Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker came to office in the spectre of the Arab Spring, and opened America’s 2011 legislative session by declaring class war on working families. He shamelessly put up Wisconsin’s democracy for sale to the Tea Party and their SuperPac billionaire backers -- but Walker did not realize what his hubris would reap.
The resulting uprising captured the imagination of activists across the world. A fearless occupation of the state capitol begot solidarity actions across the country, and we have been watching the 21st century Internet-enabled strategy and tactics borne out from there reverberating and evolving since.
Such context is necessary to really understand what is happening in the #WIrecall, as the recall elections wouldn’t have been triggered in the first place if they were just a typical Democrat vs Republican fight alone. I’d even go so far to say that the broader movement and technological components can not be glossed over if this phenomenon is to be described in a manner that remotely reflects the reality on the ground.
The key is recognizing the sheer level of determination that the grassroots activists independently driving the recall process have felt since they were occupying the capitol last February, and how the Internet has been amplifying their actions so that they can inspire others the world over. The chant “this is what democracy looks like” had never felt so true as when it was blasting from the occupied state capitol while an international audience watched on livestream feeds spread on Twitter. And that feeling has been encompassing throughout the recall process.
I blogged about this dynamic early on during Occupy Wall Street, as it provided clarity for how the occupation at Zuccotti Park could take off as it did. It then became the thesis for an essay I wrote in Anya Schiffrin’s new book From Cairo to Wall Street: Voices from the Global Spring.
My contribution, “From Wisconsin to Wall Street: a Cheesehead Does Not Stand Alone”, analyzed the evolution of the occupations. Whether it was NYC hosting some of the first solidarity actions at the peak of the capitol occupation (helping achieve mainstream media attention) or paralleling the ‘Walkerville’ tent city encampment with the crucial OWS precursor in ‘Bloombergville’, Empire State activists have been building off the strategies of Wisconsinites from the beginning, and vice versa.
The sense of solidarity was seen in full bloom throughout Zuccotti Park and the city-wide Occupy protests, with participants even relishing the opportunity to wear ‘Cheeseheads’ to express their appreciation for the Cheddar-state.
Of course, the #WIrecall is not an occupation, and #Occupy is absolutely above the electoral. But although no one occupied the Wisconsin state capitol or Zuccotti Park to help anyone get elected, you better believe their actions actively impact elections.
This impact comes within the enveloping reason both occupations started in the first place: the outright control the 1% unilaterally has over our government. And more than anything, Wisconsin has come to embody the 99% rising up to demand democracy.
Whichever way the recall goes it will be a test for how the power of the people currently fares against the power of money in politics. There is no doubt that the backers of 1% Walker are trying to buy Wisconsin, but will they be successful?
Fortunately, the digital and personal networks created, the web platforms and relationships built, the lessons learned and organizations fostered will all stay with us in victory or defeat.
Like New York with OWS, Wisconsin has become a hotbed for democratic innovation, and the manner by which the Wisconsin occupy activists transitioned to impacting an election without losing the movement soul motivating them should be modeled and built upon.
A new project I’m a part of -- SuperVoters.org -- has this goal precisely in mind, and indeed there are no shortage of innovative examples to look to in Wisconsin.
To name a few of these examples of Wisconsin innovation, we can start with the game-changing development of the netroots ‘Cheddarsphere’ on the whole, as well as the Democracy Addicts Facebook Group, Lori Compas’ #RecallFitz grassroots effort (behind PDM paywall, for other details click here), United Wisconsin instigating the recalls after forming organically, the Solidarity Sing Along helping keep the Occupy spirit alive with a constant presence at the capitol, We Are Wisconsin’s locally based organizing, and many more.
So if you can help ensure such case studies are fully successful with the 99% achieving a massive victory in the recall, please do! There couldn’t be a more important time to express solidarity however which way.
And as Wisconsin proceeds, all of us would do well to look back to what has developed, and think forward to imagine what may be yet to come.