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Getting Rolled in Wisconsin
Posted on Jun 11, 2012
By Andy Kroll, TomDispatch
And they were successful—even in the most traditional terms; that is, both movements affected traditional politics most strongly when they weren’t part of it. The Occupy movement, for all its flaws, moved even mainstream political discourse away from austerity and deficit slashing and toward the issues of income inequality and the hollowing out of the American middle and working classes.
Avoiding politics as we know it with an almost religious fervor, Occupy still managed to put its stamp on national political fights. Last October, for instance, Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to repeal SB 5, a law that curbed collective bargaining rights for all public-employee unions. Occupy’s “We are the 99%” message reverberated through Ohio, and the volunteers who blitzed the state successfully drew on Occupy themes to make their case for the law’s repeal. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which spent $500,000 in Ohio fighting SB 5, told me at the time, “Every conversation was in the context of the 99% and the 1%, this discussion sparked by Occupy Wall Street.”
The money that flowed into Walker’s recall fight speaks loudly to the disadvantages a Wisconsin-like movement faces within the walls of electoral politics and the need for it to resist being confined there. On the post-Citizens United playing field, the unlimited amounts of the money that rose to the top of this society in recent decades, as the 1% definitively separated itself from the 99%, can be reinvested in preserving the world as it is and electing those who will make it even more amenable. The advantage invariably goes corporate; it goes Republican.
Historically, the Republicans have long been the party of big business, of multinational corporations, of wealthy, union-hating donors like Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Amway heir Dick DeVos—and in recent decades the Democrats have followed in their wake sweeping up the crumbs (or worse). And here’s the reality of a deeply corrupt system: unless Congress and state legislators act to patch up their tattered campaign finance rulebooks, the same crew with the same money will continue to dominate the political wars. (And any movement that puts its own money on changing those rules is probably in deep trouble.)
In the wake of the recall losses, the people of Wisconsin’s uprising must ask themselves: Where can they make an impact outside of politics? The power of nonviolent action to create social and economic change is well documented, most notably by Jonathan Schell in his classic book The Unconquerable World. The men and women in Schell’s invaluable history—Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his civil rights fighters, the Czech dissident Vaclav Havel, and so many others—can serve as guides to a path to change that doesn’t require recall elections. Already mainstays of the Madison protests have suggested campaigns to refuse to spend money with businesses that support Walker. “Hit ‘em where it hurts. Pocketbooks,” C.J. Terrell, one of the Capitol occupiers, recently wrote on Facebook.
Wisconsinites could also turn to one of their own: Robert “Fightin’ Bob” La Follette. He created his own band of “insurgents” within the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Republican Party. Together they formed the Progressive Party, which fought for workers’ rights, guarded civil liberties, and worked to squeeze corruption out of government.
Ultimately, however, the decision on what comes next rests in the hands of those who inspired and powered the Wisconsin uprising. And with an emboldened Governor Walker, there should be no shortage of reasons to fight back in the next two years. But success, as Tuesday’s election made clear, isn’t likely to come the traditional way. It will, of course, involve unions; it might draw on state and local political parties. But in the end, it’s in the hands of the people again, as it was in February 2011.
The future they want is theirs to decide.
Andy Kroll is a staff reporter in the D.C. bureau of Mother Jones magazine. He is also an associate editor at TomDispatch.com. He has covered Wisconsin politics since the first protests ignited in February 2011. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Kroll discusses what Scott Walker’s recall win means for the future, click here or download it to your iPod here.
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Copyright 2012 Andy Kroll
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