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Dear President Obama,

I'm glad you've opposed the attacks on Wisconsin's public workers, but you need to do more. You need to go there and speak out, because Americans need to understand what's at stake, and those who are standing up there and elsewhere need to see you standing beside them. If you speak out powerfully enough, you might not only help stop Scott Walker's raw power grab and the similar actions of Walker's compatriots in other states. You might even help revive the long-demoralized spirits of those whose volunteer efforts carried you to the presidency.

You could talk, if you went, about the value to America of the teachers, nurses, firefighters, crisis counselors, and other public sector workers who are under attack, and of the hypocrisy of a governor whose corporate tax breaks launched this supposed fiscal crisis to begin with. You could make clear the stakes for all of us--that if Walker or other Republican governors can end the ability of public workers to join together for a common voice, ordinary citizens will end up with far less power to shape the course of our democracy, and predatory corporate interests will have even more.  You can talk in your in style. You can be calm and reflective. You don't have to scream. But you have to show the American public and your discouraged supporters just how high the stakes are.  You have to do your best to draw the line.

You actually promised to speak out in just such a situation on the 2007 campaign trail, explaining, eloquently "If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the White House, I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself; I'll walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody's in their corner."

Now it's time to redeem that promise. It's time to put on those shoes and stand with those who are speaking out in a way that can make the choices clear to the distracted and overloaded Americans watching from the sidelines. That doesn't mean you'll own the protests or should. Participants have led with their courage, and you need to make clear that you're not telling them what to do or hijacking their moment, but standing in solidarity and encouraging all Americans to speak out and participate on these critical issues.

Even if you and those protesting don't block or completely block Walker's draconian laws, you'll have defined a key issue going forward, and made clear how strongly you stand against his arrogance of power.  So will you walk the walk, now that Wisconsin is the test case for whether Republican governors and legislators can destroy a social contract that's been in place for 50 years or more? You can do this without the Republican Congress, Mitch McConnell, or the Koch Brothers. You just have to stand up for your beliefs, and be willing to make clear the differences between an America where our fates are tied together, and one where our common decisions benefit only the wealthiest. You can tell this story from DC, and you need to tell it more, but telling it from Wisconsin would be far more powerful.

Of course you'd get some heat for such a talk, and you'd need to make clear that you're simply lending your support to the Wisconsin workers whose lives and livelihoods are on the line. But there's a risk any time you speak out for justice. And given that 60 percent of Americans support the rights that the Wisconsin state workers are fighting for, you'd be building the momentum that the protests have already created. Scott Walker's also a good person to highlight as an opponent, because he's  made so clear his open contempt for unions, because he's alreadylost a half million dollar judgmentfor breaking a contract with Milwaukee public sector unions, (in the process putting a former felon in charge of courthouse security), and because he's now on the record  in a phone call he thought  was with David Koch, saying  he'd considered hiring provocateur "troublemakers" to create disruptions in the crowd, and was planning to pretend to negotiate to trap fugitive Democratic lawmakers into returning.  The same bill of Walkers  that ends public employee collective bargaining also gives Walker the right to privatize state assets at will, and to sell them to whatever cronies he chooses, an affront to the barest notion of political leadership as stewardship. Wisconsin Democrats are already working to recall key Republican Senators and can try to recall Walker after he's served a year, so even if you lose on the immediate battle, you may help Wisconsin's public employees and those of states across the country win for the long-term.

The Republican master story blames those workers who still cling to middle class jobs for America's problems, along with the ungrateful poor and those who'd dare to believe they could count on Social Security and Medicare in their old age. You need to complement the voices of ordinary citizens who are working to put forth a more accurate story, about how this country has been run into the ground by the rampant greed of a tiny group at the top, who need to begin contributing their share. Actions like your extending  Republican tax cuts for the wealthiest in return for extending unemployment and making some other modest investments in our economy have blurred these key differences (you talked at first about being "held hostage" but alas quickly switched to praising bipartisanship). Speaking out now could begin to highlight the real choices.

If you help the Wisconsin movement grow stronger, as Roosevelt supported the labor movements of his time, it could not only provide a deterrent to other governors following or considering following Walker's lead (like Ohio's John Kasich and Florida's Rick Scott). It would also give heart to a base that's been consistently demoralized by your actions, something critically important for 2012, much as key generals visiting Tahir Square further empowered the Egyptian protests.  Walker and his compatriots would never have gotten elected had Democratic turnout not plummeted, in large part because those who participated with such high hopes in 2008 felt them so consistently dashed during your first two years. One-time supporters became demoralized not just by Republican obstructionism, but also by your appointment of people who'd help cause the financial meltdown to begin with, like Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and Rahm Emmanuel. And by your escalation of an unwinnable war in Afghanistan. And by your reluctance to seriously fight and keep fighting for many of the key issues he'd run on, compromising again and again before he'd even begun to negotiate.  As a result, volunteers who turned out in 2008 to bring about massive levels of turnout stayed home--and so did those they'd have otherwise brought to the polls.

