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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 11/22/11

Walker's Mystery Opponent and the 99 Percent

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Message Steve Blank

Recall yes, but what happens next?
Recall yes, but what happens next?
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00 citizens returned to Wisconsin's Capitol building Saturday to kick off the highly anticipated campaign to recall Governor Walker. The statewide effort to gain over half a million signatures will culminate with those signatures being collected by the state's Democratic party. But the Recall Walker campaign is not about either party. It is about putting people before politics, and therefore must not be about Democrats vs. Republicans. State politics has to evolve beyond a football game with two teams wrestling the ball from each others' possession.

The people's movement captivating the world's imagination demands economic justice. In Wisconsin such justice may well begin by recalling elected officials who have taken a crisis caused by the embrace of corporate enrichment economics and reframed it by blaming public sector workers for driving up the costs of labor and otherwise feeding from the public trough. Last March the state GOP banned collective bargaining rights for public workers when the Democrats were not present to vote.  

But anti-worker sentiments in Wisconsin are not limited to the likes of Scott Walker and Rebecca Kleefisch, the two highest-ranking elected officials being targeted in recall election campaigns getting underway this week. Indeed, officials from both dominant political parties have expressed the willingness (if not the desire) to privatize the public sector and reduce wages and benefits for public workers in lieu of increasing taxation on the state's corporations and wealthiest individuals--the only just manner in which to honor both debt and civil society.

Wisconsinites may remember that Walker's Democratic opponent in the 2010 gubernatorial race, Tom Barrett, ran as a champion of school vouchers and charter school start-ups as mayor of Milwaukee. His attempts to raise test scores have largely failed. What they have succeeded in doing, however, is transferring public education funds into privately run schools that are operated free from union representation. The effect, of course, has been a lowering of wages and benefits for teachers and alarming rates of teacher turnover.

Like Republicans, many Democrats have come to embrace the notion of making Wisconsin a "business-friendly" state by restructuring labor conditions and compensation even as the wealthy individuals and large corporations receive unprecedented "relief." Even when the "Heroic 14" Democrats left the state to delay the GOP vote to end collective bargaining, deficits and cuts in wages and benefits were still inevitable because no one was heroic enough to fight for a return to healthy tax rates for corporations.

Both parties have taken their cues (and campaign contributions) from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and other corporate interests, voting to diminish or eliminate hard-won environmental regulations in the face of an alarming deterioration in the state's land, water and air quality.

The Democrats, fearing the wrath of ALEC and other right wing PACs, are reluctant to even discuss who Walker's opponent might be come next spring. When it comes to potential candidates, people wanting Walker "out" vary from ABW (anyone but Walker) to WTF (isn't there anyone out there willing to fight for HIGHER wages and benefits?).

Sadly, in a nation seeded with idealism, voters have grown accustomed to elections being an exercise in pragmatism. Diligent radicals who've gone to jail to stop imperialist wars that deplete our treasure and rob us of any moral standing in the world, pull the lever for Democrats who can only critique the other team's military strategy. Labor leaders fire up the rank and file with talk of a mass strike during the spring and transfer that energy to getting out the vote for the lesser of two evils come the fall.

But now the occupy movement can change that by resisting the embrace of the Democratic Party. We can withhold participation in the electoral process until a candidate emerges (from anywhere) that represents a break from austerity politics and instead embraces an anti-corporate, people-first campaign.

We must insist that Walker's opponent intends to make Wisconsin a "people-friendly" state. Corporations that do not pay their fair share in taxes and pay into the health care system, that do not pay their employees living wages and benefits, and that do not comply with environmental laws -- will have their charters reviewed with the very real possibility of revocation.

Winter is upon us. With the recognition that we're living in an DHS- and FBI-coordinated police state, it is important that the occupy movement exists beyond Zuccotti Park, Oakland or at the Ford dealership on Madison's east side. It is within the awakened spirit of each of us, even those who have yet to fully embrace it. Children are growing up with parents who are questioning everything they knew. The status quo will end -- it is just a question of when. 

If we resist pragmatism and insist that Walker's "mystery" opponent champions public spending paid for with a progressive tax, that time may be now.

Should we end up with a Democrat who goes to bat for collective bargaining but otherwise embraces a neo-liberal agenda that maintains the status quo and the transfer of public funds into private hands, we'll occupy the Capitol again.


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Steve Blank is a broadcast journalist with the Health Writers collective of Madison, WI. The radio program focuses on issues of social and economic justice. Steve is a founding member of Madison's Single Payer Action Network and serves on several (more...)
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