Over the past several days, Michigan’s union activists and their allies in the fight against austerity have pushed back against expedited “Right-to-Work” legislation with a determination that has been nothing short of inspirational. As the latest developments in the Capitol building in Lansing made their way to the public via reports, pictures and videos, I have been feeling a wave of déjà vu taking me back to the earliest days of the Wisconsin Uprising in 2011: Thousands of people occupying all levels of the Capitol; Chants of “Kill the bill!!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” echoing throughout the Rotunda; Citizens being locked out of their publicly funded center of participatory democracy, causing a furor on both sides of the Capitol doors; The governor’s administration flagrantly violating court orders to re-open the building to the public, in spite of the angry pleas of Democratic representatives; Individuals blocking the legislative chambers in a last ditch attempt to prevent a vote from taking place, only to be hauled away by law enforcement; Finally, legislative galleries filled with Republican staffers and supporters, shielding lawmakers from their constituents’ opposition, as a union-busting bill is unconscionably rammed through with virtually no public input.
Photo courtesy of fellow Kossack Noise of Rain and the Overpass Light Brigade
The events in Madison over a blustery few weeks in early 2011, as hundreds of thousands of citizens found their comfortable walking shoes and took to the streets to fight back against GovernEr Walker’s draconian Budget Repair Bill (the remnants of which eventually became Act 10), were a life-changing experience for many of us here in the Badger state. Although approximately two years have passed and the memories can often feel like a lifetime ago considering all that the Wisconsin Movement has been through since then, a song, chant, or sign can immediately bring those memories flooding back as if they had just occurred yesterday.
Seeing the struggles facing Michigan’s workers literally sent shivers down my spine as I thought of all the pain and hardship that is to come, not only in Michigan or Wisconsin, but around the country. We are in throes of a war against the right-wing extremist, anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-democracy, anti-environmental, anti-regulatory agenda that has been steamrolling through Teabag-dominated statehouses since the 2010 mid-term elections. This November’s national elections were a victory for Democrats and progressives, as renowned, progressive women such as Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin swept into the U.S. Senate, and Tea Party favorites Todd Akin and Allen West were swept out of Congress. Oh yea…and the potentially devastating RMoney/Rayn ticket, laden with its yarn spinning, wealthy class tax slashing, 47 percent ignoring, "Obamacare" repealing landmines, was sent to its political grave.
However, the fight rages on at the statewide level as these radical, American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC)-infused agendas being foisted upon the general populace will continue to be pushed through Republican-dominated state legislatures around the country. Plutocrat-friendly “Governors” like Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Nikki Haley, Rick Scott, John Kasich and Mike Pence wait with bated breath to sign bill after bill of mind-numbing social and ethical abominations into law.
Photo courtesy of fellow Kossack Noise of Rain and the Overpass Light Brigade
Here in Wisconsin, a state renowned for its high voting turnout and coming off of a 70 percent turnout of all eligible voters in the recent Presidential election, a bill is already in the works to eliminate Election Day voter registration. You could say there was a noticeable absence of public clamoring for this type of legislative action prior to the bill’s introduction. But, in typical Scott Walker fashion, the Governer ignored the citizens of Wisconsin and made his case for this newest form of voter suppression to adoring throngs of Conservatives at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California in mid-November. In response, many county and municipal clerks and poll-workers from around the state expressed vehement opposition to the elimination of this public service, in place since 1976. With the unconstitutional “Voter ID” law, Act 23, currently on suicide watch after being dealt a permanent court injunction against its implementation, Walker and his legislative lap dogs needed to find another way to limit the electorate they so despise.
Never ones to be dissuaded by vocal opposition, Republican ASSemblyman Joel Kleefisch and Republican Senator Alberta Darling responded to Walker’s attack dog whistle and announced plans to launch their latest shameless attempt to suppress the vote early in the next legislative session. While same-day registration is conveniently utilized by hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites each general election, it tends to be a favored method amongst strong Democratic-leaning demographics, including students, minorities and low-income voters. Making matters worse, Wisconsin’s citizens don’t have the ballot referendum veto at their disposal that the voters of Maine used to overturn their own legislative repeal of same-day voter registration in November 2011.
Mere weeks later, Walker had the audacity to call a same-day registration repeal “ridiculous.” In the same manner that Gov. Snyder previously spoke of Right-to-Work-for-Less legislation as a "divisive issue" not worth tackling in Michigan, Walker has said that passing legislation eliminating same-day registration is “not a priority” of his. Nevertheless, like Snyder, Walker has promised to sign this piece of “non-prioritized” legislation into law if (read: when) it hits his desk. This stance proves even more absurd and hypocritical following last week’s revelation that Walker’s own son took advantage of same-day registration during the August primaries to cast his first ever vote, with the Governer proudly accompanying him to the polls!
The far-right wing’s corporate ideological agenda to demolish workers’ rights to organize, to earn a living wage and to have a say over workplace conditions, is only picking up steam in Wisconsin. This past spring, a documentary trailer surfaced in which Scott Walker reassured his tax-dodging, billionaire campaign donor, Diane Hendricks, back in January 2011 that “Right-to-Work” legislation would soon be on its way to Wisconsin. But he also let her know that he had to go after the public workers as the first step in his tactical plot to “Divide and Conquer” the citizens of Wisconsin.
