Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The week that will change Wisconsin

Debate on the budget begins this morning and by the end of the week Wisconsin becomes, well, something else. Using their 'tyranny of the majority' powers, their anti-democratic maneuvers (because they know what they are doing is fiercely unpopular), and intransigence and stubbornness which they think virtuous, the state Repubs are about to implement blow after blow to Wisconsin's citizens as they pass the biennium budget.

We are not being governed; we are being ruled by Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers and, folks, there is nothing at all democratic about that. This is a handful of rightist politicians who are trying to gleefully rule the state for the benefit of a narrow constituency of affluent white business types who want to open my state even more than it already is to their narrow interests. They and their followers are social conservatives for whom it is not enough to hold socially conservative beliefs but who believe that government's role is to empower social conservative 'values' while closing democratic spaces and political rights for those who disagree with them.

What will happen this week: voting rights will be narrowed and made difficult for the poor, elderly, students; social safety net programs will be slashed and thousands of people left unserved and vulnerable; lower taxes will be replaced by higher fees (which sounds like raising taxes to me, whatever you call them); university tuition will be raised putting higher education even more out of reach for poor and working families than it already is; more public money will be transferred into the hands of corporations; government will become less transparent as legislators try to hide some of the business connections that affect how they vote; public education will take extreme hits lowering the quality of the classroom experience for our kids; good paying public sector jobs will become less so as these white business guys (Ron Johnson, too, and Paul Ryan) commit to gutting this source of middle class stability as their business guys have already done in the private sector, destroying unions, ripping up contracts, driving down wages and benefits.

Oh, and, watch for it: using an unprecedented 'extraordinary session' to pass a budget (see yesterday's post), look to see the gutting of collective bargaining rights language restored to the bill at the last minute. They are not waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on something of such high priority in their rightist agenda.

And the protests - fervent, passionate, an awakening much needed in this state - will not affect the outcome.

The week that will change Wisconsin.  We are losing a lot. Adding to the loss is that these guys, not just here but all around the country, use divisive, polarizing language and strategies to try to render us even less effective in struggling for our rights. By intention, they raise the emotion in the divide and hope like crazy that we will not be able to talk to each other, to reach across the divide to reclaim a political culture of democracy. That is in their interest, too.

The week that will change Wisconsin.

But - and it is a big 'but' - sometime movements are built on what is lost. Sometimes they are built on what brings people together. What the protests have done - not only in Madison, but all across the state - is wake up my people, or at least more of us. The US is sadly known for the extent of political disengagement of its citizens, low participation in democracy, which has opened a space ripe for the Karl Rove big money types to move in and take it over.

This week will change Wisconsin not only because of what Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers are imposing on this state, but because of what happened in the streets in response, a popular democracy resurgence that could, if nurtured right, become a real force for progressive politics in this state.

That is where we need to rest our hopes. But this also depends on what we have insisted on here over and over again - a movement that is not about different sectors trying to protect their own rights and way of life, but about a solidarity that is broad and deep - public sector workers with private sector workers, threatened middle class folks with the poor of our cities, African-Americans especially loathed by these guys with, well, all the rest of us, immigrants doing our hard labor with, again, the rest of us, suburban social progressives with urban communities struggling for survival.

If that is born out of this political debacle, then what these rightist people are doing will be painful but short-lived. The best payback will not be screaming in their faces or going home demoralized after the losses we are about to endure, but defeating them by way of democracy, over the long haul. The best payback would be a rejuvenated citizenry reclaiming its place in democratic governance.

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