News & Politics

(Updated) Rally for the American Dream: Huge Gatherings Nationwide in Solidarity with Wisconsin Democratic Uprising

Weekend's rallies were a massive public demonstration of unity against the Tea Party's cruel agenda to break the back of union representation.

Update:AlterNet's Joshua Holland on the latest events on Sunday afternoon in Madison, Wisc:

According to reports via Twitter, Republican state senator Dale Schultz has withdrawn his support for Governor Scott Walker's union-busting bill. Last week Schultz, a veteran lawmaker who's served in the senate for 20 years, offered a "compromise" proposal in an attempt to break the deadlock, but it was rejected by Walker and panned by the protesters.Two other GOP members would have to join Schultz and break ranks with their party in order to kill the bill. Journalist Micah Uetricht reports via Twitter that a huge sign at the capitol reads, "we need 3 courageous senators," and protesters are now changing the number to 2 to deafening cheers. 

Earlier, Scott Walker had ordered that the capitol be closed and the protesters removed at 4pm CST but they said they wouldn't leave, setting up a standoff.But the hour came and went, and now there are multiple reports via Twitter, yet unconfirmed, that police have announced that protesters would be allowed to spend the night in the capitol. Micah Uetricht reports that an earlier pizza embargo has been lifted, and food has arrived on the scene.


Below is Daniel Denvir's article on this weekend's nationwide Rally for the American Dream:

"Welcome Senators!" a Chicago protest sign declared, as thousands rallied in solidarity with Wisconsin workers and celebrated Democratic senators hiding out in Illinois.

Thousands rallied nation-wide on Saturday, with MoveOn putting the total at over 100,000 people in Madison and 50,000 in other state capitols and major cities. Protests at state capitols were also a warning shot to governors around the country: workers will fight major cuts to social programs and attacks on unions.

The protests in Wisconsin have now sparked a nation-wide movement. They are a clear demonstration of unity against the Tea Party's cruel agenda to break the back of union representation, and a rejection of the notion that deficits and government spending are the country's biggest problem. (Click here to see AlterNet's collection of photos from the rallies).

In Philadelphia, demonstrators chanted, "Tax the rich, stop the war."

Tens of thousands of unionists and supporters have protested for three weeks against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's attempt to strip state employees of their right to collectively bargain, with many camping out around the clock. The state Assembly passed the legislation on Friday, but Democratic Senators have left the state, denying Republicans quorum and blocking the vote.

Republican governors around the country are eager to follow Walker's lead. Thousands of union members and supporters protested today in Columbus, Ohio. The Republicans hold an overwhelming majority, so boycotting the proceedings is not an option. But in Indiana, which also drew protests, Senate Democrats slipped across state lines to block anti-union legislation.

"On Monday night we were watching what was happening in Wisconsin and realizing that this was a crucial movement for whole country," says MoveOn Executive Director Justin Ruben. "What happens in Wisconsin will have an impact on people everywhere. The same dynamic is playing out in other states and in Washington, where Republicans are so intent on giving tax breaks to the rich and powerful that they are willing to destroy unions and kick the middle class in the teeth to do it."

According to a January New York Times/CBS News poll, just 14 percent of Americans ranked the deficit as the most important problem facing the country, compared to 43 percent who named job creation. There is a divide between the reality of unemployment and depressed wages that most Americans are living and the constant drumbeat about deficits and cutbacks in the media and on Capitol Hill.

"I think a lot of progressives have been watching with growing horror," says MoveOn Executive Director Justin Ruben. "Republicans so dominate the debate over the economy that it's become a discussion of whether we should have massive cuts to vital services and massive layoffs or not so massive cuts and layoffs. And people are saying, 'where is the common sense?' This isn't the time to cut the services that people depend on and that create jobs. We need more of that. We're seeing huge tax breaks go to top 2% of Americans, and then the resulting worsening fiscal situation being used to justify draconian cuts--it's just too much."

American thinking is notoriously muddled when it comes to taxes and spending: most people say they oppose tax increases, but a majority also opposes cuts to government programs like Medicare and Social Security.  And a strong majority support ending tax cuts for the wealthy enacted under President Bush.

A recent study by political scientist Suzanne Mettler found that large numbers of Americans who receive Social Security, Pell Grants, Medicaid and even food stamps are not aware that they are participating in government programs--a lack of knowledge that budget-slashing conservatives exploit. The new movement in defense of worker rights and social spending can show the public that Reagan was wrong when he said, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

"Honestly, Democrats haven't figured out a way to stand up to it," says Ruben. "And people realized, well we better show them how or we're dead. Progressives as a movement have been slow to articulate an alternative vision over the last couple years. Now it's happening, it's overdue, and it's essential."

The next few weeks will be crucial for this movement, as budgets are debated in state capitols around the country and in Washington.

"We see Wisconsin as just the beginning," says Levana Layendecker of Democracy for America. "In states all around the country, and potentially next week in Congress, Republicans are using the bad economy as an excuse to enact any kind of cuts to vital programs, any agenda they have against working people, while they're still giving tax breaks to billionaires."

The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports a state police spokesperson as saying 3,100 rallied in Trenton on Friday, where Republican Governor Chris Christie has praised Scott Walker and is engaged in his own fight against the state's teachers and public employees.

In New York, thousands protested in solidarity with Wisconsin workers, some donning cheesehead hats. An estimated 2,000 protesters turned out in both Chicago and Los Angeles, and a thousand more rallied in Washington, D.C.

Hundreds demonstrated in Portland on Friday, and more rallied today in Salem. Thousands also rallied in Olympia, Washington.

Other protests are scheduled for the coming weeks, including in Tennessee where the Tennessee Education Association will protest a proposal to strip teachers of collective bargaining rights on March 5.

About a thousand gathered in Philadelphia on Saturday, following another 1,000-person protest two days earlier. An energetic crowd of teachers, construction workers, state employees and supporters rallied in the shadow of City Hall, loudly booing the Koch brothers and chanting, "Cut bonuses, not teachers."

One woman held a sign that read, "Proud of my hometown, and the Madison teachers union, and my family."

"I'm here to support the public teachers and protest against Scott Walker in Wisconsin," said John Jeremy, a member of Boilermakers Local 13. "I think it's totally energizing."

A long-time teacher's union activist told the crowd about the difference unions made to her family when she was growing up during the Depression. And Sharon Whaley, a lifelong Philly resident, told AlterNet that Wisconsin workers have reenergized the labor movement. Cars streamed by the protest honking at her pro-union sign.

"I believe in unions. I was brought up in a union household. My father was a Teamster and I'm a teacher," she said. "I've always been a protester, but this even more so. More than ever. I'll volunteer, I don't care what I have to do to help. When people are pushed to the side, they're gonna' come out fighting. You can't keep putting people in a corner."

Protests in New York and other cities were followed by Planned Parenthood rallies in support of abortion rights. There is a newfound energy amongst progressives to push back against Republicans on numerous fronts.

"The more than 50,000 people who came out from coast-to-coast in every state today showed that the protests that started in Madison have now spread nationwide and that the Republican assault on the middle class has energized and mobilized progressives in a way not seen since the 2008 election," according to a statement released this afternoon by MoveOn. "The progressive movement has not seen coordinated rallies this size on an issue since the height of the anti-war movement during the Iraq war."

Daniel Denvir is a journalist in Philadelphia.
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