, a lot can happen between now and January. Republicans think Walker can close the gap, that the recall has no chance once the public experiences the benefits of his policies. The conventional wisdom has it that the public has a short memory. Walker can flood the airwaves with millions of dollars in advertising underwritten by the deep pockets of his supporters. The budget will no longer be in the headlines, and people might not trace all the impacts back to Walker by then.
What this view overlooks is that the Republicans have sold the Walker budget as the solution to all of Wisconsin's problems. It will create jobs, jobs, jobs. It will give municipalities the "tools" to cut education costs without cutting quality (yeah, right). A pro-business tax policy and the free market will cure all that ails us. Some voters may actually believe that.
Will they still believe it come January? The problems aren't getting better, they're getting worse. Where are those jobs, Scotty? As municipal services get cut, public education deteriorates, and privatization sells off valuable public assets at bargain basement prices to Walker's cronies, it will become clear that Walker has squandered our resources and trampled on people's rights for nothing. What then? Walker has pretty much shot his wad. What does he do for an encore? Privatize the roads? Privatize libraries? Once again give big business more tax cuts under the guise of job creation?
When this all begins to sink in and more people really begin to understand how truly destructive Walker's policies have been, no amount of television advertising will overcome their anger. When all things are equal in an election, money gives the person who has it a huge advantage. When all things are not equal, not so much. That's why the conventional wisdom is wrong.
Besides, we'll keep reminding them who to blame as public services suffer, schools deteriorate further, and the rich get richer with Walker's tax breaks. We're not forgetting, and we're not going away.
Meanwhile, the poll gives some indication that Republican state senators might not have as easy a time as they think skating through their own recalls. They're facing solid opponents and an army of volunteers who won't forget.
Yesterday (June 14) happened to be the birthday of the great progressive leader, Robert M. "Fighting Bob" La Follette, Sr. Curiously, it was also the day that the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a decision that was split on party lines, 4-3, struck down collective bargaining for public employee in Wisconsin. Not entirely unexpected, but it still felt like a punch in the gut.
Late in the evening I stopped by the Forest Hill Cemetery on Madison's west side, not far from where we live, to collect my thoughts on this disappointing day. I pulled over not far from the entrance, killed the engine and listened to the sounds of the night and the wind rustling through the tall pines. I was emotionally exhausted and probably sort of suggestible. A glowing phosphorescence began to pulsate in front of me. It was like something from the story that terrified me as a kid, "The Color Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft. But it wasn't that. Remarkably, the faint illumination coalesced into the benign, ghostly figure of Fighting Bob La Follette rising from his grave. (Even more amazing, his ghost showed up on my camera -- though with the EXIF file mysteriously erased.)
But he didn't look benign. The man was known for having a temper when pushed, and he was furious. "How dare they?" he kept asking. He was pacing angrily, but I managed to slow him down for a couple minutes so we could talk. He swore that he would not rest until the people take back their state from the special interests he fought for so long, so many years ago. "The first step is to win the recall elections," he said. I could tell he was already in campaign mode and left him alone to make some phone calls. As for me, I promised I would do some volunteer work for the campaigns. I suggest you do the same. So does Bob.
BTW: If you're reading this from out of state, you can help too. Of course, you can contribute money. You can also contribute your time. Contact Call Out the Vote to make phone calls from your home.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Maybe it was the calm before the storm. The budget bill hits the floor today, in a special "extraordinary session," and there are going to be a lot of unhappy, angry people on the Square (including T and me). Let's keep it peaceful and avoid being drawn into provocations. It certainly was peaceful Monday.
It was a great afternoon to stroll by the Walkerville wall of shame, read what others have written and add your own thoughts in solidarity. Just another one of the many features of the protests that have encouraged everyone to speak out.
There were more media trucks at the Square today than I've seen for a long time -- trucks with towers for the local stations, satellite trucks for out of town stations. After the WMC march today there wasn't much to shoot, so it was a good time to shoot some B roll footage of Walkerville for reporters and anchors to talk over -- and for Faux News commentators to opine about how messy the campers are.
