Why a Walker victory will not stop a movement

Protesters outside the Wisconsin Statehouse, Madison, WI, Feb. 26, 2011. (Photo by Richard Hurd, via Creative Commons)

A new poll conducted last week shows Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) with a seven point lead over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in next Tuesday’s recall election, in Wisconsin. Contemplating a negative outcome after all the protests, all the statehouse sleepovers, all the nights the Democrats of the Wisconsin Senate hid out in an Illinois motel, all the visits from Ed Schultz and the rest of the national media, all the signatures on recall petitions, it all sucks, of course. Big time. But the herculean effort it took to try and oust the union busting governor of the first state where public employee unions were recognized is worth more than just an “Oh well, we tried,” and an “atta boy” for the recall movement’s strident activists. It deserves to be recognized for initiating a conversation on fairness, and bringing ownership and unity to a movement.

First, if one were to follow the fuse that exploded in Zuccotti Park, last fall, to its source, they would find an unwound reel and depressed plunger in the rotunda of the statehouse in Madison. Occupy Wall Street could not have happened without it. No matter what happens Tuesday, the conversation about fairness – fairness for the middle class and for union workers – is not over. What began in Madison was amplified by mic checks in Lower Manhattan that continue to echo across the country. The chorus is just beginning, even appearing as a central theme of Obama’s reelection campaign.

“The job of a President is to lay the foundation for strong and sustainable broad-based growth,” Obama said at a campaign stop in Iowa last week, “It’s to make sure that everybody in this country gets a fair shake, everybody gets a fair shot, everybody is playing by the same set of rules.

“When you’re the President,” he added, with rhetoric intended to distinguish himself from the GOP nominee, corporate raider Mitt Romney, “your job is to look out for the investor and the worker; for the big companies and the small companies; for the health of farmers and small businesspeople and the nurse and the teacher.  You’re supposed to be thinking about everybody — and the health of the middle class, and what the future is going to hold for our kids.”

Obama took on economic fairness directly because he saw there was support out there. Politicians don’t adopt an agenda just to be “radical.” Sure it helps if it’s in their philosophical wheelhouse, but they do it because they have political cover. They see there is a thriving movement that will support it. And if voices support it, and they get lots of media time, the money will follow. Just ask the Tea Party.

Second, what Wisconsin re-affirms is that this is our country. No matter how much money the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove and Sheldon Adelson throw at a politician’s feet, our voices and our actions are the weapons they fear most. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be working so hard to disenfranchise us at the voting booth.

Lastly, what happened in Madison united us. It brought liberal and progressive activists together with establishment organizations like major unions, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, in a fight that Rebuild the Dream founder Van Jones might call “class warfare… against people who have no class.” Indeed, it’s likely that the Susan G. Komen, anti-Planned Parenthood blow-back, this past March, would not have happened without the unity with which we have empowered ourselves since February, 2011.

Remember that no matter what happens in the Battle for Wisconsin, on June 5, there will be no flag of surrender, from either side. For those of us committed to fairness, equality and the right of everyone to be healthy and prosperous, the fight never ends. There’s always someone who wants to turn back the clock on women, sacrifice the welfare of workers and suppress the rights of voters. We have to be there every time. They only win when we allow ourselves to lose, and that will never happen.


Linking arms with Occupy – the last, best Baby Boomer chance

I am of the undertow of the Baby Boomers, the last third of a generation, unwilling to let go of our ability to subvert the tide and change the world, defined for us by our older brothers and sisters. Born between 1957 and 1964, we are the President of the United States, the governors of ten states (only three states have chief executives younger than we are), 16 US Senators and almost 100 members in the US House of Representatives. We are Democrats and Republicans, atheists and adherents, activists and apathetics.

The older Boomers who came before us were born in a time of a great, nationalist, moral validation brought on by the victories in World War Two, born when the world was trying to right itself after the end of European colonialism and the beginning of the Arms Race with the Soviet Union. By the time we, the remnants of a generation, came along, it seemed all the hard work had already been done.

Occupy and the 60s legacy
From Occupy Dallas, Dept. of Defense, UW Digital Archives & other public domain sources

Our younger brothers and sisters in the Occupy Movement have made that hard work worth doing again. Many more choose, once again, to link arms in unity against the enemies of social progress, like wealth disparity and growing national poverty, like a government controlled more by a complex of corporate corruption than by the needs of the people who elected them. The money promises to get our overpaid representatives reelected, and the new Super PACs, like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and legislative ghost writers from ALEC, promise to keep their political opponents at bay by working to inhibit voter access through laws passed in more than a dozen states.

Just today, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) formally requested that US Attorney General Eric Holder investigate “whether new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout,” the Miami Herald reported.

In one instance, a teacher in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, unknowingly violated that state’s new voter registration laws while trying to teach her students about the importance of becoming a voter. According to a story in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“What happened is that [high school teacher Jill] Cicciarelli helped her 17-year-old seniors with the paperwork to preregister for the voting rolls, as she does every year. She’d been on maternity leave in the spring when the Legislature passed a voting law that, among other things, requires third parties to register with the state before they help sign up new voters.

“The law has proved so daunting that the League of Women Voters suspended voter registration efforts in Florida for fear of exposing volunteers to up to $1,000 in fines.”

Nelson told the students, “It is voter suppression,” the Daytona Beach paper reported.

