[On Sundays, this blog considers intersections of work and life in “Sabbath.”]
Wisconsin – the Final Round?
Over a year ago, 100,000 students, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, union workers and other protests flooded into Madison, Wisconsin. They came together to protest Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to end collective bargaining as well as other “reforms.” Later, activists collected over a million signatures to force a recall election, which will take place this Tuesday.
Polling suggests that the governor will win the election, but activists remain confident that their organization can mitigate the effect of Walker outspending his opponent Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a ratio greater than 12:1. Barrett and his supporters have filled the state’s airwaves with commercials that have little to do with fact. However, demonstrating the power unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, Walker and his allies are using advertising to recreate reality.
This election will go a long way to testing the power of repeated messaging, which is made possible by big money, invisible funders. If Walker wins, the floodgates will open between now and November. Local TV stations will get fat with ad revenue, and voters will hate politics even more.
What if Barrett wins? His victory would signal the ongoing power of traditional forms of politics, such as get out the vote campaigns. It would give us hope that people working together can defeat the terminator-like power of big money. In his book Uprising, John Nichols talks about the impact of new media and citizen journalism during the protests. He also describes a revitalized labor movement that is focusing on what is good for workers, not just funneling money to the Democratic Party (which has not done enough to help Barrett).
Whatever happens on Tuesday, there is no denying the significance of the protests in Wisconsin and the recall effort. Nichols links the protests to those in the Middle East which preceded them and the Occupy Movement which followed. Just in the past few weeks, students in Quebec and Mexico have hit the streets to protest government policy. Occupiers in New York marched in solidarity with those protests. Even if Scott Walker keeps his job, the energy of people saying, “No,” cannot be stopped by any one election or – as the brave people of Syria show – even by bullets.
Nichols places the Wisconsin uprising in the context of the American Revolution and its leaders. He quotes the most radical thinker of the time, Thomas Paine: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand.” What happens in Wisconsin will be just one step in the creation of that new world. Let’s hope it is a step forward*.
* Governor Walker’s campaign (like President Obama’s) is using “forward” as its slogan. Clearly my idea of going forward is not the same as the governor’s. Worst of luck to him (not just the election, the indictment too).
Postscript: While reading Common Dreams today, I found that John Nichols has written a new article about how the recall and election put Wisconsin in line with its progressive tradition.