Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Political Fortitude Can Do: Wisconsin

Political Fortitude threatens to dethrone an oligarch: Organizers of the campaign to recall odious Wisconsin governor Scott Walker turned in more than a million signatures near the state Capitol today - the state only has a population of 5.7 million people.  This number of signatures is almost twice as many needed to force a recall election. This will happen once the petitions are counted and the Government Accountability Board certifies them, and when that process is complete there will be a recall election, probably about mid-year. Walker will attempt to challenge as many signatures as possible, but he would need to invalidate more than a third of them, which is unlikely without incredible luck or incredible corruption on his part. It has been a historic effort:  
“Recall organizers said collecting a million names, addresses and signatures in 60 days for a recall is unprecedented in Wisconsin.
‘What we have accomplished is incredible. This is one of the greatest exercises of democracy in American history,’ said Ryan Lawler, of United Wisconsin.
Volunteers said the total number of signatures submitted should put a recall election for Walker beyond question.”
You’ll recall that Walker ginned up a state budget crisis by giving tax breaks to his cronies and then trying to bust the state’s public unions to make up for the shortfall. This led to Bangkok-sized protests in the tiny capital of Madison that lasted for weeks. That in turn fueled a recall effort that ejected two state legislators earlier this year (itself a difficult feat), narrowly failing to deprive Walker of a legislative majority, and which now threatens to depose Walker. I’m very proud of my home state; Wisconsin’s leadership in progressive reform and clean politics goes back a century to famous reformer Robert “Fightin’ Bob” La Follette. Wisconsin has never suffered would-be authoritarians lightly.

We should learn a lesson from this: the Occupy protests were really great and managed to finally change the public debate to make equality part of our political discourse again. But they have lost momentum and are now pretty much over. Wisconsin shows the inestimable value of combining traditional political organizing and campaigning with major protestsOnly in combination can regular people defend themselves from oligarchy and achieve real legislative and social change. 
Like last fall’s legislative victories in Ohio against Governor John Kasich’s anti-union measures, Wisconsin shows what persistent, patient, joint political action can do. I previously defined political fortitude as the character-habit of “courageously, vigilantly, relentlessly, and audaciously standing up for proven political principles of justice, equality, freedom, and democracy, even when apparent short-term interest or political calculations deem otherwise.” When Walker set out to break Wisconsin’s public sectors unions, thereby destroying the lives of the state’s public servants, further weakening other unions, and undermining good governance in the future, progressives and party activists didn’t seek to enhance bipartisanship, to compromise, or to move to the middle. They knew that would be capitulation and appeasement. Instead they fought back, with a bold and audacious strategy: recall the bastard. I am confident they will succeed, but even if they don’t manage to oust Walker, they have him on the defensive, along with austerity conservatism in their state.

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