Now many of those who'd helped carry you to office have begun once again publically acting, taking to the street instead of hoping that mere online petitions and emails can magically change history. Perhaps inspired by the courage of those who've faced down dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, these grassroots citizens just might rebuild a movement to turn American culture around, as the Tea Party helped turn it away from the hopes so many had when you first took office.  But you could help by speaking out. On the day of the 100,000 Madison march, I stood with 2,500 to 4,000 others in my state capitol of Olympia Washington, on a snowy day and inconvenient location.  We cheered when state legislators came to the podium, reminding us that we weren't alone. If you stand with us, and help shift the debate back towards the real roots of the crises facing America, we're more likely to energetically support him and with candidates in the next election cycle who will be open to your initiatives. Wisconsin is the test case for both the Republican roll-backs and the responses that just might recapture the fire of barely two years ago. It would help immensely if you stood beside those ordinary citizens who've already stepped up to lead.

Paul Loeb is author of Soul of a Citizen,  with 130,000 copies in print including a newly updated second edition. He's also the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. See   To receive Paul's articles directly


Should Obama go to Wisconsin to stand with the protestors?

36%23 votes
14%9 votes
49%31 votes

| 63 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  It might be nice, (11+ / 0-)

    but it is not necessary.  Workers don't need the President's help to accomplish this.   Working people can do this on our own.

    Trumka: "Absolutely Insane" to Extend Tax Cuts for Millionaires

    by TomP on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 12:07:59 PM PST

    •  Since crippling unions seems to be the plan (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, PaulLoeb, joe shikspack

      for all the states that have a Republican governor, I think a stronger stand by the President is called for.  Appearing in the state at some kind of venue and saluting the workers while outlining some of the anti-union measures being proposed by Republican Governors would be a good thing.

      Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Mary Oliver

      by byteb on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 12:13:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  It wouldn't even be nice. (7+ / 0-)

      It would be counterproductive. The security detail would be disruptive. His presence would remind anti-Walker GOPers who are in the protests that they are anti-Obama. His presence would remove the grass roots, people powered aspect that is so important to socialists and anarchists in the movement. They wouldn't walk away, but it would dampen the enthusiasm.

      Despite the fact the Wisconsin's Democratic legislators have our back, this is not partisan fighting. It is a people powered movement. Obama trying to look good by standing with us would be neutral at best and possibly counterproductive to the spirit and energy.

      Obama, please stay away. We've got this. Unless of course Walker calls out the National Guard. Then I wold like Obama to get involved.

      •  I think a visit can reinforce people power (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        joe shikspack

        It's like Tahir Square when key military leaders visited.  The protests are still going to be run by grassroots leaders, but Obama standing with them only strengthens them and strengthens the sense that they can prevail.  

        •  I would rather have you than Obama here. (6+ / 0-)

          If Obama had an approval rating well above 50% here, then I'd be open to the idea, but skeptical. We're winning hearts and minds of the undecideds.

          Listen. I may feel differently in a month, but at this stage, people here feel like this is our local fight. I know it's part of a national fight, but Obama would not only nationalize it too obviously, but also make it A Democrat thing and a top down thing. It would let Walker play the underdog card instead of looking like an overreaching bully.

    •  If Obama gave the RIGHT speech, it would help (0+ / 0-)

      Something calm, and quite, which reminded the nation that this is a naked power grab by Walker -- that he wants to be able to tell workers "Take what I give you or go to hell".  Ask workers what sort of country they want to live in -- one where they have some ability to negotiate with their bosses, or one where they have NONE.  Ask people whether they think the Governor should follow the state constitution and let people into the Capitol....

      ...well, anyway, Obama is good at speeches.  If he gave a really good speech -- not a rousing rabble-rouser, but one which reminded the rest of the country why Wisconsin matters and why we should support the protestors -- it could help.  Otherwise not.

      Read pp. 1-7 of Krugman's _The Great Unraveling_ (available from Google Books). NOW.

      by neroden on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 03:37:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I disagree... (18+ / 0-)

    Republicans want nothing more than for Obama to make this an Obama vs. Walker fight. It would give them a new point of leverage when all other messages have failed. It would also set up Obama as a convenient foil.

