On the Ground in Madison: Teachable Moments
Progressive Ponderings by Joe Mayer, Feb. 21, 2011
On the Ground in Madison: Part 1 – Teachable Moments
70,000, 80,000, 100,000 – We’re not sure of the size of the crowd at the State Capital in Madisonthis past Saturday, but the enthusiasm of those gathered was contagious. My partner and I were intrigued by the creativity of the signs and the diversity of the crowds – young, prime-of-life, old like ourselves, laborers, retired, students, teachers, professionals, firefighters, police (on and off duty), in state, out of state... We were joined by family members during the day.
Yes, the Tea Partiers came, many bused in, courtesy of the Koch brothers who had contributed $100,000 to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign. Many of their signs took aim at the 14 Wisconsin Democratic Senators who fled the state to deny the Republicans a quorum necessary for a vote. Of course, the democrats are being accused of thwarting democracy. These Tea Partiers and conservatives are the same people who, for the past two years, encouraged and highly approved the Republicans in the U.S. Senate who filibustered and put secret holds on both legislation and Obama nominees for administrative positions and judges.
This is not Scott Walker’s first shot at middle class public employees. As the Milwaukee County Executive he gave double digit percentage pay increases to his executives and used decreasing revenue as an excuse to lay off many lower level union employees. Walker is best described as “point man” for the Koch brothers. He mimics the Republicans on the federal level by using a fiscal crisis – caused by wealthy and corporate class entitlements – to push deficit austerity cuts onto the middle and poorer classes.
Walker CREATED the fiscal crisis in Wisconsin for the current year. He insists that Wisconsin has a $130 million deficit but neglects to mention that one of his first acts as governor was to reward his corporate sponsors by giving them $140 million in tax breaks, many of the recipients being multinational corporations.
Walker’s true intention of using the deficit as a political tool is revealed by his exempting police, firefighters, and state patrol from collective bargaining restrictions. The unions for these middle class workers supported Walker in the recent election. Fortunately, many of them understand that they will be the target tomorrow as Walker serves the corporate class today.
Wages and benefits that Wisconsin public employees earn are 4.8% LESS than private sector employees doing similar jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
This issue is not about wages and benefits for public employee workers. It’s about power, power purchased by wealthy campaign contributions, power exerted by lobbyists to purchase legislation, power derived through corporate think tanks framing issues to deceive citizens into voting against their own economic self-interest, power to corrupt both our governmental and economic systems.
On Saturday we guessed that the Tea Partiers and the pro-Walker counter-protesters were outnumbered about 20 to 1. We didn’t encounter any violence but we did hear a few passionate debates. A friend, though, took a different approach in talking with a Tea Partier who was incensed about paying taxes for exorbitant wages to lazy government employees. She calmly suggested that he was there because unions had pushed for a 40 hour, five day week, that the real issue was collective bargaining, not the budget crisis. He asked what she meant by collective bargaining.
Madison is a teachable moment.
Joe Mayer is a progressive activist from Rochester, MN.