(published by forwardseeking.com, 4/13/12)
For progressive-minded people in Wisconsin it has been both a horrible and wonderful year and a half. Scott Walker unleashed a radical right agenda upon the state before he even took the oath of office as governor, but his assault on workers, women, the poor, the elderly, the environment, and more galvanized the left in a way that nothing else has in decades. It energized the left and focused energies on one common enemy. It brought huge numbers of people out to protest his policies, many of whom had never protested anything in their lives. It created neighbors out of citizens from all corners of the state, made friends out of strangers, and reignited the progressive tradition of the state. It also led to the most politically aware and active citizenry seen in many, many years.
Walker’s actions convinced nearly a million citizens to sign petitions to recall him from office, as well as another million to sign petitions to recall Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch and four Republican Senators who aligned themselves with him, with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council that drafts right-wing boilerplate legislation for legislatures around the country), the Koch Brothers (the largest funders of the right-wing corporate takeover of the country), and big business.
Primaries are in less than a month and the recall elections a month after that. Within two months all six of those being recalled could be gone. It’s an incredible thought and an amazing demonstration of grassroots people-powered activism and it seems likely that at the very least a couple of those Senators will lose and possibly that there could be a clean sweep. Already I can imagine election night parties, thousands of people gathering at the Capitol–our House–to celebrate the people taking it back. But then reality intrudes just a bit on my daydreaming. I am generally a very postitive, hopeful person, but I occasionally have the ability to temper that with a hint of realism.
The reality is this. No matter what happens in the next two months Walker and his Republican cohorts pushed through so much bad legislation in such a short time that it is going to take years to even begin to undo the damage. I shudder to think of it, but they could all win their races and that would signal the death knell of our democracy. I believe that won’t happen, though. But even if Walker should lose and any one of the Democrats who are running take over the office they simply cannot change what already happened by themselves. They may be able to do nothing more than prevent further bad legislation from getting past their desk. Even if all four Republicans lose their seats (or even one of them) and control of the Senate reverts to the Democrats, the Democrats can’t undo anything without both houses of the legislature voting along the same lines. To be blunt, the new and old citizen activists have to understand and accept that all of us need to be in this not just for the next two months, but for the rest of our lives. Without that dedication anything gained now will be lost later, as we saw this past year. There were lessons we learned about complacency that we simply cannot forget.
A Democrat as Governor will simply be able to prevent more damage by vetoing further regressive legislation and possibly sign some bipartisan bills. A Democrat as Governor with a Senate controlled by Democrats can get nothing through without the support of the Assembly. It’s possible that there will be some Republican Assemblypersons astute enough to understand that their fellow Republicans lost their seats because they worked against the will of the people. Perhaps they will understand that and go back to the old ways of compromise across the aisle. Maybe the gubernatorial candidate who wins will truly bring healing to the state in such a way that the other side will want to work with her or him to move the state forward again for the good of all. The idealist in me dreams of the Legislature overturning every bit of bad legislation passed in the last legislative session. The realist in me knows better.
Those of us who work hard to win these recall elections for the people will not be done with the job. We will then have to turn our attention to the Assembly and win elections there that will also bring it in line with the will of the people. This does not necessarily mean Democrats in control of everything. They are often as much tools of the corporate lobbyists as the Republicans. It means electing people–not politicians, but people–who are dedicated to serving all of the people of the state. Some of those will be Democrats, some Republicans, some Greens, independents, Socialists, and others–they will be those who can show they are there to fight for the people. When we have gotten to that point we also need to stay alert and involved and demand that those in office are responsive to those who put them there.
I hope that Walker loses the recall and takes the other five with him. But I have to understand that the election in June is not the end of the fight no matter what the results prove to be. It is just the end of this part of it. The battle for equality, justice, and good government is long-term and those of us fighting it must be career soldiers. That is what democracy looks like.
Your essay reminds me of the many people who became so disilusioned when Obama was elected President and everything didn’t immediately turn into a people’s paradise with peace, good wages, social justice and everything good for everyone. Obama has made some strides to accomplishing the goals that many of us cherish, but it hasn’t happened over night and perhaps shouldn’t happen over night. When politics happen quickly, as with the Walker administration, severe damage is often the result. Politics should move slowly, with as many people and groups being enabled to have a voice and even given a role in crafting legislation. The end result may not move us forward as quickly as some might like, but the laws passed in such a way are more solid. They are less likely to be overturned when the next pendulum swing occurs and the other party returns to power (which they will, but hopefully once the extreme elements are relegated once more to the periphery). What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? As soon as possible in a manner that is fully legal and in accordance with democratic ideals and in a way that would ensure a lasting change. This isn’t a very good chant, but I believe it makes for a better government.