    In fact, the RNC is so desperate to insinuate Obama into the battle that they're ready to go with a new ad connecting Obama to the "unions bosses" in the state:

    It's much easier for them to fight the leader of our party than to fight the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of protesters across Wisconsin. That's a fight they can't win, and they know it.

    Why help them?

  •  I Can See a Value in Some Presidents Taking (4+ / 0-)

    some such action, but not this one. I don't think he's got a sense for a type of speech or rallying effort that American labor needs in this kind of situation.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 12:10:46 PM PST

    •  President Space Cadet Kucinich would (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cedwyn, foufou, SouthernBelleNC49

      know what to say right? Maybe he will choke on an olive pit and sue during his rousing speech.  How about President Nader? He'd know what to say right?  Or President I lost by 20 points Grayson? I am sure he would turn the tide of support for the unions to the Governor.  Maybe President Feingold? Not sure that would work out either since he was not very popular recently with WI voters.

      I am sure all of these liberal supermen would have more sense than President Obama who according to you has none.

      •  Umm, about Kucinich (0+ / 0-)

        He did not choke on an olive pit. He broke a tooth, and ended up with two surgeries and several visits to the dentist over a period of two years to fix it.
        Next time you decide to deride someone, at least get your facts straight.

        How come the dove gets to be the peace symbol? How about the pillow? It has more feathers than the dove and doesn't have that dangerous beak. Jack Handey

        by skohayes on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 03:14:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Questions? (13+ / 0-)

    Why would you want Wisconsin to become about Obama? Why would you want the righteous demands of the people of Wisconsin and the unions to become the secondary story.

    Frankly I cannot think of faster way to take this story in the completely wrong direction than to have Obama parachuting into Madison.

    In the choice between changing ones mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.

    by jsfox on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 12:12:39 PM PST

  •  Obama's bully pulpit can help (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    True, it's not just about Obama, but something much larger. But if he did go and spoke directly about the stakes it would be powerful. And it would make it even  more of a national issue, as it has to be.

    In terms of the RNC linking Obama to "union bosses" that's an attempt to tar Obama with the protestors, not vice versa. I think the more they stand together the stronger they'll be

  •  I kind of veer on whether he (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sancerre2001, neroden, joe shikspack

    should get involved or not. I fear that if he gets involved, he'd tell the WI Dems to get back to WI and work out a "compromise." If he doesn't get involved, then it'd be better since it would be all about the people of WI.

    I work with B2B PAC, and all views and opinions in this account are my own.

    by slinkerwink on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 12:19:15 PM PST

  •  he absolutely should not come here (12+ / 0-)

    this is Walker vs. Wisconsin, and he's already doing everything he can to make it Walker vs. Obama instead.  We've got it here.  The President has acted appropriately, and a heavier hand can only harm the situation

    •  This needs to inspire people (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PsychoSavannah, foufou

      around the country. It is fundamental rights versus the rich and powerful. If it looks like another partisan dogfight the rest of the country will lose interest in a hurry.

      "We believe that the people are the source of all governmental power; that the authority of the people is to be extended, not restricted."-Barbara Jordan

      by sancerre2001 on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 12:53:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I know a few Republicans. Most would be (10+ / 0-)

    on Walker's side on this, but some are teachers themselves, or nurses or autoworkers.  There have to be a lot of Republicans doing some soul-searching right now about what it really means to be a Republican now that the Right-Wingers have taken over the party.

    Bringing Obama in just stokes the anti- Obama hatred, and does nothing to help the cause.  No.  The workers have the hearts of the majority on their side.  Obama would push people away--- people the demonstrators have to work hardest to reach.

  •  I'm Gonna Say (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pHunbalanced, christine20, foufou

    What I've been saying to anyone dumb enough to call for this, you gotta be a teabagger!!!!!!

    Certainly are doing the calling they want which would take All the air out of what is really going on as well as what little legit news coverage it's now getting!!!!!!!!!!!!

    "I wrote, 'Dear Western governments. You have been supporting the regime that was oppressing us for 30 years. Please don't get involved now. We don't need you.' " - Wael Ghonim 13 Feb. 2011

    by jimstaro on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 12:24:17 PM PST

    •  Why will it get it less news coverage? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      We haven't been getting enough. Obama's visiting gives more. And if (ok, not guaranteed), he takes a strong stand and doesn't just call for compromise, then he pushes our issues forward, gives them more national prominence.

  •  Stay away (6+ / 0-)

    That's all we need; the possibility of Walker getting a symbolic victory over Obama a year before a presidential election.

    This issue is going to play out nationally and Obama and Democrats have plenty of time to craft a winning strategy.  (Like all of the other winning strategies they've had to date).

