Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Signposts on Revolution Road

By Cynthia & Michael Orange
Madison, Wi
Sign said: "What democracy looks like”
Someone began tapping their glass in the Madison restaurant. We weren't at a wedding; we were taking a break in the middle of our second day of protesting in Wisconsin’s capital city. Soon the entire restaurant joined in the clinking. It was the same rhythm drivers had been beeping on their horns throughout the Capital Square area for several weeks--the rhythm that matched the oft-heard chant, “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like!” Then we broke into spontaneous applause. We were a spontaneous community of protesters in solidarity with Wisconsin’s public sector unions whose collective bargaining rights were under attack.x 
Later back outside, a young father who taught in Oshkosh told us how he and his wifecame every Saturday to march with their three and four-year-olds. “We’ve been here so often that the other day our four-year-old son walked around the house shouting, ‘Tell me what democracy looks like,’ and he waits until my wife and I respond with, ‘THIS is what democracy looks like.’” The next generation of protesters.
Amazing what happened when Governor Scott Walker, only two months in office, with help from the Republican state legislators (whom some call his consigliore), decided to strip most of the collective bargaining rights from most of the state’s public employees; rights they had gained fifty years earlier. One joke circulating when we were there—the weekend daylight savings time went into effect—was, “If you’re in Wisconsin this weekend, don’t forget to turn your clocks back 50 years!” Walker’s bill exempted firefighter and police unions, many of whom had supported his gubernatorial campaign, but the members of these unions apparently realized the error of their ways and came out in force to join the protesters. Even after the unions agreed to the substantial pay and benefit cuts in Walker’s bill, he continued to use the ruse of the state’s budget deficits to bust the public sector unions.[1] As a result of Walker’s “shock doctrine”[2] strategies, hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on the Capital during a three-week siege that culminated in the largest rally in the state's history last Saturday.

We were especially impressed and encouraged by the dedication, enthusiasm, and creativity of the youth protest. Over a thousand high school students walked out of classes on Friday. Similar student strikes occurred in fourteen other states. We haven't seen this level of youth participation since we protested as youths decades ago for peace, for civil rights, and for women’s rights.

Sign said: “How’s the War Economy Working for You?”

We carried the Veterans for Peace “War Economy” sign to remind people of the connections between our devastating wars in the Middle East and our devastated economy. We were pleased that so many others carried signs reading, “Blame Wall Street.” The recent homegrown democracy movements arising throughout the Middle East prove the point that we can’t drop democracy from the bomb rack of an F-14 or fire it from a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. In Tunisia as in Madison, the people themselves secure their democratic rights through tough battles and constant vigilance.

Of course, we know America is still the richest country in the world, and that there’s no true lack of resources. They’re just too concentrated in the wrong hands. One has to look back a hundred years, back to the Robber Baron Era, to find the current level of income inequality. Sign after sign pointed the way to the culprits that bankrupt the country. Responsibility rests with the Pentagon’s wars, private war profiteers, the Wall Street banksters and moneychangers, and rich corporations and individuals that don’t pay their fair share for the common good; not working class people and public employees. Instead, they demand that the rest of Americans to do all of the sacrificing.

Sign said: “Do not let Wisconsin become Karl Rove’s laboratory for Plutocracy”

The global corporations and the rich use the military strategy of divide and conquer to control the rest of us, but they over-reached. Madison is the first beachhead of the resistance movement to take back America.
There is a national disinformation campaign to vilify public sector employees and to blame them for the economic woes of state and local governments. “We taxpayers are on the hook for their too-generous pay and benefits,” goes the argument. The studies we’ve reviewed have mixed conclusions. Some say public sector employees are over-compensated relative to equivalent private sector employees, yet other studies find they are under-compensated based upon their generally higher education and experience levels. When unionized wages and benefits are better than their private sector equivalents, the answer is for the private sector to organize, not attack the unions out of jealousy. One sign read “The only answer to organized greed and corruption is organized labor.” The wealthy know this. That’s why union busting is at the top of their to-do list.

Sign said: “Governor Walker, the whole world is watching”

More than a hundred thousand people stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Capitol Square to welcome the tractorcade of farmers from all over the state. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, farmers!” went the wild chant. Behind the farmers came pipers in kilts and drummers leading various firefighter unions, some in full dress uniforms, some in their smoke-stained helmets and jackets. Men and women in blue tee shirts proudly carried “Cops for Labor” signs. Members of the Teamsters, the AFL-CIO, the Boilermakers Union, the Transport Workers Union, and other unions proudly marched in solidarity.

Sign said: “Now you’ve pissed off Grandpa”

Some displayed their messages on their hats; veterans of our country’s wars. Tough grizzled faces spoke more than hand painted words on cardboard. They know what democracy looks like and they know what it takes to defend it.
In our forty years of marching for peace, justice, and the environment, never have we been in such a diverse group. We were no longer middle class and lower class; we were all working class brothers and sisters reanimating the labor movement.

[1] Refer to excellent article by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:
Ed Note: Signs, signs, everywhere a sign...and not just in Madison,'s starting to look like a prairie fire of democracy, all across the US...WH