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How the Wisconsin Uprising Changed America and Why Its Renegade Politics Are Here to Stay

John Nichols talks about his new book, "Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Occupy Wall Street," and what happens next.

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It’s a nightmare. It is a dysfunctional situation for a democracy because we have vast areas which just get uncovered. And labor has been the most victimized of all of these. When you don’t cover it, you diminish it.

The wonderful thing about Wisconsin is that it was so identified with labor. And same with Ohio, and to some extent, Occupy. We haven’t won much but we have shifted a little bit of the discourse. We’ve forced media itself, by the power of literally putting hundreds of thousands of people in the street, to begin to cover a little bit of the story of labor.

Now we’ve got to pick that up and there’s two things that people have to do. Number one, we have to keep it in the streets. To simply steer into electoral politics is a disastrous move. You could do electoral, but don’t lose the street, because it’s the image, it’s the power, it’s the force.

Secondly, we have to recognize that people, during the Wisconsin fight, in Ohio, through Occupy, they’ve learned to do a lot of their own media, and this next media system that they’re developing is incredibly powerful. It blows apart the old debates between old media and new media.

So what we have is, we’ve got working journalists like yourself. You do a good story. Some working mom in Wisconsin sees Sarah Jaffe did a great story, okay, I’m going to put that on my Facebook and I’m going to like it. In fact, I like it so much I’m going to Twitter something about it. But I’m also going to get Matt Wisniewski’s video of the protests at the capitol, I’m going to put that on my page too. I went out myself and took some pictures. I’m going to put those up. Here’s my kid there. And wow, I just read this economic article that a friend of mine sent me. That’s really good too. So you start putting it all together on this Facebook page and then tweeting out saying, “Come look at this.” It’s like that Facebook page is a great newspaper.

That’s journalism. That’s news. That isn’t just organizing. If we begin to harness this, recognize that we still have to give resources to working journalists, we’ve got to have people go out and do the stories, but we also are going to have to give props and power to students, working moms. We have to make sure that people who go out and do this are celebrated for what they are.

They are the Tom Paines of our time, because Tom Paine was an unemployed, or under-employed journalist, who wrote a pamphlet, Common Sense , and he said on the back of it, I think these are really important ideas but I can’t go everywhere in America. If you like this pamphlet, the copyright is off. Copy it, print it up, give it out to the next person. That’s forwarding an e-mail. We were founded as a country by grassroots, independent journalists. We just didn’t have the same words.

If we get democracy in America--we’re a long way from it--it’s going to come because we have a small-d democratic communications feeding into a small-d democratic protest movement that is massive, that is unrelenting, unyielding, that is coming toward power without apology, and that, might just give us the country we want.

SJ: Let’s finish up with the Walker recall. What’s going on?

JN: The thing I love about the Walker recall is what I loved about the Ohio referendum fight. It’s renegade politics. It’s politics that scares the political elites in both parties--the funny thing is that Walker and his partisans will say that this is the Democratic Party driving this, or this is the unions driving this. Democrats and unions were scared about it.