Wisconsin's Robert M. (Fighting Bob) LaFollette was the embodiment of the progressive movement of nearly 100 years ago. LaFollette, who began his political career as a member of the Republican Party, served Wisconsin in the U.S. House of Representatives (1885-1891), as governor (1901-1906) and U.S. Senator (1906-1925). He mesmerized the nation with his third-party presidential run in 1924 on the Progressive Party ticket and garnered nearly 17 percent of the popular vote.
His spirit was resurrected Tuesday in Madison. I was privileged to witness the display of participatory democracy in the "Fighting Bob" tradition as more than a million signatures to recall current Republican Governor Scott Walker were officially presented to the state's Government Accountability Board.
Democracy is not dead. It may have fallen asleep in the last 30 years, but the alarm clock has sounded. Yes, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will face a recall election, but even louder and stronger came the resonating sound that democracy is alive and breathing and has a chance for revival.
Before the official celebration began I talked with one volunteer, who traveled from his home near Poynette to be part of the festivities. He offered up the following: What if there had not been a recall option open to Wisconsin citizens?
He recalled the deep anger that had risen in the early days of last February's protests after Walker announced his union-busting legislation. Then there was serious talk of a general strike. Instead, the departure of the 14 Democratic state senators that denied a legislative quorum slowed the process down long enough for the talk of recall to enter the conversation.
LaFollette championed a populist movement in reaction to the corporate influences over the political system of his time. He fashioned dozens of progressive reforms that became known as the "Wisconsin Idea." Included among them were the direct primary, a civil service act -- and the recall. All designed to put political power back in the hands of the people. Wisconsin is one of only 18 states to have a voter-recall provision.
The volunteer wondered: "Without a recall process what would have happened? Would teachers have left the classroom? Would Teamsters have protested by driving two miles an hour down the highway? Would a general strike have been called?"
Instead, he noted, the citizens of Wisconsin turned their anger into "The Wisconsin Way." Civility, dignity and respect were brought back into the conversation. A Citizens Movement was resurrected in honor of Fighting Bob. It resulted in more than 1.9 millions signatures gathered for the recall of Walker, the lieutenant governor and four republican state senators.
Wisconsin native and national news correspondent John Nichols brought the crowd to a frenzy when he recalled LaFollette and his fight against the corporate robber barons of the late 19 th and early 20 th century. Nichols reminded the audience of their deep progressive roots, which were born in the rural communities over a century ago. And, Nichols noted, it was the rural counties of Wisconsin which came through with volumes of signatures for the recall of Scott Walker.
Tuesday night they came from Oconto, River Falls, West Bend, Appleton, Oshkosh, Rhinelander, Burlington and Darlington. For those not familiar with a Wisconsin map, I suggest you get one out and find those cities and towns. Those one million who signed the petitions are not all Democrats, they are not all union members and they are not all Milwaukee and Madison signatures.
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Nichols quoted liberally from LaFollette, including the following:
"The recall enables the people to dismiss from public service those representatives who dishonor their commissions by betraying the public interest. These measures will prove so effective a check against unworthy representatives that it will rarely be found necessary to invoke them."
As Nichols pointed out, Walker was not recalled because he is a Republican; nor was he recalled because he is a conservative.
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Joanne Boyer is founder and editor of Wisdom Voices Press and www.WisdomVoices.com. Her first book is "Wisdom of Progressive Voices." Joanne has worked in professional communications for more than 30 years. Her career includes being the first (more...
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