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Memo To Gov Walker: This Is What Solidarity Looks Like

All of us have learned some lessons about the meaning of solidarity from the recent events in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” was a draconian assault on workers’ rights and unions. He followed this with what the Wisconsin education superintendent called “the greatest state cut to education since the Great Depression” and a host of other cuts that disproportionately affect poor people and people of color. Teachers and other public sector employees, along with parents, students, and many, many others, responded with an outpouring of creative, imaginative, and hope-inspiring acts of solidarity.

Solidarity is parents texting teachers to say: “I heard you were going to Madison today. Do you have space for one more in your car?” Solidarity is firefighters (who are not losing collective bargaining) showing up to parade among thousands of protesters every day for two weeks and sleeping on the cold, hard Capitol floors to keep the “people’s house” open for the people. Solidarity is people from as far away as Egypt and Antarctica calling in donations to Ian’s Pizza to feed protesters. Solidarity is strangers running up and saying “Thank you” as they sign a petition to recall their state senator in the most conservative, affluent white suburbs. Solidarity is when two educators can put together a protest on Wednesday night and get 200 picketers at a biased local news station Friday—after school and in the rain. The experience of being in the midst of something much larger than oneselfand realizing that we can change the world for the better, can take care of each other, can make decisions together—is life changing.

Acts of solidarity are growing in Wisconsin and beyond. And it’s a good thing, because solidarity is what we need to sustain us during the most difficult time for public employees and public education that our country has seen in our lifetimes. As the wealthy—and the politicians they have purchased—continue their pursuit of privilege and privatization, we need to be even more audacious in nurturing solidarity for survival.

The attacks on the public sphere go well beyond Wisconsin. Ohio recently passed a law that prohibits collective bargaining over health care and pensions for all public employees, including police and firefighters. Michigan’s Public Act 4, passed in March, allows the governor to appoint “emergency managers” for municipalities with “fiscal emergencies.” The governors of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and a handful of other states hope to replicate and expand the policies of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who eliminated collective bargaining for state employees six years ago through executive order. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is refusing to negotiate with state workers over health and benefits, and has proposed eliminating tenure, seniority, and civil service protections for teachers while imposing a mandatory test-based evaluation system not subject to collective bargaining.

Teacher Leadership

In Wisconsin, the teachers’ union was a major force in getting people out to the Capitol, with the Madison local, Madison Teachers Inc., taking the lead. After the first day of sick-outs by Madison-area teachers, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council called on 98,000 Wisconsin educators to come to the Capitol to protest the bill on Thursday and Friday instead of going to work. The push and pull between rank-and-file union members and union leaders was evident. Activist locals pushed the state organization, and rank-and-file members pushed their union locals. On the flip side, many union leaders asked reluctant members to go beyond their comfort zones and get active to defend their rights.

When Wisconsin teachers arrived at the Madison Capitol to join the protests, they stepped into a powerful tradition of progressivism and unionism. The signs, T-shirts, and invited speakers made it clear that this wasn’t just about teachers, it was about all workers’ rights. As the days wore on and the fight drew increasing attention in the national media, protesters became increasingly conscious that losing in Wisconsin could be the beginning of the end for workers’ rights across the country. Walker saw the situation the same way. He told a prank caller impersonating billionaire donor David Koch that “Ronald Reagan . . . had one of the most defining moments of his political career . . . when he fired the air traffic controllers. . . . This is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history.”

Walker claimed that “Wisconsin is broke” but, as Michael Moore told protesters at the Capitol: “America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. . . . Today just 400 Americans have the same wealth as half of all Americans combined.” In fact, one of Walker’s first acts as governor was to give the rich another $140 million in tax breaks.

America’s wealth is not only held unequally, it’s also misappropriated in obscene ways. Virtually always ignored in these discussions is the looming U.S. military budget, which was $663.8 billion last year. What would that money and those human resources mean, directed to meeting social needs instead of poured into weapons and conquest, including the endless occupation of Afghanistan? The current crisis is not an “unavoidable” consequence of economic recession; it is a bill come due for bailouts, bombs, and unsustainable inequality. And it’s being delivered to the wrong address by the political servants of the rich.

Cuts Target the Most Vulnerable

Compounding public employees’ anger at the attacks on their jobs and unions has been growing anger about the debilitating budget cuts that destroy public services and make it impossible to serve the needs of students, patients, or clients. Among Wisconsin teachers, this led to a feeling of “What do we have to lose?” Late one night, as dozens of teachers debated whether to organize a sick-out, one teacher remarked: “If one-third of your building calls in sick tomorrow, you’ll have the same staffing levels as you’ll have every day next year after the budget cuts.”

