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.

 

 

 

 

 

Can Progressivism Survive in Wisconsin?

For the first time since Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in Wisconsin in the 1984 Presidential election, the state went red.

How could that happen?  It’s simple arithmetic: lack of voter turnout.

Hillary Clinton could have easily won the Badger State if those voters who could be expected to favor her had turned out.  She lost by only 27,000 votes out of the 2.94 million cast, less than a percentage point.

Now here is the shocking story:  Voter participation in Wisconsin was down by almost 124,000 in the state, compared with 2012.  Turnout was 66.2%, the lowest since 1996.

election-photoHillary Clinton suffered severely from the low turnout.  She received 239,000 fewer votes than President Obama did in 2012, while Trump garnered only 1,500 more than Mitt Romney did.  (There were 150,000 votes for third party candidates; likely most of those voters went for President Obama four years ago.)  Read more.

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Why did potential Hillary voters not show up at the polls?  Here are some theories:

Restrictive voter laws.  The Republican-passed voter ID laws were specifically designed to discourage low-income voters, mainly minorities.  The voter suppression strategy may have worked; there were 62,000 fewer voters in minority-rich Milwaukee County, with Hillary’s totals about 40,000 short of Obama’s in 2012.

Over-confidence toward a Hillary win.  Polls leading up to the election showed her winning Wisconsin by four to six percentage points; thus voters who faced inconvenient work schedules, child care issues or other conflicts may not have taken time to vote.  The cutback of early voting hours – by GOP-supported state laws – may have added to the problem.

Lack of enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton.  No doubt the thirty years of constant attacks on Clinton’s trustfulness, whether warranted or not, helped to build voter doubts.  Trump repeatedly called her “liar” and encouraged his crowds to yell “lock her up;” that helped to reinforce in many voters’ minds a most repulsive (though grossly  wrong) image of her.

The Bernie effect.  Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton in the April Wisconsin primary.  Most of his supporters, we’re sure, heeded Sanders’ call to support Hillary in the general election, but enough found their bright illusions so dimmed that when Bernie failed to get the nomination they either stayed away from voting, cast a third party ballot or failed to get involved.

Secretary Clinton failed to campaign in Wisconsin.  Though several Clinton surrogates showed up, especially Chelsea and VP Candidate Tim Kaine, they could never garner the attention that the candidate herself could have.  A reprise of the Clinton campaign strategy tells us that Bill Clinton strongly urged greater concentration on the white working class voter, but was overruled by Hillary’s campaign bosses.

A weakened Democratic Party effort.  There’s no question that Wisconsin Democrats have become impoverished since 2010.  With the redistricting forced upon the state by the Republican-controlled legislature, most legislative districts have become gerrymandered so severely that Democratic candidates stand no chance; thus the party withers in those sixty or so largely rural counties and never seek to get Democrats on the ballot.  Lack of down-ballot candidates, even in GOP-trending areas, will cut into Democratic votes at the top of the ticket.

A smaller labor movement.  The impact of the 2011 passage of Act 10 ending collective bargaining rights for public employee unions and the 2015 enactment of so-called right-to-work laws was truly felt in this election.  The labor movement (traditional Democratic party allies) has lost so much membership that the state’s level of unionization has fallen below that of Alabama’s.  The result: there were fewer members to encourage to vote for progressive candidates and fewer numbers available to make phone calls, talk it up at the workplace and do door-to-door canvassing.

The impact of these seven factors, plus others not listed here, combined to make a perfect storm to bring about Secretary Clinton’s defeat.  Some of them also affected Russ Feingold’s effort to unseat Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

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No one is quite certain just what President-elect Trump will do, or how much he will be able to accomplish.  To progressives everywhere, the prospects are scary.

In Wisconsin, however, it is certain what will happen; it can only be worse for working people, the poor and minorities.  There will be attempts to weaken labor even more, there will be no increase in the minimum wage, there will be cutbacks in life-supporting assistance such as food share and Title 19, and weakening of the health care system.  All that was promised on the day after the election by Republican leaders of the state.  Read more

The 2016 election is behind us and the question is: what do we do now?

First, what we don’t do is to sit on the sidelines in despair, fretting as we watch the Packers blunder through another season, perhaps awaiting a Aaron Rodgers “Hail Mary” to miraculously bring joy to us cheeseheads.

Secondly, what we must do is to stay alert to every action being planned by the legislature, continuing to question issues with whatever strategy that seems to work, whether it is to storm the Capitol with masses of protesters, to write letters to the editor (or to tweet) or to plan for next election.

