Wisconsin Demoralized, Demobilized

The mood in Wisconsin is dejected.

After a string of defeats, first losing the state supreme court race against David Prosser, then losing the decision at the state supreme court on the anti-collective bargaining law, and finally losing the vote on Walker’s hideous budget in the state legislature, people are down.

People see that Walker won everything big that he asked for, and despite all the great activism, we don’t have anything to show for it—at least not yet. As a result, lots of people are going to suffer.

The mass protests that I expected this week at the capitol in Madison did not materialize. On Tuesday, there were maybe 5,000 people there. On Thursday, barely 1,000. I’m sorry, but that was pathetic.

Part of the problem may have been poor organizing. One local labor leader said of the state AFL-CIO, “This is what happens when you call a protest and you don’t tell anybody about it.”

But a bigger part of the problem was the lack of an overall strategy that would have given people a sense of what use there was in protesting at this point anyway.

It seems to me that the state AFL never had a mass strategy, was surprised by the mass uprising, and was even a little afraid of it. The leadership never called for boycotts, never called for a general strike or any workplace actions whatsoever, never called for civil disobedience. (See “Dogging Walker,” in the June issue of The Progressive.))

Nor did it put an effective emergency response mechanism in place.

When the Walker administration virtually shut down access to the capitol, where were the calls to challenge it, en masse?

When the Waukesha County clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, mysteriously found 7,000 more votes for Prosser two days after the supreme court race ended, thus clinching his victory, where were the calls to occupy the clerk’s office?

When the state supreme court came down with its outrageous decision in the collective bargaining case, where were the calls to occupy the court?

Through it all, the state AFL-CIO charted a course of timidity.

It funneled everything into legal challenges and recalls.

The main legal challenge is now dead; the new one is doomed.

And maybe the recalls will succeed; maybe not.

But meantime, the people, as a mass force, have been demoralized and demobilized.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Congressional Progressive Caucus Starts Speakout Tour for Good Jobs."

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