But it’s not just voting rights. The entire debt ceiling debate last summer, and the current travails of the resulting Super Committee, now in session, are about the tax breaks for the wealthiest versus the needs of those who depend on government help to feed themselves and their families.

And that demographic is growing alarmingly fast. According to a September report from the US Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2010, “[r]eal median household income declined,”  and “[t]he poverty rate increased.”

More to the point of the younger protesters participating in the Occupy Movement, the Census Bureau report continues:

“An estimated 5.9 million young adults aged 25 to 34 resided in their parents’ households in 2011, compared to 4.7 million before the recession. By spring 2011, 14.2 percent of young adults lived in their parents’ households, representing an increase of 2.4 percentage points since spring 2007.”

Why do so many more live at home at an age when the rest of us couldn’t wait to get out of the house? The report points out, “45.3 percent had income below the poverty threshold for a single person under age 65 ($11,344).”

Some people have folded their arms, unwilling to embrace Occupy because they do not understand what the movement stands for. That might be because there is so much not going right for the future of our country, that one can throw a dart and hit an issue of concern to Occupy’s participants and adherents.

That’s why it is important not to greet them with folded arms, but with linked arms, the position they are proud to take before they are arrested for calling attention to the vanishing American Dream.


Occupy – Grassroots, at the root level

“Yesterday, I brought to your attention how offended we are at the Tea Party Express that the media would dare to continually insist that the Occupy Wall Street protests are motivated by the same issues that the Tea Party coalesced around and that they are the Tea Party of the left!”
E-mail from Tea Party Express to supporters, sent Monday September 11, 2011

“[W]hen you compare these people with tea partiers—now you’ve got a problem with We the People.”
–  Web posting from Tea Party Patriots to its local groups, Tuesday, October 11, 2011

They’re offended. They’ve got a problem. They’re using exclamation points. The longer Occupy Wall Street, and its nationwide inspired clones, continue their protests, the more vociferous the right’s opposition is getting. The Tea Party just does not get the Occupy movement. They don’t get that it is an actual grassroots movement, in the dirt, at the root level, and not the grass of a manicured, suburban lawn, cared for by gardeners who have been hired by big banks and John Birchers like the Koch brothers.

It only makes sense that in trying to voice opposition to Occupy, the radical right has resorted to categorizing the participants in anarchistic memes. “[W]atch us keep owning Teamsters and Hippies,” invites one right wing video website.

“Whenever I hear somebody call me a hippy, I just write it off as ignorance, because that’s a term that’s no longer Occupy Atlantarelevant,” said Kate, an Atlanta teacher and community organizer, who spent Thursday evening helping feed those camping at Occupy Atlanta, in Woodruff Park, in the heart of the city’s downtown business district.

“I have very little respect for people who try to take down someone else whose trying to do some good work,” she insists. Still, she says there is commonality among the Occupy and Tea Party movements. “The people I’ve spoken to from the Tea Party are interested in community work, and we may not agree on all of our political points, but I have respect for people who are trying to go out into the community and engage with their neighbors.”

A young web designer at the Occupy Atlanta site, named Ginsen, seemed to agree. “Overall, I support any sort of passion for people to change something they don’t believe is right,” she said, after setting aside the Hula Hoop she had been swaying around in.

Tea Party groups, however, see it much differently, feeling their organized, political message trumps any semblance of credibility Occupy participants think they have. “Tea partiers usually have informed opinions and clear articulation of their principles and goals,” claims the Tea Party Express. “The socialist mobs sitting around in NYC rely on mind-numbing chants, bongo drums and bullhorns, because there is no substance to their message.”

But Kate, the teacher, sees that as a plus. “Politics is not relevant on the grassroots,” she said. “What’s relevant here, is that people are coming together, on a very personal level. You can ask people here. You don’t see big non-profits, with a big presence; you don’t see labor organizations; you don’t see the Tea Party. You see people, and that, to me, is what grassroots organizing is. When you get politics involved, that is when it loses that people power.”

Harrison Schultz, an activist participating in Occupy Wall Street, told Politico much the same thing. “This is not a political movement, this is a social movement,” he said.

But the Tea Party groups see the politics as proof of their power, particularly after the 2010 Congressional elections. “Occupy Wall Street may someday become a significant force in American politics, but they’re certainly not today,” said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, according to the Politico article.

Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a group that trains tea party activists, told Politico that he’s not too worried about Occupy protesters becoming a force. “The more you read about [them] and their behavior,” he insisted, “the more it looks like they’ll implode on their own.”

"C'mon. Do we look like union organizers?"

In Atlanta, Ginsen seemed unfazed by the actions and threats of Tea Party and other right wing activists. “We can handle a little bit of push back. It’s okay,” she said, matter of factly. “In the end, if they push back, we’ll push harder.”

And while Ryun doesn’t seem to take the Occupy protesters seriously, the more strident Tea Party Express had a different characterization of the Americans participating in the Occupy movement. “They are a disorganized unruly mob of shiftless protestors that has been reinforced by union and organized labor thugs,” said Amy Kremer, in her letter to supporters, asking for donations.

Ginsen indicated that she believed that was nothing but partisan hype. “When you see girls with Hula Hoops, it’s kind of hard to think we’re a bunch of union organizers here,” she said. “I mean, c’mon. Do we look like we’re part of a union?”