Progressive America Owes a Huge Debt of Gratitude to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Scott Walker won the votes of 26 percent of eligible Wisconsinites during what proved to be a "wave" election for the right. He might have quietly pursued a conservative agenda, and he would have been successful. He could have made Wisconsin state employees take a pay cut, trimmed health benefits for the poor and sold off the state's power plants, and few outside the Badger State would have taken notice. In the name of deficit reduction, he had the votes to inflict modest pain on his constituents with minimal opposition.
But true believers are just that. Walker buys the conservative propaganda that this is a center-right country, that people hate what government does. So, he overreached dramatically, refusing to accept "yes" for an answer when the unions said they'd accept his demands on wages and benefits. He wouldn't talk to his opponents. He bypassed the ordinary legislative process, made a play to take over the state's public health programs, tried to silence his critics and eventually shut down the state capitol, to which Wisconsin's Constitution explicitly gives the people access.
He might have been a smarter true believer. Walker could at least have been suspicious when Ian Murphy, playing David Koch, called the governor and gave him his not-terribly-subtle parody of a billionaire wingnut donor. But he does not appear to be a smart man, and was easily duped into a very frank conversation about some nefarious skullduggery his administration had considered with a Daily Beasteditor.
As I detailed on today's front page, Walker wasn't content to be an effective movement conservative. It wasn't enough to inflict pain on the state's workers -- he had to try to break their unions. His GOPers did propose a slew of other far-right measures; he did offer a budget that would lead to truly drastic cuts in education and funding for communities across Wisconsin.
His agenda was so reactionary that he lost support from his fellow Republicans. But more than that, he awoke a sleeping giant -- working America.
For years, we were complacent in the face of a brutal, decades-long class-war from above. But Walker's Koch-backed moves showed that our own economic interests were at stake. Tens of thousands of protesters in Madison this past weekend -- joined by another 70,000 out on the streets in solidarity across the country -- proved that we are no longer simply going to take it.
As I write, thousands have converged on the state house in Columbus, Ohio, and Scott Walker deserves at least part of the credit for that.
I've edited our Economy Special Coverage area for years, and while I've run a ton of content on the labor movement, it's always gotten very modest traffic. Since Scott Walker introduced his bill, articles about labor do better than anything else on the site, including, if you can believe it, content about Wingnuts Saying Crazy Things and kinky sex. As I write, 7 of the 10 most-read stories over the past week are about the labor movement, or right-wing efforts to kill the unions.
AlterNet's readership is way up in the past few weeks, as I would assume is the case for TPM, MoJo, CommonDreams, Truthout and every other progressive outlet. The Madison Capital Timesis having a CNN Gulf War moment. We all have Scott Walker to thank for this explosion of progressive engagement.
Many of those who are now following political events more closely than ever before will no doubt go back to heir couches. But some percentage of those whose eyes have been opened by Scott Walker's hubris will become life-long activists, and that will have a positive impact on the progressive movement going forward.
Let me leave you with an anecdote, courtesy of David Dayen at Firedoglake, which speaks to that point:
Thomas M. Bird was a mild-mannered graduate student from Oshkosh, voting Democratic but paying only slight attention to politics, before Scott Walker announced his budget repair bill. He didn’t make it over to the Capitol in Madison until February 17, four days into the protests. Within a couple weeks, he was a ranking member of the Capitol City Leadership Committee, an umbrella organization made up of the different groups performing tasks in the building – the megaphone people, the Teaching Assistants’ Association, the volunteer marshalls, the information station coalition, the medical station volunteers, and the Wisconsin Workers Solidarity Sit-In...
Gov. Scott Walker... will be unable to quash the spirit of people like Thomas M. Bird, whose life will never be the same. “I believe that the progressive movement and the labor unions are the only political force left in this country capable of standing up for the brave, hard working Americans who have seen their voice drowned out by the influence of corporate campaign donations… The Democratic representatives of the state of Wisconsin have converted me from being a cynic into being an activist. It is the greatest honor of my life that I have been a part of this fight, and I will do everything that I possibly can do continue it.”