We Can Make Wisconsin Progressive, Again … IF

Rather than being content to sit back and cry in their beer over the 2016 election losses, some 200 or more activists gathered in Stevens Point on a cool summer weekend to see if they could fashion a way to restore Wisconsin to its former place as a beacon of progressivism.

For the most part, these folks were supporters of Bernie Sanders in the primaries and their enthusiasm and hard grassroots activities helped to propel the Vermont Senator to easily win the Wisconsin primary over Hillary Clinton.  Now they gathered to see if there was a way to re-ignite that enthusiasm and to devise strategies that would lead to saving the state from the ravaging disaster that it has become under the regressive leadership of Gov. Scott Walker and an unfairly elected and backward-thinking GOP Legislature.


Students rallying in a march to support science in April 2017

The gathering was the founding convention of Our Wisconsin Revolution, one of the statewide groups being formed in some 13 states under a loose national umbrella organization, Our Revolution.  The national group is seeking to spread the concept that through organizing on progressive issues, sponsoring worthy candidates for offices at all levels and working at the grassroots our governments at all levels can be restored to serve the best interests of all Americans.


Those who showed up came on their own dime, paying for their own gas and overnight lodging and they were serious about getting things done – not merely getting together in a feel-good session of speechifying and in lamenting over how others screwed-up the 2016 election.  To be sure, there were occasional references to the failure of Candidate Clinton to pay attention to Wisconsin voters and the general failure of the Democratic Party; yet, most were happy to lay that aside as ancient history and concentrate on deciding “what do we do now?”

And work they did, convening in the early afternoon of Friday, continuing through a working supper and ending after nine o’clock, with the whole effort beginning again Saturday and ending about four o’clock.  First, of course, came the frustrating but necessary business of approving by-laws.  The convention almost got bogged down on nit-picking detail, but thanks to strong leadership, the effort was completed with only minimal delay and with apparent unanimous harmony.

Secondly, came the approval of a platform, a chore that found virtually every progressive goodie being added to an already long list of desires.  Hardly a liberal dream was forgotten!  Thanks again goes to the planners for setting up a tight agenda that forced the chair to call a halt to the process.  There are just so many ornaments to put on a Christmas tree before the branches sag and the tree collapses.  Not every liberal idea will get enacted, of course, but the platform does give guidance to choosing candidates and stimulating volunteers and donors. The platform was given tentative approval.

Then came the hardwork: devising strategies and action that will bring progressive governance back to Wisconsin.

The planning committee is also to be commended for what appears to be a highly workable and possibly successful structure that calls for development of committees in each of the eight Wisconsin congressional districts; the committees will be charged with organizing voter registration and education campaigns as well as encouraging progressive individuals to run for political office at all levels.  To be successful, each CD group will have to recruit activists who are willing to put in time and effort to work door-to-door campaigns, staff phone banks, run forums and do all the grunt work necessary to win elections.

Decisions will have to be made as to what candidates to support at each level; while most hope the endorsed candidates will run as Democrats, the group is open to Third Party and independent candidates.


Some encouraging signs from the Stevens Point conclave came in the diversity in ages among the participants with a goodly number of gray and balding heads among the fresh faces of the young, including an articulate, poised 18-year-old who ran (unsuccessfully) for one of the seven at-large board seats.  While there was a heavy concentration of folks from Madison, all parts of the state had significant representation.  Few of the participants seemed to be doctrinaire ideologues; rather they were looking to the practical goal of winning elections with truly progressive candidates.

There were some discouraging notes, however.  Our Wisconsin Revolution will have to guard against being tagged as a bunch of elitist intellectuals, which will turn off the underpaid working people of the state, many of whom switched to Trump in 2016.  There were too few persons of color among the group, nor were there many representatives of organized labor, both of which will be needed to form an effective effort.

Nonetheless, the founding convention was largely successful in building the framework for what could be the beginning of the end of the shameful Scott Walker-GOP control of Wisconsin.  Chosen as interim co-leaders were Terrance Warthen, an African-American from the 1st Congressional District, and Sarah Lloyd, who farms in Columbia County and was candidate for 6th District Congressperson in 2016.  Both showed leadership and energy during the conference and seem well-suited to provide early leadership for Our Wisconsin Revolution.

Success for the goals of Our Wisconsin Revolution rests upon whether it can stir up interest in enough persons who will be willing to roll up their sleeves to work for progressive change in Wisconsin.  That’s the big “IF.”

If you’re so inclined, why not join in the cause?   Check it out here and then run – don’t walk – to the next OWR meeting in your area.  – Ken Germanson, June 26, 2017.







