One year ago, on February 14, 2011, Wisconsin erupted in demonstrations against Governor Walker's assault on collective bargaining rights for public employees. A two-week occupation of the State Capital Building ensued, along with the flight of 14 state Democrats who left Madison to seek refuge in Illinois in order to delay a vote. All the while massive protests took place daily at the State Capital Building with weekend demos witnessing crowds of 100,000 plus.
Twelve months later one can easily assess the damages inflicted by Walker, as well as the significance of the protest movement that is still ongoing. First and foremost it is important to recognize that the protests in Madison did NOT stop Walker and the Republicans from enacting the majority of their draconian plans. Walker and company was successful in ending collective bargaining rights, passing a voter ID bill, pushing forward a redistricting map that will make it easier for Republicans to win elections for the next decade, and passing a "budget reform bill" that has gutted the public sphere - particularly public education - while handing over massive tax breaks and incentives to the corporations who back Walker.
After one year of protests - and the lack of strikes - one should also critique the strategy of the unions who have asserted leadership in the protest movement. So far the strategy of the higher-ups in the unions has been to support democratic candidates and to push for recall elections. This has brought very mixed results and their strategy has drawn criticism, including on this blog. Elections and recalls failed to unseat a right-wing conservative Supreme Court judge (David Prosser), and recalls failed to tip the balance in the Senate back to the Democrats.
However all is not lost. The recent recall movement against Walker generated over a million signatures that essentially guarantees that a recall election will take place this summer. This election will pit Walker against a democratic challenger. If Walker is recalled, Wisconsin will celebrate a huge people's victory against corporate power and right-wing ideology. If Walker wins, Wisconsin will be on a race towards the bottom and will likely become a "right to work" state in the not-so-distant future. Already Wisconsin has had the dubious distinction of losing more jobs than any other state from June to October of this past year, and the cuts to higher public education are the third highest in the country. Expect the retirement funds for public employees to be looted and expect the public health care program (Badger Care) to be massively defunded, resulting in thousands of families losing access to this essential program. Also expect the northwoods to become ground zero for environmental struggles against multi-national mining corporations.
If the calls for demonstrations by the Wisconsin AFL-CIO (highlighted on the new poster designed by Susan Simensky Bietila) are any indication, February and March will hopefully rev up the protest numbers and bring a renewed commitment to resisting the Walker agenda. Let's hope so. Last February awakened a sleeping giant and exemplified the power of working class people uniting across common goals. Let's turn this Winter and Spring into another season of collective struggle.
The Wisconsin AFL-CIO Reclaim Wisconsin Tour Schedule:
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 - La Crosse Copeland Park - 1130 Copeland Park Drive, La Crosse, WI 5:30pm
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 - Wausau, Wausau Labor Temple - 318 S. 3rd Street, Wausau, WI 5:30pm
Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012 - Eau Claire Phoenix Park - 915 Menomonie Street, Eau Claire, WI 5:30pm
Monday, Feb. 27, 2012 - Kaukauna UA Local 400 - 2700 Northridge Drive, Kaukauna, WI 5:30pm
Monday, March 5, 2012 - Racine Monument Square - Main & 5th Street, Racine, WI 5:30pm
Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - Milwaukee Serb Hall - 5101 West Oklahoma Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 7:00pm
Friday, March 9, 2012 - Madison Capitol - Candlelight Vigil 6:00pm
Saturday, March 10, 2012 - Madison Capitol – Pre Program 1:00pm
Saturday, March 10, 2012 - Madison Capitol "Reclaim Wisconsin March at the Capitol" – Rally 2:00pm