No matter the outcome on June 5, the Wisconsin uprising is serving up a passel of lessons that Democrats and progressives should heed.
1. Grassroots organizing is powerful. It has been fascinating to watch the people of Wisconsin turn anger into action. They got behind their 14 Democratic state senators – yes, there are courageous politicians – and leveraged their rebellion into a campaign that collected hundreds of thousands of signatures, successfully recalled two state senators and may actually bring down a sitting governor. And they did it despite a system that in many respects was rigged and an opposition that fought dirty and maybe even illegally
2. Focus. The Badgers had a goal and they were singular in their efforts to accomplish it. They weren’t aiming for a perfect world, they only wanted to rein in a majority they feared was poised to destroy their state.
Progressives in contrast are all over the place. Granted there is a lot that deserves attention but behaving like the dog in UP can seriously damage a game plan. Today there are two core issues imperiling democracy, voter suppression and corporate money; until those are corrected everything else is a distraction.
3. React fast and furiously. While it was largely informal and spontaneous, the recall forces in Wisconsin had a fantastic response capability. Maybe in the end it won’t have sufficed to counteract the money and thus the media arrayed against them, but they certainly gave it their best shot. Remember the Fox piece claiming that protests around the state capitol had turned violent; the clip with the palm trees? The grassroots located the real subject of that tape (a demonstration in Sacramento, California months earlier) and within hours it was viral and Fox was debunked. They have kept this up for over a year – rebutting Walker’s versions of the truth almost before the words were out of his mouth.
4. Involve the media. No disputing that much of the media has been corrupted through corporate ownership but there are still journalists who do real research, ask probing questions, buck the tide, and tell the truth. Some, like Rachel Maddow, Robert Greenwald, and Bill Moyer have real platforms, others struggle to be heard. If a cause can grab the attention of one of the honest brokers, as Wisconsin did with David Corn and Ed Schultz, or Benton Harbor has with Maddow, then sometimes the MSM will, even if belatedly, follow.
5. Don’t Trust the Establishment. It is a nasty little secret that party leadership is dependent on maintaining the status quo. Example: in 2006 a sane and credible Democratic was running against one of Georgia’s signature crazy incumbents for congress. The incumbent was vulnerable and the challenger, escorted by a genuine hero of the party, went to Washington to drum up support. Candidate and hero were almost literally thrown out of Rahn Emanuel’s office by staffers who made it very clear that their boss, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), had no interest in assisting an outsider.
The Democratic Party’s tepid support in Wisconsin makes it clear that Emanuel was not alone. The base (again alerted by Wisconsin’s smart media management) pushed Debbie Wasserman Schultz into some last minute lukewarm assistance but it is clear that the party establishment has its own agenda. The base is expected to fund the DCCC, SCCC, national and local parties, and then go away. Wisconsin has shown us we should pick our own candidates and causes then support them with our efforts and whatever money we can spare. Let the establishment extract funding from the fat cats because that is where their allegiance lies.
6. Learn who is paying the bills. Anyone who has been awake for the last year knows about the Koch brothers and ALEC but it was Wisconsin that forced them out of the shadows. It is easy to find out who pays to elect your representatives at all levels. Follow the money and watch their votes. An alert and informed citizenry would never have allowed ALEC or the Kochs to gain the power and control they enjoy today.
7. Voting and due diligence are equally critical. Even if you feel like you are voting for the lesser of two evils it is still a lesser evil. All of the people who stayed home in 2010 because they were either too pure or too lazy to vote might have buried the entire country. At the very least they have dug a much deeper hole requiring us to undo two years of legislative mischief and outright repression to even get back to where we were in 2010.
But before you vote, find out what the hell you are voting for. Scott Walker may not have campaigned on his intention to disband the unions but he left plenty of clues about his ethics and ineptitude for those who were paying attention. Voters in Virginia had a ton of data about the intentions of Bob McDonald and the subsequent actions of John Kasich should certainly have come as no surprise to the people of Ohio.
As of this writing the polls and the pundits are giving the election “handily” to Walker. The people of Wisconsin have already accomplished more than they probably thought possible and we need to realize that a defeat does not discount the lessons from their fight. However, if the June 5 election does not put Tom Barrett in the governor’s chair the only lesson people may actually take from Wisconsin is that elections are only won by money and mendacity. That would be a shame.