Last Tuesday’s recall election was not the end of the world and it was not the end of the Wisconsin Uprising. As devastating as it felt at the time it was in retrospect simply the beginning of the next phase. In fact, it gives those on the left a chance to rest for a bit and to refocus energies. It does not put an end to our dedication to fighting for our fellow citizens or for just laws that work for the best interests of all Wisconsinites.
As I headed into Wisconsin’s State Capitol building yesterday to sing my daily rendition of “We Shall Overcome” I saw a large, long banner draped over the first floor rail that lifted my spirits. It reached all the way down to the ground floor from the railing above. On it were the words, “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
Today as I headed into the people’s house I saw two homeless men sitting on a park bench outside of the building. One of the men said to me, “Still going to sing?”
I responded, “Yep, the fight’s not over yet.” He agreed and thanked me for being there.
Throughout the winter as I went to the Capitol every day to sing that song there were often other protesters inside or outside the building, sometimes a handful, sometimes quite a few, occasionally I was the only one. The media acted as if there was no more resistance once the budget had passed, but the protests never fully ended; only the coverage ended. Protests and actions continued despite passage of the “budget repair” bill that started it all because it was never just about that. Between all those who participated every weekday in the Solidarity Sing Along and others who attended legislative hearings and sessions there were always protesters at the Capitol.
There were also almost always a couple dozen homeless citizens sitting around the Capitol rotunda, taking refuge from the harsh weather outside. I saw irony in them taking refuge in a building where services for those most in need were being cut on an almost daily basis, but it was also a daily reminder for me that our battle was not just about unions. It never was. It was also about cuts to BadgerCare and other social services, education, and more.
In the same way, the Wisconsin Uprising was never just about recalling Scott Walker. Granted, it became that for a lot of people once the movement was co-opted by the Democratic party. But when it started it began as an organic reaction to one horrible bill (and that bill, by the way, wasn’t just about unions). As time went on and one draconian bill after another was passed (Voter ID, elimination of women’s right to sue for equal pay, and more) and others were attempted and failed (ending of state recycling, the mining bill, and others) those on the left became more upset and more determined to unseat the Governor.
Unfortunately most of us put a great deal of our efforts into the recall, mistakenly believing that winning it would solve all of our problems. I did phone banking, protests and marches, writing, and more toward that effort. Not that we shouldn’t have done that, but we should have realized that it was only one part of the struggle. There were some dedicated activists who continued to show up at the Capitol, myself included, to fight against newly introduced bills, to stand for our Constitutional rights, to make the public aware that Act 10 and the end of collective bargaining was not the totality of Walker’s Tea Party agenda.
Of course underneath it all but never clearly stated we knew that the real enemy was never Scott Walker. He was merely the figurehead, the puppet whose strings were being pulled by billionaires around the country. If not Walker, there would have been someone else propped up in his place. He may have introduced Act 10 on behalf of his corporate sponsors, but he did not pass it. While three Republican Senators lost their seats in recalls in the last year Walker still has many allies–Robin Vos, Scott Fitzgerald, Alberta Darling, and Glenn Grothman among them, not to mention all the Republican Senators and Assemblypersons whose names rarely come up but who vote in lockstep for every bill introduced by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) through their party. The assault on our long-standing progressive tradition is sponsored by rich individuals and corporations from around the country and carried out by toadies who receive campaign funding and support in return. If Scott Walker becomes a handicap to them because of the John Doe investigation or anything else you can be guaranteed they’ll find another puppet. They don’t care about Scott Walker or Wisconsin, even though they’ve convinced half of the citizenry that their agenda is good for common citizens and not just the wealthy. The reality is that they care about their own bottom line and nothing else.
Winning a recall election against Walker would have sent a strong signal to those outside interests that Wisconsin is not for sale, and it’s unfortunate that despite all the hard work that didn’t happen. Walker supporters seem emboldened now and louder in their declarations in support of him. That’s okay–it is only so much noise, and they have as much right to make noise as we do. Our fellow citizens are not the problem. The scary thing is that his billionaire benefactors will likely be more emboldened to pursue even more regressive bills (though the temporary Democratic control of the Senate should help prevent anything too extreme, such as the introduction of “right-to-work” laws).
Those of us who care deeply about Wisconsin and the larger world cannot stop fighting now. In fact, it’s even more important that those who were awakened this past year stay awake and stay involved. The pursuit of justice is a life-long endeavor. This election only kept one right winger in office for this moment in time. It did not take away our Constitutional rights. It does not negate what we have accomplished nor prevent us from working to accomplish more. Many of us were fighting long before Walker was elected the first time and will be fighting long after he’s out of office. We will keep fighting for those homeless men and women in the Capitol, for teachers and firefighters, for our neighbors and friends, only we will do it now with refocused energy and commitment, and with the understanding that we cannot win only by electoral politics, but with a lifelong dedication to the cause.