State Representative Chris Kapenga ($-ALEC), who recently gained notoriety as one of nine Wisconsin legislators supporting hypothetical legislation calling for the arrest of federal officials trying to implement the Affordable Care Act, publicly revealed the Republicans’ legislative end game for unions. Lisa Mux at Blogging Blue noted Kapenga’s remarks at a conservative listening session in May with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI):
According to Waukesha County resident Leanne Wied-Brusky, when a Town Hall attendee who seemed in favor of right-to-work legislation expressed discontent over the delay in implementation, Kapenga responded, ”We have right-to-work legislation in (three) different offices ready to go. If we had done it earlier, when we wanted, then Prosser would not have been elected. Right now is not the right time. We have to wait until it is politically feasible.”Taking advantage of new, secretly agreed upon and gerrymandered voting districts, the Republicans re-gained control of the Wisconsin State Senate in the November elections by an 18-15 tally. By gaining this comfortable, three seat margin, they insulated themselves from a potential dissenting vote cast by Sen. Dale Schultz, the only Republican Senator to vote against Act 10. With Republicans maintaining a 60-39 advantage in the State Assembly (despite receiving nearly 200,000 less votes than Democrats statewide) and no recall elections on the horizon, it appears that NOW may be the politically feasible time, of which Rep. Kapenga and Governer Walker portended, for the anti-worker extremists to pass a RTW4L law in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has weathered this onslaught of single-party, right-wing authoritarianism over most of the past two years and we know that the renewed struggle for social justice and equality will once again reach a fevered pitch as soon as the newest crop of legislators is sworn into office on January 7th, 2013. The corporate fat cats that are driving ALEC and funding the Tea Party’s national ideological assault are not going to ease up on the gas pedal until they have demolished the pillars of a forward thinking, progressive society. But a critically-thinking populace, one that cares more about educating and helping fellow citizens than it cares about living for the almighty dollar and relying on the horribly misguided and disproven theory of “trickle-down” economics, can put a stop to that.
Right now, the fight is in your own backyard, Michiganders. Although the journey will assuredly be filled with setbacks and trying times, those who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets of Madison and communities across Wisconsin in our own trying times will stand with you in this battle. No matter how futile or bleak our efforts may seem at times, we have no other choice but to keep fighting for our rights and for the future of our country. The line that designates our shared border is merely an afterthought, for your fight is undoubtedly ours, regardless of which state we call home.
Photo courtesy of Noise of Rain and the Overpass Light Brigade
My favorite memory of last year’s initial protests came shortly after I first set foot in Capitol during the Uprising. Amidst the infectiously rhythmic sound of chanting, clapping, and drumming (and energy so palpable you could feel it permeating throughout the Rotunda), I looked up to the first floor balcony to see a large, yellow, homemade banner gradually unfurling. As it became fully visible, a thunderous roar built up from within the thousands of voices echoing throughout the Rotunda until the deafening cheers reached their climax. The message it bore was simple, yet poignant:
“DETROIT IS HERE WITH U!!”
Now it is OUR opportunity to return the favor to the workers of your great state and stand with YOU, Michigan. I may even commit a blasphemous act for any Badger by singing a chorus of the hated “Hail to the Victors” in your honor. Blue Fist and the Mitten, together again. Solidarity, brothers and sisters, and forever FORWARD!!
Here's some Solidarity from the Solidarity Sing Along in Madison to the citizens of Michigan, originally recorded in January of this year.
Members of the Solidarity Sing Along are currently in the midst of their own battle for 1st Amendment rights, while gathering to sing out against the Walker regime every weekday at the Wisconsin Capitol (over 500 times in all) since March 11th, 2011.
*For anyone wishing to donate pizza to the citizens protesting at the Michigan Capitol building, please contact Cottage Inn Pizza at (517) 267-9000 and they will see to it that your order is donated to the hungry, winter warriors.
*For those wishing to follow the live action from the statehouse on Tuesday, please check out this Kicking Ass for the Working Class USTREAM account: http://www.ustream.tv/...
*For anyone who will be in the Lansing area on Tuesday, there is a march on the Capitol in Lansing planned for 8 a.m. According to the Facebook event page:
Thousands of workers will gather at the Lansing Center at 8am on Tuesday morning to march to the Michigan State Capitol Building.
This past Thursday, Republican legislators passed the worst anti-union legislation Michigan has ever seen. They will give it a final vote on Tuesday. To make matters worse, Governor Snyder has said he will sign a Right to Work-for-less bill if it gets to his desk. If you can't join us at 8am, join us at the Capitol building any time after 9:00 am.
WE NEED YOU to join us in Lansing on Tuesday to stand up for Michigan's working families.
Email from Progress Michigan (517-999-3646): "We’re opening our office as a pit stop during the rally tomorrow. If you’re in town, join us at 115 W. Allegan, Floor 7 (above the Biggby), to get warm, grab some hot cocoa, recharge your phone, log onto free WI-FI, and make a quick bathroom break."
11:42 PM PT: A friend had this great shot of Detroit's banner that hung in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda for weeks and was nice enough to share it with me. I have added it into the body of the diary.