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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

What God does Gov. Walker answer to?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said that God is guiding him. I’m wondering whose God he is listening to. Here’s what Walker told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt in answering a question about when he’d reveal his decision to run for President (as quoted in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 8, 2015):

“I think with what I’ve had to go through in the last four years, both politically, but also in terms of the policies, certainly I feel that there’s a reason God put me in a spot to do things that we’ve done and take on the kind of challenges we’ve done.”

What chutzpah! Is there really a God out there who guides him to refuse to expand Medicaid and to participate in the Affordable Care Act, thus denying thousands of low income Wisconsinites access to health care? Does his God tell him to cut on education aids, to weaken unions and thus deprive workers of a means to a better life, to turn down the light rail plan taking away more jobs and to do other mean-spirited actions?

To claim that any God would support actions that line the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of ordinary citizens is beyond comprehension. Besides, what’s our governor doing spending all this time with nutty talk show guys anyway?

Myths and fears from a victorious Walker

Governor Scott Walker’s “Victory Speech” Tuesday night was appalling.  First, he claimed wrongly that his opponent was the puppet of “special interests” and, secondly, he made the scary pledge to weaken the safety net that is needed by many citizens for their basic needs.

Repeatedly he claimed Mary Burke’s campaign was directed from Washington while his own campaign was an old-fashioned political campaign run solely and paid for by the good people of Wisconsin.  Yes, Burke’s campaign was helped out by contributions from outside groups, many of which were labor or social justice groups; yet, Walker’s own massive menu of advertisements and campaign costs were paid for by money-baggers from out of state, including groups like the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, backed by folks like the Koch brothers.  What gall for the governor to give the appearance he was unfettered by “special interests!”

There’s a ton of difference between special interests of organized labor and Emily’s list that supported Burke, and the big-money interests that paid for Walker’s campaign.  Furthermore, when the final tally of contributions – including those of the secretive outside funders – is made, we’ll bet the Walker totals may far exceed Burke’s.

More important, however, Scott Walker’s speech on Nov. 4 was a frightening hint of what’s to come.  It was an all-out attack on food stamps, unemployment insurance, health care assistance, public education and other programs that help needy citizens, both rural and urban.  In an uncharacteristically fiery speech, he told us he wanted to “get the government out of our lives” and to offer more tax cuts to encourage investment (read, more tax breaks for the wealthy).  And how his partisan audience roared!

His spirited address wowed many of the talking heads who commentated on the victory speech, chortling that his big win propels him into the 2016 Presidential races as a possible front-runner.  They seemed to overlook the chilling words about his mean-spirited program that can only hurt working families and the poor.

With a heavily Republican State Legislature ready to do his bidding, Wisconsinites face new assaults on public education with an expansion of vouchers, more strict limits on public assistance programs of all types, a loosening of environmental regulations and a continued stifling of wages.

Beware folks.  There are frightening times ahead.  Mary Burke offered good advice in her concession speech:  Don’t give up the fight. – Ken Germanson, Nov. 5, 2014

Some ideas on winning the public mind for labor!

Our recent blog, “Is Labor Losing the Battle for the Public Mind” has generated some interesting comments and ideas.

Fortunately, none of them spent time playing the “blame game” on the failure to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but focused upon how working people and unions should respond to turn the tide.

You can see some of the comments following the blog, including one from my friend David Giffey of Arena, WI, who noted that the voices of those many activists who aren’t union members need to be heard.  He noted that in the last century workers achieved much of their gains through militancy, boycotts and strikes, which seemed have gone out of favor.  To engage the majority of workers in the cause, he said, labor will have to keep its message simple.

Giffey’s call for more inclusivity by labor was echoed by others as well.  Nicholas Hoffman, museum curator in Appleton, was one of many who emailed the author directly with comments.  He called for doing a better job of reaching out to families in rural Wisconsin, who favored Walker heavily.  Those families, too, are facing economic turmoil.

Thomas Martin Sobottke, who writes a regular blog entitled “Struggles for Justice,” wrote:  “I think the labor movement must make any disenfranchised American working person a member of the movement and (then) we go to the streets and demand jobs and a fair wage from those that control them.  Putting down any barrier to union membership and the movement needs to be pursued even further.”

Labor already has the beginnings of efforts to involve workers in nonunion settings, which could be used as the basis for broadening involvement in the causes of working people.  That was suggested by David Newby, president emeritus of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, who mentioned the “Working America” coalition that could broaden its activities, and by Ray MacDonald of the Steelworkers, who reminded us that the Steelworkers have an associate member program.  Other unions, we believe, should be working on similar strategies.

