Wisconsin Uprising Continues Under a Barrage of Disinformation and Dirty Tricks
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Over the last 10 days, well over 100,000 people have descended upon the picturesque capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, braving freezing temperatures to voice their dissent. The source of their ire is a newly elected governor who refuses to back down from his push to abolish most of the collective bargaining rights of his state's employees.
Union members have come in droves to the capitol building to fight for their survival, and they have been joined by service employees, pipefitters, private school teachers, university students and children. Hundreds of them have set up a permanent camp around the capitol, with many sleeping on the hard marble floor.
“Come to Madison,” said Norm Stockwell, a local community radio station manager. “You needn’t worry where to sleep or about food, simply bring a sleeping bag and we can assure you that you’ll be fed.” Ian’s Pizza, a popular town favorite, has been fielding donations from all over the world for pizza deliveries to protesters.
Demonstrators like Matthew Curry, a student at the University of Wisconsin, were not short of reasons to explain their semi-permanent presence. Scores of his family members and loved ones face the possibility of paying a painful price for Republican Governor Scott Walker’s proposals. Curry explained that he is “here because the bill is targeting the UW Madison specifically. I’m here for my mom, she’s a speech language pathologist in a south Milwaukee elementary school district. I’m here for my aunt, she’s a nurse and has been here for the last couple of days. I've actually been sleeping in the capitol for the last three days.”
Walker’s proposal is not your run-of-the-mill budget-saving measure. It not only proposes deep cuts to the wages and benefits of state workers – requiring most public workers to pay half their pension costs, which is generally about 5.8 percent of pay for state workers, and at least 12 percent of their health-care costs – but also abolishes the collective bargaining rights of most state employees on the question of employee benefits (including sick time, vacations, pensions and other work conditions). Wisconsin’s state workers already pay into their pensions and health-care plans through deferred wages, a fact that has been missed in most mainstream news media accounts.
Walker's justification for pushing the bill through the legislature as an “emergency measure” is a deficit of $137 million in the current fiscal year and $3.6 billion in the next two fiscal years. However, critics chargethat the crisis was not caused by the workers and that Walker’s own budgeting policiescan be faulted in part for the deficit.
The number of protesters swelled into the tens of thousands both this past Monday and last Saturday, and the battle is promising to rise to a fever pitch by tomorrow at noon. Protest organizers are anticipating the support of nationwide demonstrations. Slated to take place in front of every state legislature and many major cities, the protests are dubbed the “Save the American Dream Rally.”
Governor Walker has not ruled out the possibility of calling out the National Guard to quell the passionate protests and daily demonstrations, a consideration that has drawn criticism.
“The National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent ... this is a very dangerous line the governor is about to cross,” said VoteVets.org’s Robin Eckstein, a former member of the guard.
The demonstrations take place against a backdrop of high political drama. Governor Scott Walker claims he has found himself in the middle of a budgetary “ crisis” that necessitates ending the collective bargaining rights of most of the state’s workers. Given the extremity of the proposal, all 14 of the state senate’s Democrats left the state on Feb. 17. Most were reportedly camping out in Illinois, preventing the quorum necessary for a vote to take place.