Attacks on the public sector—teachers, nurses, social workers, librarians, public health workers—are in essence attacks on the people they serve: children and those who are sick, elderly, homeless, disabled, jobless, newcomers, or otherwise in need of public services. In state after state, budget cuts have targeted those who are most vulnerable. The racial and class injustice of the cuts is undeniable. In Michigan, proposed cuts would close half the schools in Detroit, where 95 percent of the students are African American, and increase class size to 60. The Texas budget proposal would eliminate pre-K funding for almost 100,000 children. In Washington, cuts would eliminate prenatal and infant medical care for 67,000 poor women and their children. In Wisconsin the governor’s new budget hits Milwaukee Public Schools, the state’s largest and most impoverished district, particularly hard. The proposal denies health care coverage and food stamps to many more people in need, including both documented and undocumented immigrants. It will take away college opportunities from undocumented immigrants by repealing the current state law that allows any resident to pay in-state tuition.

Also in Walker’s proposal is a huge expansion of public support for private schools. Milwaukee would become the first city in the United States in which any child, at any income level, could attend private school (including a religious school) on the public dime. And lest we think that this is a peculiarly Wisconsin development, the spending deal to avert a federal government shutdown in April included a plan to provide federal money to low-income students in Washington, D.C., to attend private schools.

This insistence on spending money on vouchers in the midst of a “fiscal crisis” exposes the right’s real goals. This is the future that many people with great wealth, and those who do their bidding, have in mind: the decimation of workers’ rights to organize, the withering of the public sphere, wealth and power increasingly concentrated at the top. The signs that proclaimed “We are all Wisconsin” and the solidarity protests across the country were a recognition that—as the Industrial Workers of the World said more than 100 years ago—an injury to one is an injury to all.

Sustaining Resistance

No doubt, in the face of these increasingly aggressive right-wing attacks, frustration, depression, and even desperation are widespread. But here, too, communities around the country can draw inspiration from Wisconsin. Months after the first protesters marched into the Capitol, people continue to organize. A few examples: massive recall campaigns aimed at state senators who voted to destroy collective bargaining; street protests dogging the governor’s footsteps; teacher “grade-ins” at local malls to make weekend grading and planning visible to the community; campaigns to get out the vote for progressive candidates; a boycott, led by the Wisconsin Firefighters Union, against M&I Bank, whose executives are major funders of Gov. Walker.

Yes, this is no time to despair. There is too much on the line. But it’s also no time to ignore very real and enduring problems in our schools. Too often, the enemies of public education have taken advantage of schools’ failure to meet the needs of disenfranchised communities to push privatization schemes and market reforms—from vouchers to Teach for America—as the alternative. As educators, we need to listen to students’ and parents’ genuine grievances about public schools and respond with engaged imaginations and a determination to work together as school communities. We need to build labor-community alliances that directly confront racial injustice. Moving in that direction were May Day celebrations this year in Wisconsin, New York, and other states built by conscious collaborations of labor and immigrant rights organizations with demands for human rights that were explicitly pro-immigrant, pro-labor, and anti-racist. We need more cross-union alliances like Jobs with Justice to organize the unorganized and support all workers’ rights—here and around the world. We need more teachers’ unions that defend communities as well as contracts, and political organizations that see electoral campaigns as one aspect of a permanent mobilization toward democracy and justice.

As the articles in our cover section point out (see p. 14), we need to equip our students to recognize what’s at stake—and to look at history and current social movements to see what people, including young people, can do when they act on their beliefs. If Wisconsin’s Scott Walker has taught us anything, it’s that what is at stake is the kind of society we want to live in.

These past few months in Wisconsin have shown that consciousness-raising and organizing can be filled with humor, imagination, and a bold spirit of resistance. We can build on this work, deepening and multiplying our expressions of solidarity, to sustain us through this intensely difficult time and propel us toward a more humane and just future.

By: The Editors, Rethinking Schools, June 24, 2011

June 25, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Economy, Education, Equal Rights, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Health Care, Ideologues, Jobs, Koch Brothers, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thousands Protest at Capitol Against Walker Budget, Supreme Court Ruling

Crowds of protesters who flocked to the Wisconsin state Capitol June 14 anticipating Assembly action on the divisive collective bargaining bill, which essentially eliminates collective bargaining for public workers, were shocked to learn the Supreme Court had reinstated the law in a hotly contested 4-3 decision.

Speakers at a planned 5:00 p.m. rally were quick to lift the faltering spirits of the Wisconsin Democracy Movement. Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, told the crowd of thousands, “We’re going to be here every day. We didn’t pick this fight, but if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’re going to get.”