Democracy for the Elites

The signs are unmistakable: the United States is sliding more and more deeply into a caste system, not much unlike the Indian system that created a caste of “untouchables.”

An untouchable was unlikely to ever climb out of the hole into which society placed him or her.

Now, this blessed nation which became great during the first 80 years of the last century as it become more and more egalitarian is morphing into a Third World society where the wealthy and favored live in posh gated communities, surrounded by the makeshift houses of everyone else.

Perhaps that is an overblown conclusion; yet I can’t resist thinking such a picture may be in our nation’s future.

It is not only that the wage gap has been growing, sinking more and more families into seemingly hopeless monetary holes, but so has what I choose to call the “Democracy Gap.”

Just the other day, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law and ruled the law could go into effect for the Nov. 4th election in which Republican Gov. Scott Walker is in a neck-to-neck race with Democrat Mary Burke. Never mind that there likely will be glitches and costs rising from such a quick implementation of the law nor that there has been no major evidence of voter ID violations anywhere, the Court ruled the law could go ahead.

The real impact of the law will NOT be to stop voter fraud, but it will be to disenfranchise some 330,000 Wisconsinites who have no drivers’ licenses or other authorized forms of picture ID. To get them, they’ll have to locate birth certificates – or more likely write to county clerks in their home states and pay up to $20 for a certificate, which can be a bureaucratic morass for some folks, even if they can come up with the money.

(Quick aside: Presumably the law provides some relief for those who have trouble finding the money, particularly if they were born in the state of Wisconsin, but we question the machinery needed to do the checking as required can be set up to work smoothly less than two months before the election.)

Is it not obvious that the principle purpose of this law was to take away the vote of our poorer citizens, most of whom would likely vote Democratic?

Why the three-judge panel of judges failed to see this confounds me. Certainly these bright and learned people could sift through the evidence to see the truth, even if they were Republican appointees. Weren’t they sworn in to be impartial?

Who were these beacons of legal jurisprudence? Chief Judge Frank A. Easterbrook, who wrote the decision, was appointed by President Reagan, being confirmed only reluctantly after the American Bar Association gave him a low rating. Judge Diane S. Sykes, appointed by George W. Bush, is divorced from notorious Rightwing radio talker Charlie Sykes in Milwaukee but appears not to be separated from his ideas, and John Daniel Tinker, of Indianapolis.

Nothing in their backgrounds indicate they have the least bit of understanding of what it is to live on the edge of society, where people often have to choose whether to pay the rent to avoid eviction, to pay the utility bill to keep the lights on or to buy gas in order to get to their minimum wage jobs in the burbs.

This decision – whether it ultimately stands or not – is indicative of the trend that is creating a democracy gap that is forever heading to putting many Americans into the bottom rungs of a permanent caste system.

Other signs are obvious: the sorry story of redistricting in state-after-state where majorities are overruled by cleverly drawn politicos that see Republicans winning the majority of seats in state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives, even though the raw vote heavily went Democratic. Also there is the starving of public education in our cities and poor rural area thus depriving the children from struggling families to rise into higher standards of living. Then, our judicial system puts millions of young people – overwhelmingly those of color – into prisons that doom most of them to a life of failure.

The people who make these decisions usually aren’t evil or in a grand conspiracy to create the caste system I’ve imagined. Most care about the future of the United States and maybe even show up at charity functions or make generous contributions to worthy causes. Their problem is: they just don’t understand.

Such leaders grew up in supportive families in safe neighborhoods and attended good schools and chummed around with other bright and cheerful people. Some might even have had summer jobs where they rubbed elbows with “other” people. Nonetheless, they can’t understand why a single mother can’t find time to get her voter ID, much less pay for it. They ask: What’s the matter with “those” people?

How to stop this trend? In the U.S., we still have a political system that retains many democratic protections, even as it more and more penalizes our less fortunate citizens. It means all of us must find ways to to work around these onerous, wrong-headed laws; it means using social media to fill the ether with the need for all to be active; it means registering “everyone” to vote and to assure they get those hateful voter ID cards, using whatever means possible. In short it means getting involved in politics – even though it’s getting harder and harder to believe in the system.

If we fail, will we not be creating a caste system with untouchables? Ken Germanson, Sept. 13, 2014.

The Crime of Voter Suppression

You know what’s a crime?  It’s when one group seeks to block other citizens from voting.

Yet, that has been the goal of the Republican Party in the current election.  They’ve made no bones about setting up barrier after barrier to make it difficult for people to vote, particularly low-income persons and minorities.