UW-Extension School for Workers prof David Nack observed that Democrat Tom Barrett largely dodged the labor rights’ issue in the campaign.  Nack was correct, of course, and his comments echoed the point of the original blog that “labor” may indeed be perceived as a negative to candidates for public office.  (What a sad commentary on the state known for its progressive history involving workers and labor!)

David Riemer, who unsuccessfully ran against Walker for County Executive and is a former top administrator for both former Governor Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, called for the liberal message to focus on economic security, education, and freedom, all of which he said were “American values” that would lure many voters toward more progressive voting.

Thus the tone of nearly all of those who responded recognized the value of greater inclusivity into the mix.  Can that be achieved?  This blogger thinks so as long as all of us broaden our thinking and open our minds.

Finally, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera in Milwaukee, offers a suggestion on how the process can begin.  She says that unionists can assist in the effort of an independent union to organize Palermo Pizza in Milwaukee.  Many immigrants are involved in that effort, and already the AFL-CIO and the Steelworkers are assisting.  Others may make donations to the cause.  By reaching out to assist other workers achieve their goals – even if it’s not with “my” union – we can again put the labor movement back in the public mind as a “positive force” for all society.

What do you think?  Ken Germanson, June 8, 2012, Milwaukee WI

Is labor losing the battle for the public mind?

As I write this, it has been more than 24 hours since the network declared Scott Walker the winner over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin recall elections – enough time to digest the hurt and to put the loss into perspective.  Don’t despair, this will not be another lament or excuse for the outcome.  There has been plenty of that.

What is critical is what lesson was learned.

The basic message that any labor union activist or sympathizer should take from this loss is: The typical voter cares not a “hoot” about unions or collective bargaining rights.  This fact is shocking to those of us who have battled for years for worker rights.  How can it be that so few care?  Aren’t collective bargaining rights the only thing that frees a worker from the “slavery” enforced by his boss?  Of course, collective bargaining is critical to a worker’s freedom, but so few understand that.

Take the statistics from the exit polling done in the recall vote.  Among persons from union households, 38% still voted for Scott Walker.  That’s nearly four out of 10 who don’t understand that it was through collective bargaining that their households gained income, basic on-the-job rights and benefits.  (Incidentally, 61% of those from nonunion households voted for Walker.)

Even though the loss of collective bargaining rights for public workers fueled the frenzy and furor of the last 16 months, some 60% of voters did not feel such rights were important, or opposed them outright.  How could it be that after all the news coverage and hardwork by thousands of unionists across the state that so few understood or cared about the importance of collective bargaining for workers?  That’s the question that is most bothersome.

Part of the problem is that so few persons today understand labor unions and labor rights.  In the 1950s, when nearly four out of 10 households contained union workers, words like “strike,” “contract,” “scab” and “solidarity” were in everyone’s understanding.   Now, with but 11 percent of workers in unions, there are fewer labor households and less interest in unions.

Unions are hardly ever covered by the media.  It wasn’t too long ago that newspapers in most big cities – including Milwaukee – had fulltime reporters assigned to the labor beat, often with backup from other reporters.  Now the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in this town has none; in fact it doesn’t even assign one reporter to become a parttime specialist on the topic.   Despite the fact that the State Legislature passed a law making the teaching of labor history part of the state’s educational standards, schools still largely ignore the subject.

The fact is that most people in Wisconsin – and probably even more in many less unionized states – don’t know, understand or care about the loss of collective bargaining rights.

The history of labor means much more than informing people that it was only through collective bargaining that paid holidays and vacations and health insurance became a reality for ALL workers, mainly because of unionized workers exercised their collective bargaining rights.  It must show, too, that such rights are basic to helping free workers from being nothing more than paid slaves and that the loss of those rights could soon doom more and more workers to return to the horrendous and unsafe working conditions of yore!

In an election based largely on worker rights, too few understood anything about those rights.  If Tuesday night’s victory by Walker and his big business cronies proved anything, it proved unions are losing a battle for the public mind.

That fact makes it critical to develop ongoing strategies in public education, and key to that is to continue to study and disseminate the history of labor. — Ken Germanson, June 6,  2012.  Milwaukee WI.

Getting to know the “real” Scott Walker

(A comment by Ann Germanson, wife of the writer of this blog)

Wisconsin voters who narrowly elected Scott Walker governor in 2010 didn’t know that he was planning to “divide and conquer” the citizens he was sworn to serve.   Maybe they weren’t aware Walker came into the office as a representative of the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC), which for 40 years has been co-opting state legislatures to make sure they pass bills in the interests of the Koch Brothers and other big corporations.