Thirdly, we must figure out how to rebuild a progressive movement in Wisconsin.  The possibilities include revitalizing the Democratic Party, working through such groups as Citizen Action, Move On, and Wisconsin Now or by building a whole new movement.

To regain Wisconsin, progressives have to figure out how to win in the rural counties; it means reaching out to a heavily white population, while not losing touch with the minorities that are part of the heart and soul of the progressive movement.  Trump won 59 of the 71 counties, and that ratio needs to be reduced somehow.  The state built its now-fading progressive nature on the old La Follette coalition of organized labor, big-city Socialists and rural Progressive Republicans.

This won’t be easy, but it’s necessary to save the state from being destroyed by a single party dictatorship that threatens to make its citizens among the poorest in the nation.  Ken Germanson, Nov. 10, 2016

Secret GOP Right-to-Work love potion

Maybe it was the drag of the long debate, but Republicans supporting the right-to-work law used some weird arguments.

“It’s for your own good,” they said over and over again to the union members and the Democratic legislators who opposed the bill as the debate continued in the Wisconsin Assembly overnight into Friday morning. (March 5 – 6)

Once you weed out the freeloaders, your unions will be stronger because the members who will be left will be dedicated “true believers,” argued another Republican. As that occurs, he said, unions will become more effective and as a result workers will rush to join. And, he added, employers will be eager to sign contracts with the strong unions because they will provide a skilled and dedicated workforce.

You continued to hear Republicans say that unions are “good” and they wanted them to thrive; for a while, it sounded as if they were speaking at a labor union convention.

One Republican let the cat out of the bag, however, when he admitted to seeing how effective his union had been in representing him back in his younger days. Yet, he felt he shouldn’t have been “forced” to join and pay membership fees to cover the costs of providing such help. The ultimate “freeloader!”

So there, unionists, you can close down your rallies around the State Capitol and stand outside to applaud how friendly the Republican legislators can be to you. Just drink down their potion of goodwill and enjoy the results.

If unionists accept such logic, will it not be much like the innocent college freshman girl who was offered a drink made especially for her by a fraternity boy at her first party on campus? The last thing she heard that night was, “Here, drink it, you’ll like it.”

And you know what happened to her!

Ken Germanson, March 6, 2015

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?

‘Bosses’ tag wrongly used

The phrase “union bosses” has been popping up in the pages of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Such a tired old phrase it is, too! For most of the previous century, the words were used by managements to discredit union organizing drives, to undercut strikes and to break union ranks.

For the Journal Sentinel to regress to use the terms as it did in an Oct. 26 “No Quarter” column by Daniel Bice is not only distressing but it’s dishonest and terribly biased. The words appeared in a headline: “Union bosses, wealthy donors spend big for Mary Burke, Scott Walker”

Bice and the headline writer took the words directly from the Republican chieftan here, Joe Fadness. How sad it is to follow the Journal Sentinel during this election campaign as its pages seem to take every campaign utterance of the Republicans and play it for all it’s worth. Two examples are noteworthy: the charge of plagiarism on the copying incident and the acceptance of two ex-Trek executives questioning Mary Burke’s record at Trek. Both were campaign sleeze, pure and simple, and the Journal Sentinel should have treated them for what they were, instead of blowing them all out of proportion.

Now, in the Bice headline, the use of the word “bosses” is certainly pejorative, connoting cigar-smoking, fat, corrupt and disgusting humans. On the other hand, the Journal Sentinel declared the Republicans had “donors,” a far more benign term.

Union leaders throughout history – as well as those of today – have been responsible to creating a movement that most economists would say made it possible for Americans to have a relatively thriving standard of living; that of course has been threatened by the weakening of our unions since the 1980s.

Admittedly, there were some corrupt leaders, but even most of them – as they fattened their wallets – provided a better life for their members.

Most union leaders came up from the ranks of the workers they now represent; most lead lives struggling to pay the mortgage, to get their kids through college and to keep their lawns mowed during work weeks that kept them on the job for 60, 70 or 80 hours. They care about the future of this country, about an education system that is being ravaged in the name of privatization, about a planet that faces environmental devastation, about continued racism, among other issues.

Union leadership work was always controversial when they seek to bring about change; their work should be examined and criticized when warranted, but it should be faced upon facts.

A newspaper that has paraded around as a paragon of virtue for the community at least owes union leaders the right to far treatment. If union leaders are “bosses,” why are their wealthy opponents “donors?”  Ken Germanson, Nov. 2, 2014

Our words may have changed, but racism lingers on — particularly in Wisconsin

It’s hard to forget certain dates.  Today, April 4, is one of them.  It is exactly 46 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I remember exactly where I was when I learned of his death in Memphis, where he was gunned down on the balcony of the Loraine Motel while participating in a rally in support of striking sanitation workers.  The headline of his death greeted me on the following morning as I entered the coffee shop in a downtown hotel in Decatur, Illinois, where I was working on a labor union project.