The Capitol lawn -- supposedly wrecked by protesters in the muddy, mucky spring -- has never looked more pristine. Helping keep it that way was a sizable contingent of police -- mostly state troopers and Capitol police -- on the sidewalks outside the Capitol today. You have to salute this fine, cost-effective expenditure of taxpayer dollars -- why have state patrol officers waste their time chasing drunks and speeders when there's lawn patrol to be done?
All kidding aside, I have the feeling that the lawn was probably the last thing on the state troopers' minds Monday afternoon. Lately they've been acting more and more like the Fitwalkerstan junta's enforcers, and they seemed to be looking for the slightest signs of trouble to perhaps over-respond to.
This will be even more true today. The Republicans would like nothing more than media reports of violence -- and if not actual violence, dramatic tear gas footage, with or without palm trees, to make it look violent) going into the recall elections. Me, I still like the dollar bills taped over mouths as a form of protest. Pretty hard to spin that in any way favorable to the Republicans.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Lou and Peter Berryman perform "Walkerville" -- in Walkerville Sunday before Russ Feingold's appearance
Lou joked that this was the world premiere, in case anybody thought they had been performing it in other Walkervilles. People chuckled at the idea that there could be such a thing as another Walkerville somewhere else. But actually, there are Walkervilles popping up all over Europe, under different names, of course. But as this article in the Spiegel International Online points out, tent cities are appearing in Europe as young people take to the streets to protest high youth unemployment.
A tent city has been set up on Puerta del Sol in Madrid, the most famous square in Spain, for three weeks. The square has become the world of the "indignados," the indignant. The protesters began building the tent city on May 15, a week before local and regional elections. About 100 people spent the night in the first few nights, but then the election council declared the camp to be illegal -- which only resulted in its growing even faster. On the Sunday of the elections, 30,000 people filled the square and nearby streets, protesting against the economic crisis, incompetent politicians and corruption.A whole generation seems to be falling through the cracks -- especially in the poor southern countries of Greece, Spain and Portugal, where youth unemployment is sky-high although it's high by historical standards in northern Europe as well. Young people are graduating, and there are no jobs for them. And social services and safety nets have also been getting trimmed in Europe. Sound familiar?
Not my idea -- saw it on Facebook, sorry, can't remember who suggested it -- but wouldn't it be great if thousands of protesters against Scott Walker's budget showed up tomorrow and stood silently with dollar bills taped over their mouths? What a great way to demonstrate visually (in a way the media couldn't ignore) that the moneyed interests are the only thing the Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature are listening to. And when people leave they could donate the dollar bils to the Democratic candidates in the recall elections.
Russ Feingold paid a visit to Walkerville Sunday, and he had a few things to get off his chest.
Wearing a familiar red-and-blue "Stand with Wisconsin" button, Feingold electrified the crowd by attacking the corporate war against workers.
In a speech assailing “the big corporate interests,” Feingold said: “They have chosen this great state, this great capitol, this founding place of workers’ rights, and they went right for the jugular, and they used Scott Walker as their tool.”Feingold held the attention of a rapt audience as he criticized the Republican budget which will be debated this week to little effect, since the Republicans have the votes to ram it through.
“We are here to begin the counteroffensive,” Feingold said. He enumerated three goals.Feingold had many friends in Walkerville Sunday -- and it seemed they all wanted their pictures taken with him. They also wanted him to run for office again. When he talked about electing a new governor, some people chanted "Run, Russ, Run." But for what? Would Russ Feingold best serve the state by taking on Scott Walker in a recall election? Or should he run for Herb Kohl's Senate seat when he retires next year and return to the Senate? Which role would best serve the state? Which is best suited to his talents? What do you think?
“Number one, we need to win back the state senate, and we’ve got to do it right away,” Feingold said, alluding to the upcoming recall elections of six Republican state senators.
“Then we’ve got to take back the state assembly next fall,” he said.
But that’s not enough, Feingold went on.
“Then we’ve got to defeat Scott Walker so a new governor” can overturn the bad laws that Walker has pushed through.