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Wisconsin's Recall Drama Down to Nail-Biting Finish

Wisconsin's recall is being driven by the same activists who turned out by the thousands to occupy their capitol when Walker attacked workers' right to bargain collectively.

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Keeping the Momentum Post-Election

The biggest lesson from Wisconsin's uprising and the recall movement has been that working people have to stay involved in the democratic process beyond election season. “What happened in Wisconsin was more of a wake-up call for older members of unions to revive this idea that they did have other avenues--they did have a voice outside of electoral politics, through popular protest, through grassroots activity,” Matt Reiter said. “There's still this disconnect, I think, between what the working people of Wisconsin want and what larger political parties are prepared to work on.”

The movement has also changed how the unions and community activists in the state work together. “The unions here in Wisconsin both public and private sector had been very conversational, we worked together on various projects, but we did not have nearly the bond we have now,” Bell explained. “Act 10 forever changed how we approach our work, how we approach our membership and our communities.”

Kevin Pape, whose group had been organizing in Wisconsin since before Walker put union rights on the national stage, pointed out that even if Democrats do defeat Walker and win back the Senate on Tuesday, there will still be a need to hold them accountable to the folks who put them in office.

“It's built with the idea that it lasts,” Colburn agreed. “Certainly we'll have other elections in the fall, but we'll have a whole series of issues, based on restoring collective bargaining. There will be a huge fight over restoring the education cuts, repealing the corporate tax breaks, over the next year.”

He continued, “It makes a change in politics when you don't have to rely on one party or the other but you have your own organization, you develop new alliances between community and labor, develop issues, lead into other issue campaigns.”

Wisconsin was perhaps at a bit of a disadvantage compared to Ohio, which was able to overturn its own anti-union law with a ballot referendum—Reiter noted that many in the TAA were nervous about heading into electoral politics because politicians like Walker have a cash advantage. But whatever happens on Tuesday, Mary Bell and other union members and activists have helped build an infrastructure for a resurgent labor movement in the face of a bipartisan austerity agenda.

“The energy, the sense of purpose that people have when they're doing this, is very, very real and it's contagious,” Bell said. “They connect with people and they get other people engaged. It's really a great thing for our future, for our state, for our citizen action form of government. That won't be forgotten after June 5th.” 

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @sarahljaffe.