The most recent evidence of that shows up on 85 billboards in the Milwaukee area, many of them in low-income neighborhoods, proclaiming:  “Voter Fraud is a Felony,” followed by the word, “3 ½ yrs & $1,000 fine.”  Now, on Oct. 22, just two weeks before the election and following several weeks when the signs were clearly visible, Clear Channel — the company responsible — has decided to take them down.  They bowed to citizen criticism, but the harm may have already been done in throwing fear into the hearts of many people confused about election procedures.

Like many other efforts by Republicans, it was nothing but a blatant attempt to scare low-income voters from casting ballots, knowing full well that the vast majority are likely to vote for Democratic candidates.  It’s bad enough that voter registration rules are becoming more complicated, causing problems for low-income persons who

These billboard, originally placed in Wisconsin and Ohio, are to be taken down, based on decision of Clear Channel after complaints by citizen groups.

find it difficult to find the time (away from work) or the transportation needed to get to a place to register.

All of these rules, the Republicans claim, were made to assure an honest election; but common sense tells us otherwise.  Convictions for voter fraud are rare in Wisconsin, averaging between 12 and 20 a year, according to the Government Accountability Board.  Since fraud is not widespread, why else spend thousands of dollars, except to scare off potential Democratic voters?

According to Clear Channel, the billboards are paid for by a “Private Family Foundation,” but the company refuses to say more, keeping the source of the considerable cost of the billboard secret.  Thus the saga of the dirty billboards has ended, another example of the lengths to which Republicans have gone to stack the 2012 election outcomes.

Those who seek to curb the right of other citizens to vote are downright un-American.  And is that not even a bigger crime?  Ken Germanson, Oct. 23, 2012.

Censorship at the Checkout Counter

Roundy’s Inc. has basically cornered the food market business in the Milwaukee area, as its Pick ‘n Save and Metro Market Stores have garnered more than half of the grocery business.

It’s only natural then that the alternate weekly newspaper, Shepherd Express, which distributes its free weekly papers each Wednesday throughout the area, would find that more than 75% of its circulation of 262,000 would be through the two Roundy food chains.

Now, obviously bowing to right-wing complaints, the company has notified Shepherd Express that as of Nov. 5 it will no longer permit the paper to be stacked at the entrances and exits of its many stores.

What prompted this?  It all started last April, according to Publisher Louis Fortis in the Oct. 27th Shepherd Express, when the newspaper was told to remove its newspapers from the company’s five stores in suburban Brookfield in April 2011, a day after the newspaper announced on the front page its endorsement of JoAnne Kloppenburg for Supreme Court justice.  Kloppenburg enjoyed wide support of Democrats and liberals in the state in her close but losing race against Justice David Prosser, who was strongly supported by conservatives (of which Brookfield has many).

Now Roundy’s has banned the Shepherd from ALL of its stores, robbing the 192,700 readers who on the average each week pick up the paper at the stores from easy access to the paper.

It’s a “business decision,” Roundy’s claims; yet, it certainly has ideological overtones.  The Shepherd has traditionally supported Democrats and many liberal causes; yet, it is an independent voice that has also been critical of many politicians and leaders on the left.  The newspaper has become a Milwaukee tradition, after being established during the heady days of the 1960s; it has successfully outlived all other alternate newspapers that have sprouted up from time to time in the community, largely since it has complete coverage of the arts, offers humor and comment by respected columnists.

With the Journal Company almost totally commanding the print media market in the Milwaukee area (the Journal Sentinel and its monopoly of suburban and neighborhood weeklies), it’s critical that such a strong competitor as the Shepherd Express continue to exist and continue to be a vital source of information.  Financed by its advertising revenue, the Shepherd Express remains subscription-free — as long as there are enough outlets where readers can pick it up (and advertisers are able to reach a substantial audience).

With the loss of Roundy’s stores among its distribution points, the Shepherd Express could easily become an economic casualty of shrunken ad revenue, and a lost source of alternate opinion in the area.  All of us who believe that the health of our democracy requires the freest flow of ideas, opinions and information should be alarmed at this decision of Roundy’s.

No one says Roundy’s is required by law to permit the distribution of any and all newspapers, but certainly in the interests of fair play and democracy they have no business in banning the Shepherd Express while their stores continue to offer access to many other newspapers, including the Journal Sentinel, the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune.

WHAT TO DO: Call “Chairman Bob” Mariano of Roundy’s at 414-231-5804 and politely ask him to please continue serving his customers by permitting access to the Shepherd Express.

