By Matthew Rothschild on June 07, 2012

Spare me the spin. This was a whupping.

After sixteen months of the most historic and exciting citizens’ uprising that I’ve ever been a part of in my thirty-five years of progressive activism and journalism, we’re left with this disaster.

Scott Walker is governor for another two and a half years.

He claims vindication for his rightist onslaught.

The national rightwing media is carrying him around on their shoulders.

And the Koch Brothers are popping the expensive champagne.

Meanwhile, the movement—a real giant grassroots movement, which flooded the capitol square with more than 100,000 people and which gathered a million recall signatures—is disintegrating.

Actually, it began to disintegrate the moment the leaders (and who were they, exactly?) decided to pour everything into the Democratic Party channels rather than explore the full potential of the power that was latent but present in the streets back in February and March of 2011.

There were both strategic and procedural blunders that need to be accounted for.

Procedurally, decisions were made (again, who made them?) in a very undemocratic way. Here we had 100,000 people storming the square but there was no effort to include them in any meaningful—or even symbolic—decision-making process. No voice votes, no show of hands, no breaking up into smaller groups and reconvening with a set of demands and desires that flowed from below, no people’s mic ala the Occupy Movement.

We gathered at noon every day, we gathered every night, and we massed on the weekends, but then the decision was made (by whom?) to stop marching and essentially to go back to our home districts and throw all our energies into recalling state senators. I remember being at a protest and being told to do so from the podium.

This has had at least four detrimental effects.

First, it diffused the protests not only geographically but emotionally.

Second, it destroyed the lesson that you can exercise power outside the electoral arena.

Third, it fed the assumption that the Democratic Party was the be all and end all.

And fourth, it took the mass power off the streets when it was needed there in case calamity struck.

Calamity did strike when the Republicans railroaded the bill through.

Calamity did strike when the state supreme court validated the decision in the most corrupt decision since Bush v. Gore.

Calamity did strike when the bill finally was implemented in August.

Calamity did strike when Waukesha County clerk Kathy Nickolaus all of a sudden found 14,000 missing votes in the state supreme court race to throw it to David Prosser.

But the people by then were dispersed.

There were many opportunities available to challenge Walker’s policies with mass civil disobedience.

One was when the Department of Administration refused to allow the occupation of the capitol to continue.

Another was when the Department of Administration closed the capitol doors.

And certainly when the bill was shoved through, that was an occasion to call for mass civil disobedience.

But the call never came.

Nor were more creative strategies tried. The Teamsters with their 18 wheelers, whose support was so emboldening, could have driven down Interstate 90 and 94 at 45 mph all day long for a week’s time to demonstrate that workers in Wisconsin weren’t going to take this lying down.

No coordinated workplace strategies were adopted.

Every union in the state could have caught the blue flu, so that workers in one trade after another would call in sick on alternating days.

Or unions could have told their members simply to “work to rule”—doing the bare minimum that their contracts required.

But none of these options were taken, and the only channel that all of the people’s energy was poured into was the very narrow and murky channel of the Democratic Party.

There was a failure of imagination, and a failure of nerve, and a failure of process.

There also was naivete. I was at a meeting of progressive activists and legislators shortly after Walker won the first time, and one of the legislators warned us that something terrible was going to come down soon. I asked how the unions were responding, and the legislator said, “They’re trying to hire the best Republican lobbyists they can find.”

They didn’t understand that Walker and the Fitzgeralds didn’t want to horse trade; they wanted to massacre.

Tactical blunders continued in the lead up to the recall. Walker was allowed to run one commercial after another from Thanksgiving to April Fool’s Day with barely a counter from labor or the Democrats. Where was the national AFL with its treasury during this time? This was the biggest pitched battle against workers, and the AFL-CIO barely showed up. Where was the Democratic Governors Association? Where was the DNC?

Then the union leadership handpicked Kathleen Falk, even though there was no groundswell of support for her whatsoever, a choice that embittered much of the movement’s base and proved unpopular on primary day.

And finally, Barack Obama never deigned to make an appearance, literally mailing it in with an Election Day tweet.

Yes, Walker had more money than Croesus, but come on!

And fundamentally, progressives and unionists in Wisconsin also have to wrestle with the obvious problem that union members, to an astonishing degree, actually voted for Walker. According to the exit polls, 38 percent of union households in Wisconsin voted for him—even more than last time!

Something is seriously wrong with the union movement in Wisconsin when so many of its own members actually vote for the guy who’s got his boot on their throats.

How can that be?

Have members become so disengaged from their unions that they don’t know why they exist?

Has the education arm of the unions simply withered away?

We, all of us, in unions and out, need to start talking to people right now who don’t agree with us and actively work to show them the damage that Walker and his ilk are doing to Wisconsin and to this country.

We can’t stay in our womb-like refuges in Madison and listen to Stephanie Miller in the morning and watch Ed Schultz at night and call it a day.

We’ve got to get out there and do the work of politics, which is talking to people and opening eyes and changing minds.

We can’t afford another loss like this one.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive, based in Madison. www.progressive.org.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “A Brutal Night in Wisconsin."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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