The voters didn’t expect their Republican-controlled state government, supposedly concentrating on jobs issues, would instead be doing ALEC’s bidding by engaging in attacks on unions, public education and social services while enacting burdensome voter suppression rules, aimed at keeping Democrats from the polls.

Now, of course, all these things have been brought to light – notably by Walker himself as he enthusiastically assured “David Koch” in that infamous phone call that Wisconsin would be the “first domino” to fall in ALEC’s campaign to impose complete Republican political control on this country.

All this should be enough to justify a recall election and to remove Walker from office.

Recall election thoughts: Is glass half-full?

After the recall elections lastTuesday night (Aug. 9), one conclusion and only one is clear:  the glass is half-full . . . or, is it half-empty?

The truth is that both  Democrats and their progressive partners  and Republicans and their corporate partners will have reason for hope and despair from the elections.  If you read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (which endorsed Gov. Scott Walker in the 2010 election), it’s all over for the Democrats and labor.  They say the Democratic recall effort was a costly, unnecessary bust.  (See editorial for Aug. 11.)

Turn to the New York Times and you’ll see them editorialize from their perch in Manhattan that the Democrats showed power and strength in the results, since they ran better in 5 of the 6 districts over the 2008 elections. (See editorial for Aug. 11)

Listen to John Nichols of The Nation – and a state boy who was here for the whole affair – and you’ll see lots of hope that Democrats and labor have a chance to slow down and maybe stop the Walker pro-corporation express train.  (See interview with Amy Goodman.)

Looking at it realistically – and trying not to see through rose-colored glasses – the showing of labor-backed State Senate candidates was about as good as can be expected.  All six of the districts have been traditionally Republican districts, all of which were gerrymandered into “solid” districts.  The two “wins” were about what could be expected.

Yet, that so far is not good enough to change the political climate in Madison, particularly with so much of the state media cheering the governor in his radical ways.  Witness the state’s largest paper, the Journal Sentinel, whose coverage of the campaign and the election seemed to lose sight of the vast amounts of rightwing money that went into the Republican campaigns, while reporting over and over about the amount of money provided by labor, which was made public.  The rightwing money – coming in the form of independent advertisements – was not reported thanks to the Supreme Courts Citizens United decision and flew under the radar.

While some media commentators seem to be convinced that Tuesday’s results will dampen spirits of Democrats to recall Walker, we haven’t seen any signs from leading progressives that would show they plan on quitting the effort.  And they shouldn’t.

It won’t be an easy chore.  The recall can’t begin until November (just three months from now) and then petitioners need to get over 500,000 signatures statewide by January.  It sounds like a daunting task, but remember petitioners in Ohio gained nearly 1.3 million names – about six times the required amount — to force a ballot referendum in hopes of stopping that state’s new anti-labor public employee law.

If enough signatures are gained to bring about a recall election, the tough part begins to win the statewide vote.  It’ll be a rough campaign, to be sure, but based on Tuesday’s results, it appears that voter trends are still tiding against Gov. Walker.   Then – as in Tuesday’s voting – it’ll come down to turnout.  Remember, too, that if a recall election of Walker becomes reality, it will be held under the new voting rules rammed through by the Republicans earlier this year; that means showing an ID at the polls and being prepared for challenges.

The biggest task will be to continue to educate the voters about the true issues.  Walker has a clear message:  Cut taxes and reduce the size of government.  That will a difficult message to overcome, since it appeals to all voters and is so simple it is easy to understand.

The message from Progressives needs to be direct as well; it won’t be enough to merely concentrate on the collective bargaining law and labor issues.  We must continue to show how the Walker budget will further damage the middle class and push more and more people into low-wage jobs, dropping more families from the middle class.  We must show how it will affect lower-income families, and how that will eventually affect all of us.

We’ll also have to educate voters about the need to get State Identification Cards before the election so that they will be able to vote.  That may take some doing for those voters who might have difficulty getting to State Motor Vehicle Department sites to obtain such IDs.

We can’t help but be disappointed by Tuesday’s election results, but in those results we see the seeds of victory in eventually unseating Wisconsin’s radical governor.  It will take lots of work and we can’t let a possible letdown from Tuesday’s vote cause us to quit the fight.  Consider the glass half-full!  Kenneth A. Germanson, Aug. 11, 2011