Ken Germanson, Oct. 28, 2011

A Liberal’s Lament: Preaching to the Choir!

Why is it that I have the impression that liberals are losing the battles?  Yet, I wonder:  How can that be when you analyze the polls about various issues and find the public as a rule favoring individually virtually every major progressive piece of legislation?

Take the idea of taxing the wealthy and the corporations.  It’s no contest: the public – even a plurality of Republicans – loves the idea.  And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: the majority says get us out of there.  Global warming: it’s not only 95% of scientists who see it as a real human problem, but so does a majority of ordinary citizens.

Yet, the politicians who favor these ideas are scared stiff of pushing them through to law, afraid they’ll alienate some hidden power (read Tea Party and similar nuts) out there that will short circuit their careers.

A carload of us drove out to spend seven hours Saturday, Sept. 17, at Madison’s Fighting BobFest 10th Anniversary program, hearing from a host of progressive (or is it liberal?) speakers wax eloquent on issues close to all of our “bleeding heart” sentiments.  To a person we wondered if – as exhilarating as the day was – whether we wasted a day that was only more preaching to the choir.

Some of the finest speakers of the liberal community brought down the house with successive applause, standing ovations and cheers and whistles.  The crowd – which filled at least two-thirds of the house (seating capacity is 10,231) – seemed to erupt in applause almost constantly.

After introduction by Ed Garvey, the Madison attorney and two-time statewide candidate, the program began immediately with Mike McCabe, executive  director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, who called the growing amounts of money going into political campaigns “a crime,” and noting that the historic development of Wisconsin’s  progressive legislation of 1911 (workers compensation, the vocational school system and much more) grew out of earlier legislation that banned corporate money in political campaigns.   Now, with recent Supreme Court rulings that have brought corporate money into campaigns, he said the “first problem facing the nation is money in politics.”

Tony Schultz, a Farmer’s Union member from Athens,Wisconsin, showed that farmers can be eloquent progressives, as well.  Retired Congressman Dave Obey offered an eloquent and philosophical commentary on the social contract that Americans of all political persuasions had accepted as standard American behavior until the growth of the uncaring reactionary right after the Reagan years.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the only Independent in the Senate (and a socialist), offered a full menu of reforms which – as they were citied – drew raucous applause and often standing ovations.  Along with former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, Sen. Sanders stressed the need for strong unions.  “Without collective bargaining, you’re reduced to collective begging,” Sanders said, while Hightower called the dramatic landing on the Hudson River in 2010 a “union-made miracle on the Hudson,” since all of the actors in that heroic rescue were union members from Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger himself and the flight attendants to the rescuing firefighters and EMTs.

What Sanders also said made the most impression on me as we pondered about the futility of “speaking to the choir” only.  After running down the progressive agenda, which included single-payer health insurance, stronger labor unions, taxing of the wealthy, fairer foreign trade policies, and removing our troops from current wars, he said pointedly, “Not one point that I mentioned is not what the overwhelming majority of Americans want.”

And he was right, if you are to believe many recent polls.  Now more than 80% of Americans agree that spending to build bridges, roads and schools is important; 71% said that any budget deficit plan should include both spending cuts and more taxes, particularly on the rich.

So how do we begin to get this message out to the entire congregation of American voters – and not merely keep the secret within the choir loft.  For one thing, we need to figure out a way to speak out over the constant falsehoods spouted by Fox News and talk radio; we need to get the local media more aware of these issues, a difficult task since the news hole is tightening up.

Somehow, we have to make an issue of the fact that this gathering in Madison of perhaps 7,000 persons listening to top national speakers was worth covering.  (To my knowledge there was not a word about Fighting BobFest in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel nor on the local television stations.)  It’s a fact that our message is getting lost in the din of a mainstream media that seems to find plenty of space for Tea Party meetings that attract even one-tenth or one-hundred as many participants.

Yet, my friends, there is the social media; witness the April Spring in the Mideast where Twitter and Facebook and such helped spur those citizen uprisings; there are the traditional door-to-door, citizen grassroots efforts as well.

Whatever we do, we must recognize that while such feel-good gatherings as Fighting BobFest may be exhilarating they are indeed nothing but choir practice; we need to sing out across the rooftops to the entire congregation.

Ken Germanson, Sept. 19, 2011


A rightwing trend on NPR?

As a regular donor to WUWM, I must say the NPR station’s decision to drop Alternative Radio is a sad one, indeed.   I’ve been told the hour long program which has been on WUWM at 8 p.m. Sunday nights was dropped as of last Sunday, May 2.

