By Ruth Conniff on August 17, 2011

These races can legitimately give ordinary citizens hope for democracy. But make no mistake what we are up against: The hijacking and looting of our society by wealthy, well organized corporate interests.

Wisconsin's summer recall elections are over, and the tally is: Democrats--2, Republicans--0.

That leaves the state senate divided by just one Republican vote, and increases pressure on state Republicans to break ranks with their divisive leader, Governor Scott Walker.

Clearly, the final results are a brush-back to Republicans who supported Walker's radical agenda, particularly since the recall elections for Republicans took place on their own turf, in pro-Walker, Republican districts.

Had the recall efforts against any of three senate Democrats succeeded, the political message would have been mixed.

But the Republican message in the final races on August 16--that voters should punish Democrats who fled to Illinois to delay passage of Governor Scott Walker's bill to stop public employee collective bargaining--failed.

The message on the other side--that voters should get rid of Republicans who sided with Walker's aggressive agenda--succeeded in two races. The Democrats fell short of their goal to regain three seats, which would have put them in control of the state senate.

But the movement to recall Scott Walker can claim momentum coming out of these races.

That is the main result of the recall elections.

Walker has already managed to push through so much--from disempowering public employee unions to an aggressive redistricting map to voter ID to $1 billion in cuts to the public schools--that neither the thin senate majority the Dems hoped for nor the swing-vote victories they are now counting on--will undo much of the damage.

But the movement to turn things around in Wisconsin has made some tangible progress.

That brick-by-brick, block-by-block effort will continue into the fall, when efforts to recall Walker get under way.

The battle is daunting. Massive amounts of cash are lined up against ordinary citizens.

Spending on the recall efforts this summer reached somewhere between $25 million and $37 million--more than three times what was spent in the competitive state races of 2010, a "stratospheric" figure for just 9 seats, notes the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a watchdog group the tracks money in state politics and works for campaign finance reform.

But in the end, despite massive amounts of cash poured into the state by labor and national progressive groups on one side and the Club for Growth and Tea Party groups on the other, these were local races at the district level.

From the North Woods, where Jim Holperin defended his seat against Tea Party candidate Kim Simac, to industrial Kenosha on the state's southern border, where Bob Wirch easily defeated an opponent backed by Congressman Paul Ryan, voters supported the guy they knew, who came to community events and Eagle Scout ceremonies, who concerned himself with fighting off invasive fish species and with extending unemployment insurance to laid-off factory workers.

These races can legitimately give ordinary citizens hope for democracy.

But make no mistake what we are up against: The hijacking and looting of our society by wealthy, well organized corporate interests.

"Less than 1% of the population pays for all the election campaigning by Wisconsin politicians," the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign notes on its web site. "After buying the elections, that tiny fraction of our society ends up owning our government. The politicians they paid to elect then return the favor with what amounts to ‘wealthfare’ payments – tax breaks, pork barrel spending, patronage jobs, no-bid contracts for state government work and other special benefits. The huge special interest donations that fuel modern political campaigns are, in effect, legal bribes."

The Democracy Campaign is working to combat the power of money in Wisconsin politics with a plan called "Ending Wealthfare As We Know It."

The plan attempts to modernize Wisconsin's public financing scheme, adopted in the late 1970s, which has since been overrun by massive outside interest group spending and the Supreme Court's Citizens' United decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections.

The key elements of the plan are a public matching program for small-dollar political donations from candidates' actual constituents, a tax credit for small contributions, significantly tighter limits on campaign giving, and strict disclosure and accountability rules.

The group has a petition so citizens can join its "small dollar democracy" drive.

No matter what spin the big money interests put on the elections in Wisconsin, citizens have no choice but to keep on fighting to defend our stake in a humane and civilized world.

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsin Recalls: Democrats in Danger."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff 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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