Mary Bell, a middle school English teacher from Wisconsin Rapids serving as president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, urged protestors to hold Republican legislators accountable for their actions by voting in various recall elections across the state.

“This extreme agenda has to be seen for what it is and what it does to our Wisconsin values. Change begins when we stand up and speak out for what we believe in,” Bell said.

Republicans Signal Approaching Court Ruling, File Fake Candidates

The 4-3 ruling reflected the sharp conservative-liberal divide that many believed would determine the outcome of the Court’s decision. In her dissent, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson attacked the implicit “partisan slant” in Justice Prosser’s concurrence and the shaky rhetorical foundation of the majority opinion.

In hastily reaching judgment, Justice Patience D. Roggensack, Justice Annette K. Ziegler, and Justice Michael J. Gableman author an order, joined by Justice David T. Prosser, lacking a reasoned, transparent analysis and incorporating numerous errors of law and fact,” wrote Abrahamson. “This kind of order seems to open the court unnecessarily to the charge that the majority has reached a pre-determined conclusion not based on the facts and the law, which undermines the majority’s ultimate decision.”

The timing of the decision surprised those who had been keeping an eye on collective bargaining proceedings. Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald announced just yesterday that comittee hearings would be held Tuesday on the collective bargaining proposal, and that his Republican caucus was prepared to vote on it irregardless of a Supreme Court decision. The hearings were delayed several times throughout the day, raising a few eyebrows at the Capitol despite Fitzgerald’s categorical denial of any wrongdoing or insider information.

Some protesters did in fact speculate that not all is as it seems.

“The way they passed the budget bill initially was wrong, and the fact they did this behind closed doors is wrong,” said Sarah Fuelleman, a writer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Ophthalmology, adding, “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’m starting to become one.”

Lauren Schmidt, a 22-year-old home health care worker from Madison, didn’t mince words.

“I think its horseshit,” she said, before joining a contingent of protesters screaming and blowing vuvuzelas outside the window of Rep. Stephen Nass’s office, where the Republican lawmaker quietly ignored, and at times playfully provoked, impassioned Walkervillians.

Tuesday’s other big piece of news — that Republicans officially filed “fake Democrat” candidates in six Democratic primaries for the upcoming recall elections — didn’t come as much of a surprise. Republicans have openly admitted their intention of delaying the elections by fielding puppet candidates, but have been less forthcoming about the tactic’s collateral damage. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation, the GOP plan would cost taxpayers upward of $428,000.

Budget Cuts Start to Hurt

Teachers, steel workers, firefighters, and other union workers began their Capitol Square march at 11:00 a.m., hoisting signs that read “Recall Walker” and “RIP Democracy.”  Many expressed concern that various budget provisions would leave their families reeling financially.

Stacy Farasha Rhoads, adance instructor from Milwaukee who wore an all pink outfit to symbolize her opposition to proposed Planned Parenthood Cuts, worried that her two children, one of whom is autistic, would suffer from reduced funding for state-provided health services.

“I’m a single mother. I’ve got two children who are on Badgercare and I have a daughter with special needs. So all of the services that my family needs on a regular basis are under attack,” said Rhoads.

Rhoads marched in solidarity with other parents and families anticipating economic hardship, such as Chris Breihan, a part time teacher at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Proposed cuts to Family Care threaten to prevent her 21-year-old special needs son from attending an adult day services program recently recommended to him.

The mood was relaxed for most of the day, as Assembly Democrats and Republicans spent the majority of the afternoon behind closed doors at party caucus meetings. At a midday press conference, Representative Peter Barca and his Democratic caucus announced their intention to offer “a couple dozen” amendments to Governor Walker’s proposed budget, as part of their effort to push back against budget cuts targeting working class families.

At the end of the rally, firefighters led protesters in a “hands around the Capitol,” ceremony. The Beatles’ “Revolution,” written in response to the anti-war protests of the late 1960s, blared from event loudspeakers as pro-union activists took their places along the square. Hand in hand, the group sang a Sconnified version of “We Shall Overcome,” signaling their intent to keep fighting back against Governor Walker’s anti-middle class agenda.

Debora Marks, a 1st grade teacher at Lindbergh elementary, vowed to keep returning to Walkerville for “as long as it takes.” The frequent trips to the Capitol haven’t, however, distracted her from what she considers her top priority.

“My job is about something far more important than Scott Walker: its about educating future generations, and that’s something teachers can not stop doing, whether the Governor wants us to or not,” said Marks.

 

By: Eric Carlson, Center for Media and Democracy, June 15, 2011

June 15, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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