Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vital programs, human & political rights, all lined up on the Walker/Fitzgerald chopping block - unless democracy takes the knife from their hands

What they want is to dismantle the public sector as much as possible and privatize whatever they can get their hands on. What they want is a world in which corporations are free to make as much money as they want, CEOs and shareholders, with as few constraints as possible (like freedom to pollute, to not pay taxes, to make profits in prisons and schools, freedom to pay workers as little as possible, etc.), to surrender the inner cities to poverty because there's nothing in it for them to create programs that would generate jobs, housing, good education for workers they will never need.

You get the idea. I don't usually do a blog post on Sunday but will not be at my computer in the morning, so here's my rant as this week begins. It took a whole lot of decades to make of this western industrial world something other than what is so aptly and horrifically described in a Charles Dickens novel. But that's where we're headed if the corporatist right gets its way. I wish I could say there is an effective political counter to this steamroller, but even much of the political left has been pretty ineffective in recent years.

Which is why the Madison story is so important - something emerged there that does not fit easily into anyone's attempt to stereotype the phenomenon according to the old political spectrum. What joined people together with such an amazing combination of rage and joy was the threat we all feel to our communities, our neighborhoods, to a culture in this state - flawed, yes, overly parochial, yes, tainted with all sorts of troubled history like racism and self-interest, and leave-me-alone sorts of sentiments, sure, that's all present - but a culture that in its best moments recognizes that Wisconsin is a good place to live and can be an even better place to live if we address these flaws.

Now we see a great unraveling. Look at the long list on the Walker/Fitzgerald chopping block: public education, threatened by many things, none more serious than lifting the income caps for the voucher program; voter rights, as manifested in the proposed voter I.D. law that would disenfranchise large numbers of students, poor people, legal immigrants, and elderly folks; rollback of environmental regulations and a direct threat to the Clean Air Act as enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency; lower corporate tax rates, or even the elimination of corporate taxes, despite the heavy toll they take on our resources and the services they demand (think Zoo Interchange reconstruction, as one example); intentions to privatize (out-source) more public services, meaning lower wages, no benefits, more working poor, fewer worker rights, sacrificed on the altar of defeating Dems at all costs; threatening what little public financing for elections we have now, turning them over to those with the most money to spend.

I could go on. You could each add to the list. Point is, our quality of life is under assault by the current regime, and the only counter I can see to that is the popular voice that exploded into the headlines these past couple of months. Even our Wisconsin 14 were very clear about this - they have said that they only stayed away because of the protests. They left the state not knowing what would happen, but once folks were in the streets day after day and weekend after weekend, they COULD NOT come back even though a few of them really wanted to.

Larson, Erpenbach, Taylor, Risser, and others said this - their strength came from us.

I think often of the moment when LBJ signed the civil rights legislation knowing that his Democratic Party would probably lose the South for a generation after that (prescient). But he did it because politically he had no choice; it was not only the right thing to do, it was the ONLY thing to do to save the nation from a real collapse into more chaos and violence.

The point being, it was a moment when a movement and the politics came together. The politics did not create that moment; the movement did. The movement shaped the politics and the politics had to respond. That's what happened in the weeks following the Wisconsin 14's flight to Illinois. A movement appeared, loud and raucous and energized by a feeling of popular empowerment, and the 14 determined their strategy on that basis.

And this spirit feeds the new political work - recall efforts and certainly the highest profile race for judge that we've seen in a long time, if ever; voter registration efforts; greeting the governor with protests wherever he happens to be appearing; or the record attendance at town hall meetings and community gatherings.

All of this to try to keep together what sits on the chopping block. A big knife hovers over so many programs and rules and regulations that bring quality to our lives, or at least attempt to do so, and the point is to simply take that knife from the hand that wields it.

Apathy, lethargy, lack of vigilance and participation on the part of citizens of this state are among the reasons why we are seeing our rights threatened by a state government voted in with only half of eligible voters exercising this right (and that was considered a high turnout). Now we are seeing not only what participatory democracy can do, but why it is so crucial to our well-being, to the common good and the good of the commons.

Oh, and BTW - Vote on April 5!

Photos: Margaret Swedish

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this. You synthesize so many disparate facts and find the thread through them all. What a blessing for our state. Keep it up!