Alternative Radio has been one of the few bright lights on the radio dial, offering well-thought-out opinions and commentary.  Virtually all of the programming, while admittedly of a progressive nature, offered intelligent discussions of matters often overlooked by the  mainstream media and certainly missing on the radio waves, being so currently loaded with Conservative talk shows.

I feel public radio has an obligation to continue diverse programming, including comments by such notables as Howard Zinn, Amy Goodman, Noam Chomsky, et al.  Guess I’ll have to turn to I-net at http://alternativeradio.org.

I’m wondering:  Is it just me being paranoid, or is NPR is trending more and more to the right.  During my morning shave when I listen to WUWM here, I seem to find NPR spotlighting the Republicans and conservatives more and more.  To make matters worse, the newscasts from NPR are treating the Tea Party nuttiness as being truly almost mainstream.  What’s going on here?


Kenneth –

Thanks for your note regarding our decision to cancel ALTERNATIVE RADIO. Putting together a schedule for our listeners is rather difficult because everyone likes different programs. We made the decision to use the Sunday evening time slot to showcase a wide variety of special public radio programs and documentaries including THE MOTH, RADIO LAB and others that are in development.  While I know you may not agree, we were frequently criticized for airing ALTERNATIVE RADIO as it was seen as an ultra liberal/progressive program that provided no balance in the public radio journalistic traditions.

Dave Edwards, Director / General Manager, WUWM MILWAUKEE PUBLIC RADIO, 111 E. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 700, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Lessons from Howard Zinn:

Just 12 years ago this coming May, Howard Zinn spent two memorable days participating in Wisconsin Labor History Society events: our annual conference held in 1998 in Oshkosh and the Bay View Tragedy event a day later in Milwaukee.

This marvelous man, whose life was spent using history to spur ordinary folks to recognize their own potential to “right the wrongs,” died Jan. 27 at the age of 87 of an unexpected heart attack in California.

After his Saturday afternoon presentation to our 1998 annual conference in Oshkosh, I had the honor driving Zinn to his Milwaukee hotel; the next afternoon I picked him up and gave him a brief tour of Milwaukee, as well as showing him the route of the 1886 workers who were marching on behalf of the eight-hour day, just before the State Militia had fired into them, killing seven.

What a singular joy this was! This man who seemed to always have a sparkle in his eye found irony and humor as he discussed the trials and tribulations of the day. (Columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times has similar reflections in his column of Jan. 30, 2010. Click here to read.)

It surprised us that Zinn, who had made of lifetime career out of chronicling many of the forgotten struggles of working people, admitted he had never before heard of either of these two major labor events in Wisconsin history: the city-wide millworkers strike in 1898 in Oshkosh that brought Clarence Darrow to town to testify in a conspiracy trial against the union leaders or the Bay View Tragedy.

And that was precisely his point: the history of ordinary people is missing from the schools and the textbooks.

The textbooks and teachers, he told the conference audience in Oshkosh, tell about oil baron John D. Rockefeller and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, but not “about the people who worked in Rockefeller’s oil refineries, nothing about the people who worked in Carnegie’s steel mills . . .

So I had to learn about labor history on my own to find out what was missing in the history books.”

And, of course, learn he did, eventually authoring the marvelous “People’s History of the United States,” which provides great perspective on the realities of history as it affects ordinary citizens, people of color, the poor and the others unheralded in most history books.

Just recently, Zinn participated in “The People Speak,” on the History Channel, in which prominent actors and performers read the words of Americans highlighting the struggle for economic justice and peace. (http://www.history.com/content/people-speak)

Zinn’s philosophy must continue to govern us, even in these days of despair as our economy falters, our troops still fight overseas, banks thumb their noses at us by pocketing huge bonuses in spite of their bungling of the economy, and the Arctic ice cap disintegrates.

It’s fitting, then, that we reflect upon what he told the packed meeting at the Puddlers’ Inn in 1998 at our annual Bay View Tragedy event. Referring to the 1886 massacre that ended, for the time being, the eight-hour day movement, he said: “You can say it was a defeat. They had to go back to work the ten-hour day. . .

If there is anything important to remember about the Bay View massacre, it’s that no defeat lasts if what is behind it is as struggle for justice, if behind it is a moral cause . . .

What happened here in Bay View is a reminder that struggle continues and all of us have a responsibility to keep it up.”

Thank you, Howard Zinn.

(For a video of an interesting interview on The Daily Show with John Stewart, go to http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-january-6-2005/howard-zinn

For other links to what others have said about Howard Zinn, go to http://www.howardzinn.org