On Wisconsin: After Defeat, Activists Pick New Arenas

When a door closes, start trying the windows.  A defeat in Wisconsin has spurred a new wave of activism, and advocates have turned their attention beyond the state senate.

In the United States, when activists lose a battle in one place, they look for other arenas in which to carry on their struggle.

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, has offered thanks to vigorously anti-union Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker.  (I believe that Trumka is also the only person on Glenn Beck’s list of the nine greatest dangers to the Constitution who is not Jewish!)  As reported in Politico:

“We probably should have invited him here today to receive the Mobilizer of the Year Award,” Trumka said Thursday morning while speaking to the National Press Club in Washington D.C. “Wisconsin is the beginning — it’s pushing the start button” for pro-labor activism.

Of course, it’s Trumka’s job to exude optimism and outrage, but the Wisconsin campaign has given organized labor the kind of focal point and opportunity for effective activism and outreach that unions have had a hard time finding in the past half-century.

Today, Governor Walker’s opponents have mobilized the largest demonstration yet protesting his (at the moment, successful) effort to dramatically limit collective bargaining–and his policies in general.

As you recall (see here, here, here, and here, e.g.) the Democrats in the Senate had extended and expanded the debate on collective bargaining by leaving the state, denying the Republicans the quorum they needed for a budget bill.  Even as negotiations with the governor continued, the Republicans in the Senate pulled the labor provisions out of the budget bill and voted on them separately, sending the new, narrower bill to the state assembly.

Once the Senate bill was over, activists shifted their attention to the state assembly, and through vigorous demonstrations in the Capitol building, delayed assembly passage for a few hours.  When the bill was signed, activists continued to mobilize, drawing funds and attention across the nation.  They’ve continued to demonstrate (inside and outside the capitol), filed legal challenges to the new law, and fully engaged in recall campaigns for virtually every elected official eligible for recall.  (In Wisconsin, an elected official can only be recalled after a year in office.)

There’s all kinds of other stuff around the periphery.  [I was most amused by a facebook campaign to find and destroy Scott Walker’s horcruxes (need I note that this is a Harry Potter reference?):

We’ll need all the help we can get to find and destroy ALL SIX of the Governor’s horcruxes before formal recall procedures can be initiated on January 3, 2012.

Especially important will be gathering any information we can on his most valued possessions, and on places from his past that may hold a certain glamor for him, (ex: American University in D.C. where he …first met Ronald Reagan in 1985.) Also needed will be any sites from his past where he may have committed acts of unspeakable cruelty. We can infer that he’s used the Imperius Curse at least twice; he won both his Assembly and his County Exec seat in “special elections,” the first unopposed, the second after his predecessor “resigned.”

Please share any useful leads you might have. Remember not to use HIS name as it might be jinxed. (We prefer to call him “He who shall not be named……Governor”)]

Republicans have also started circulating petitions to recall the senators who left the state.  Thus far, it looks like they’re not doing as well as the Democrats in stoking activism or raising money.  David Weigel, at Slate, cites a fund raising letter from a Tea Party Express group, which suggests desperation:

Now, we must raise the money to fight back.  We must do much better than what we’ve done so far if we are going to be able to compete with the liberals and the $1.5+ million we’ve raised so far. I know so many of you have contributed already – but I need to ask you to please contribute one more time.

If the liberals can raise $1.5 million in one-weel then we must counter by raising as much money as we can to fight back.  Please make the most generous contribution you can to our campaign to Support Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican members of the State Senate.

Meanwhile, the “Fab 14” senators were given a hero’s welcome when the returned to Madison during today’s demonstration.  Madison police estimated the turnout as up to 100,000 people–more than Vietnam era demonstrations.

The Madison mobilization continued to display local passions, plus tractors, people in cow suits, and national activists and celebrities.  USA Today reports:

It drew high-profile public figures like actors Tony Shalhoub, a Green Bay native whose sister is a teacher, and Susan Sarandon, as well as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the longtime social justice activist. It drew tens of thousands of public employees and even farmers who created a “tractorcade” of farm equipment that circled the Capitol in the morning. And at its climax, it drew most of the state Senate Democrats who fled the state Feb. 17 in an unsuccessful attempt to block Walker’s bill.

Across the nation, liberal and Democratic groups are trying to tap into the moment and extend it, raising awareness, activism, and money.  They’re channeling their efforts into the recall campaigns, but hoping that the energy spreads far beyond those channels (e.g.)

Expect to see sympathy demonstrations, with labor unions at the core of the organizing, and expect to see conservative groups trying to generate some kind of grassroots response.

In the beginning, all the world was Madison…

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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3 Responses to On Wisconsin: After Defeat, Activists Pick New Arenas

  1. Pingback: You Can’t Count on the Courts to ________ Social Change | Politics Outdoors

  2. Pingback: You Can’t Trust the Courts to ______ Social Change « orgtheory.net

  3. Pingback: After Wisconsin and the electoral trap | Politics Outdoors

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