    •  The strategy needs to craft them, (0+ / 0-)

      get enough voters on your side and refuse to be ignored.

      "We believe that the people are the source of all governmental power; that the authority of the people is to be extended, not restricted."-Barbara Jordan

      by sancerre2001 on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 12:56:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Quick! Get them a leader!!!" (7+ / 0-)

    This sentiment reminds me of the talking heads in the midst of the Tahrir Square triumph.  They were apoplectic because these people were organizing themselves: medical care, food distribution, transportation, communication, security.  What an insult!  Regular people acting like they're able to organize themselves to do what is necessary!  Outrageous!

    I like what Spain's famous union, the CNT, had to say in its statement of support for Wisconsin workers:

    We believe the workers' struggle has to take place in their own midst, not dictated from above by their bosses, not from the upper hemispheres by their governmental “representatives” and not from their union “leaders”. As Madison is showing, the workers' can defend themselves just fine, all by themselves, are not lacking in solidarity and
    know how to react when attacked.
  •  Going to Wisconsin is a no win situation (8+ / 0-)

    for Obama. It is not going to change the situation, substantively. I dont think Walker is suddenly going to give in, because Obama is there. The protests are already getting media attention, and polls show most people supporter the protesters, so it's not like he needs to explain what is at stake there.  And politically, I really believe the left wont give him any credit for it. They will just say he is pandering for re-election.

  •  Obama would validate the protests not own them (0+ / 0-)

    If he owned them it would be a disaster. I agree. But we're talking about his validating them and raising the issues at stake nationally. I don't want his people organizing them any more than the people on this board do. They'd put them to sleep like they put Organizing For America to sleep.

    But if he stands with them, that gives them further attention, and if he speaks strongly, which he can (like the race speech and the Tucson speech after the Giffords shooting) it can help get people throughout the country thinking about the stakes.

    I also wouldn't underestimate the value of feeling that you have allies.  I think that happened in Egypt when key generals visited Tahir Square, and those protesting continued to push--and didn't let the generals define their movement.  That's what I'm looking for here.

    •  They are valid without him. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PsychoSavannah, neroden, skohayes, foufou

      I know you mean well, but you need to go to Madison and talk to people in the square and get a feel for what he might do to the chemistry. I know some liberals who love him would be very excited about it, but the crowd also include far leftists, labor leftists, centrists and even conservatives who think Walker has overreached (or who know their own paychecks are being targeted).

  •  Great diary. (0+ / 0-)

    I would love to see the President go to Wiscon and speak on the themes mentioned in the diary.

    Of course there are political risks. But it is time for this Democratic President to stand up for what is right and just. It is time for this Democratic President to stand up for the people who worked for his election.

    It is time, Mr. President.

  •  What needs to happen is that PEOPLE NEED TO (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    START PROTESING... Everyone who calls himself a liberal/dems/progessive needs to walk the walk and stop expecting this president to represent them.  

    CITIZENS CAN HAVE ALL THEIR ENTITLEMENTS IF ONLY THEY PROTEST IN THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OR A COUPLE OF MILLION... but of course that's not going to happen until everyone loses their jobs or can't afford to buy food or pay the rent anymore.  Until then nothing is going to happen unless real leaders in the community rise to the occasion and stick to a real plan  PROTEST UNTIL YOU WIN!

  •  no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pHunbalanced, foufou

    Walker's already tried to provoke Obama to show up there.

    And why do you think that is?

    Emo's Prayer - "Lord, please break the laws of the universe for my convenience" - Emo Philips

    by AlyoshaKaramazov on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 01:04:42 PM PST

  •  I'd like to vote "no" but not for the reason you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:


  •  I don't (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    think it would be helpful to go but strongly believe he should be speaking out in support of the democratic effort - much clearer, much louder than he is.

    When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it? Eleanor Roosevelt

    by IndyRobin on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 02:48:12 PM PST

  •  he won't give the right speech (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    obama's speeches are pretty and well-delivered but too generalized and too vague.  he won't change the narrative on deficits, spending, taxes, and unions.  in fact, i think he would, and has, played into the whole "we're broke" nonsense (a society with billionaires is not broke) and "shared sacrifice" bs (which only means the middle class and the poor).

    besides, it's a bit late...really late.  this president had large majorities in the house and 60 democrats in the senate and he didn't fight for the employee free choice act.

    •  but... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      i think protesters calling him out is helpful because it shows that this is not obama v. walker but working people versus a corrupt political system run by business elites.  in other words, both walker and obama's administration are the problem.  (and yes, of course, obama's administration is way better but it's still got far too much influence from the organized business class and far too little from organized labor)

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