“Wisconsin” is no longer that odd place that harbors guys who like to fish through the ice in winter, wear cheeseheads and hunter’s orange to Packer and Badger games in fall and drink beer and eat brats at baseball games in summer. It’s become almost a name synonymous with “worker rights,” “marches,” and “fighting back.” That’s due, of course, to the massive and historic rallies and marches over the last three months that showed Wisconsin’s turn-back-the-clock new governor, Scott Walker, and his Republican and big business cronies that huge numbers of Wisconsinites opposed his radical changes.
These demonstrations around the State Capitol in Madison several times numbered well over 100,000 and dwarfed most protest marches of the past. Certainly they far outshone the Tea Party events throughout the country that got almost unlimited media exposure before the November 2010 elections.
Finally, the sheer numbers of the Wisconsin rallies, most of them done in the face of shivery cold, fierce winds and often snow, grew too big for even right-wing media to ignore. And this is a lesson for those wishing to protect worker rights and to create a government that continues to care for people: we need to make noise to be heard and far more noise than our opponents on the right.
Since we’re talking about words here, it’s fair to consider two words that best describe why the Wisconsin marches were so successful. The words? “Solidarity” and “Unity.”
Look at the “Solidarity” shown by the workers, the public employees and all the marchers. They didn’t quit. They locked arms, rough hewn farmers and construction workers with nurses and teachers and stuck with the cause. There was no slacking off, and the crowds grew and grew, even after it appeared for a while that the fight was lost.
Look, too, at the “Solidarity” of the Wisconsin 14 – the entire caucus of Senate Democrats who fled the state for three weeks, living out of suitcases to avoid being hauled into the Legislature and forced to create a quorum that would have permitted easy passage of the Walker antiunion/antipeople budget repair bill. They stayed firm, in spite of publicity and possible fears of damaging their political future. Not one of them waivered. That’s “Solidarity” in the truest sense.
The “Solidarity” of both the marchers and the Wisconsin 14 fed off each other. The senators felt encouraged by seeing the huge crowds at the Capitol, while the marchers could see that their own constant walks in the cold were being heeded by the Senators.
“Unity” came about from the fact that Wisconsin’s diverse labor union community stayed together. Though the bill’s devastating effects were aimed only at public employee unions – not including police and firefighter unions – the police and firefighter union members along with members of virtually all unions of private workers joined in the cause. Walker and the Republicans early on tried to drive a wedge between public and private union members, trying to claim the public employee union member was of a “privileged class.” Wisconsin unionists, however, weren’t buying it.
There was “Unity, too” from many nonunion. Time after time I bumped into people who were not unionists, but who marched nonetheless, usually in support of a family member or friend who was a teacher, nurse, snowplow driver or other public worker.
The marches in Madison, in spite of Scott Walker’s claim, were indeed of Wisconsin citizens, those same ones who go ice-fishing, wear cheeseheads and love their beer. They know an inequity when they see one!
The big question now: Can Wisconsinites retain this “Solidarity” and “Unity” into the summer and on into 2012 and a big election year?
Success in the nine recall elections for State Senators, a potential recall of Scott Walker and the critical November 2012 elections will call for even greater “Solidarity” and “Unity.” –Ken Germanson, May 16, 2011.