Having spent two days in Wisconsin this past week at another conference on participatory democracy, I found the progressive tide running strongly toward tomorrow’s primary, which will set the stage, finally, for the recall election of right wing Governor Scott Walker on June 5.
Whatever the outcome – and the recall will be close – the Wisconsin movement has been nothing short of inspiring:
§ Despite freezing storms, the resistance and recall efforts have lasted since March 2011, over 400 days, compared to the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott;
§ Madison’s original noontime sing-a-longs, “the longest continuous singing protest in history,” will have echoed through the Capitol rotunda for nearly 400 straight days by June 5;
§ The unity between labor and the social movement is far deeper than the publicized alliance of “teamsters and turtles” during the 1999 Seattle protests;
§ Many Wisconsin marches have ranged from 50,000 to over 100,000 participants, far greater proportionately than the anti-Iraq protests on the East Coast from 2004-2008 (population of Madison, 235,000; Wisconsin, 5.7 million; Washington, DC metropolitan, 5.5 million, New York City metropolitan, 18.9 million);
§ Wisconsinites collected 900,939 valid recall petitions – 540,208 were required – in winter weather between November 15 of last year and this January 17, an astonishing achievement in both scale and pace;
§ Three Republican state legislators have been recalled this year by voters in Republican-leaning seats, shifting the pro-Walker Senate majority to 17-16.
Most important, the Wisconsin movement has blunted, if not broken, the sharp spear the Tea Party was carrying against public sector unions, public education and other government-sponsored programs since its rise in 2010. As one example of the Wisconsin effect, Ohio voters repealed a Republican law detrimental to collective bargaining by a 61-38 margin last November.
True, the Tea Party’s downspiral began with Sarah Palin, resurgent birthers and Birchers, and the aroma of sexism and racism. By this year they were unable to stop Mitt Romney. But their problems began in Wisconsin with the massive resistance to their agenda. Largely because of Wisconsin, the Koch brothers and ALEC cabals became subjects of public and media attack.
If it were not for the Wisconsin movement, there never would have been a bloc of 14 state legislators waking up and walking out of the Capitol chambers in a three-week solidarity boycott against Walker’s agenda.
It is perhaps too much to claim, but the Wisconsin uprising preceded and inevitably encouraged the Occupy Wall Street encampment, which began last September 17.
“I have never seen such sustained unity for a progressive movement in Wisconsin in all my years here,” says historian Paul Buhle. The teachers whose walk-out first provided heft to the movement are “still excited more than I’ve ever seen them,” says their association leader John Matthews.
For information and ways to support the Wisconsin movement, please see United Wisconsin.
For excellent histories, please read John Nichols' Uprising and Mary Jo and Paul Buhle’s It Started in Wisconsin.