An older union representative whom we called “Red” saw the headline about the same time I did and uttered something like “it’s about time someone got that b—–d.”   I forget his exact words, but that’s what he meant.

In 1968, Red’s attitude was fairly typical among whites who considered Dr. King a radical, a communist, a troublemaker and a danger (the nouns usually accompanied by expletives).  We’ve come a long way since then, and I’m certain there’s a rare union man or woman who would share Red’s feelings, much less speak out loud so hatefully.  Much of the nation has adopted Dr. King as a symbol of peace and we celebrate his life with a national holiday, full of honor and praise.

Yet, how far have we “really” come as a nation in rooting out racial hatred and in providing persons of color with true equality and opportunity?

Some of us in the North might think most of the barriers have been broken through.  In many ways, it is true: particularly in urban areas there is a cheek-by-jowl existence with persons of varied racial backgrounds that forces us to live and work together in a semblance of harmony.  We joke and share stories with persons of other ethnic backgrounds almost every day; yet, when we socialize or meet for lunch, we too often go our separate ways.

In Wisconsin, we should be particularly ashamed.  Just a few days before April 4, the Annie E. Casey Foundation published a report ranking the Badger State the “worst” among the 50 states for black children in an index measuring 12 key indicators at various stages of life, including home situation, educational skills and income.

The report is a true indictment of our state’s failure to deal effectively with this economic and social inequity.  It only confirms what most of us have known for years.

Sadly, the policies being expressed among our leaders in Madison will do nothing but exacerbate the situation.  Governor Scott Walker and Republican-controlled Legislature have cut several avenues to better health care by refusing to expand Medicaid while cutting back on BadgerCare.  It has further sliced such benefits as FoodShare that assist poor families; it has taken steps that have weakened the Milwaukee Public School system.  None of the actions of the current Administration will do anything but to make the inequities facing African-Americans grow worse.

You may hear occasional platitudes from Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan (the Wisconsin Republican who heads the House Budget Committee) honoring Dr. King, but don’t accept such hypocrisy.  Perhaps, if they were being honest with us, they’d sound more like Red in that hotel coffee shop in 1968.  Ken Germanson, April 4, 2014

The myths of R-T-W laws

Myths continue to dominate discussions of the so-called right-to-work laws, as witnessed by letters to the editor and comments from columnists who should seem to know better.

The principal myth is in the name, “Right-to-work,” since the law confers no right to a job for anyone!  It’s an ancient bit of clever marketing by pro-business lobbyists to misname something so as to give advantage in a debate.

Myth No. 2 involves the view that leaders of unions – sitting in far-away seats of luxury – make decisions for the union’s members.  Nothing could be further from the truth: by and large unions are one of the most democratic institutions in our society, where decisions are made through voting, where strikes require extraordinary support and where officers are elected.  (To be fair, there have been situations where unions have acted undemocratically, but such occurrences have been widely overplayed and are now largely in the past.)

Myth No. 3 covers the principle of the union shop, which is often mislabeled a “closed shop” that has been outlawed since 1947.  The union shop merely requires all workers to pay for the right of representation, based on the principle that all workers who benefit from the wages and benefits bargained by the union should pay the costs of such representation.  In addition in “open shops,” where not all workers are members, the union is required by law to represent every worker – union or not – in grievances without discrimination.  Thus, the union must defend a non-member worker who is fired just as vigorously as a member worker.

Myth No. 4 is that unions cause a company to close, as referenced recently in the Hostess Bakery closing in Kansas City.  Recognize that a decision to close up shop is made by management, not the union; in fact, unions have many times worked hard to cooperate with companies to take actions to save firms in financial troubled.  In most cases, mismanagement or failure to keep up with technology is behind company closures.

Myth No. 5 is that if workers don’t like the wages or benefits or the treatment they receive at a company, they’re free to quit and go elsewhere.  That’s like saying, “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”  Can the workers have NO say in these matters?  Today, finding a job is not as easy as the letter writer may think.

Myth No. 6 is that somehow companies will flock to Michigan now that it has this slave labor law in place.  Check out the reasons why companies move; far down the ladder are the labor laws.  Far higher up is the ability to attract skilled workers, something that better-paid union workers usually provide.

There have been many myths perpetrated in the labor law discussions, and they should not color the thinking of policy makers in Wisconsin. — Ken Germanson, Jan. 1, 2013