WIN IN WISCO? Six months ago, JoAnne Kloppenburg was a political unknown in Wisconsin. Six weeks ago, she was considered by everyone “in the know” to be politically unviable. But on April 6 the veteran prosecutor stunned the state by apparently upsetting senior Supreme Court Justice David Prosser. What happened? Governor Scott Walker’s antiunion push.
The governor’s attempt to break public employee unions inspired mass protests, several of which drew more than 100,000 to the Capitol Square in Madison. Right-wing politicians and talk-radio hosts dismissed the protesters as “union thugs” and “out-of-state agitators.” That was never the case. But there was always a question of whether the movement that filled the streets would pack a political punch. The nonpartisan Supreme Court contest provided a perfect test. Prosser, a former Republican legislative leader, served with Walker in the State Assembly and launched his re-election bid with a promise from his campaign that the justice would use his position to “complement” the governor’s agenda.
Kloppenburg promised to respect the rule of law and the Constitution, as opposed to the dictates coming from the governor’s office. Her low-profile, low-budget campaign grew from the protests, where marchers carried handpainted Kloppenburg signs, and became a mass movement. The election attracted nearly 1.5 million voters, with record-breaking turnouts in many areas. And after a nail-biter night, Kloppenburg declared victory with a margin of 204 votes. The result was so close that a recount is all but assured, and it will see plenty of spending and spin from the right, as the balance of power on Wisconsin’s high court is at stake. But no matter where things end up, Kloppenburg’s remarkable run proves that this movement has political muscle and knows how to flex it. JOHN NICHOLS
A GREAT SOUL PASSES ON: This magazine notes with sadness the death of Manning Marable—historian, activist, biographer, agitator, teacher and friend. Because he died on the eve of the publication of his long-awaited biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking), many obituaries focused on Marable’s latest work and the bitter timing of his death. His last opus is undoubtedly a great one, but so was the whole stretch of Marable’s career and life, one filled with remarkable insight, grace, intellect and passion. His mind and heart touched many lives, including at The Nation, where we have proudly published a selection of tributes to him on the Lived History section of our website.
Nation columnist Melissa Harris-Perry comments on the crucial role Marable played in building a community of African- American scholars: “As founding director of Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Manning created a place where students could stretch their intellect in unconventional ways. He encouraged students to study black life using methods and asking questions that typical disciplinary boundaries so often limit and discourage in our work. His institute was a gathering place for people from all over the world who insisted on critical connections between theory and practice. Through publication of his quarterly journal, Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, Manning gave many race scholars their first academic publications. Those early publications were decisive in the careers of many of the best professors in the academy today. Through his regular column ‘Along the Color Line’ Manning gave us permission to reach beyond the walls of the academy. He reminded us that our work was about something other than our own profession and that we owed debts to the communities who were the source material of our academic writing.”
Marable was also engaged in politics outside the academy, writing frequently for newspapers and participating in the nitty-gritty of organizing. “Manning was a radical democrat—with the emphasis on the small ‘d’—who believed in political participation with a purpose,” writes John Nichols, who recently interviewed Marable for his book on socialism.
Indeed, as activist and writer Bill Fletcher Jr. observes, “Manning fully appreciated the necessity for the building and sustaining of left-wing and progressive organizations. This is something that also demarcated him from many other members of the academy but put him in good company with [W.E.B.] Du Bois. For most of his life, Manning believed in, and practiced, the importance of building infrastructure as a means of translating ideas into practice. While for many academics, including progressive ones, the articulation of ideas seems to be enough, this was never the case with Manning. When I first heard of Manning he was connected with the Democratic Socialists of America, ultimately becoming a vice chair. When we first met, he was also involved in the creation of what came to be known as the National Black Independent Political Party, a formation that existed in the early 1980s and grew out of the National Black Political Assembly process. Years later he was one of the initiators of what came to be known as the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, an effort started in the early 1990s that included former members of the Communist Party (he was not one) plus socialists from other tendencies who sought to create a new socialist current in the USA.”
It is perhaps his students—past and present—who will mourn his passing most keenly. As former student and now Harvard professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy recalls, Marable taught his students to “bridge the gap between the seminar room and the street, between theory and practice, between big ideas and the brutal realities of our present world. But he also saw beauty in the world beyond the academy, in the people whose lives and struggles and dreams he understood in his bones, and in the history and politics he sought to chronicle throughout his distinguished and tenacious career. Echoing Du Bois, he insisted that all of us were co-workers ‘in the kingdom of culture.’ In Manning’s presence, you felt like this was the highest calling of all.”
As Harris-Perry puts it, “Manning did more than encourage us. He made a way for us. He cleared brush. He extended his protections. He shared his resources with uncompromising generosity. And he did all of this without needing to turn us into his personal collection. He very rarely took credit for our successes, despite his important role in all that we were able to do.”