Wisconsin: Can Playing by the Rules Work in a Rigged Game?

Wisconsin: Can Playing by the Rules Work in a Rigged Game?

Wisconsin: Can Playing by the Rules Work in a Rigged Game?

Pro-worker protesters in Wisconsin played by the rules, and were outspent by out-of-state interests $30 million to $3 million. Can they ever hope to win in a rigged game?


Dedicated activists in Quebec have received much praise for their 100+ days of straight protest, and deservedly so, but there is another movement—right here in the United States—that has remained vigilant for 478 days.

In Madison, Wisconsin, pro-union protesters occupied the Capitol rotunda and the surrounding property, and committed themselves to a twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week effort to recall Governor Scott Walker.

Last night, that effort fell short, but rather than sitting around, feeling sorry for themselves, some activists say they are ready to continue fighting for their causes.

“It will be a struggle but we are not going to give up,” said Craig Spaulding of Madison, who demonstrated often at the Capitol.

He says the fight to restore collective-bargaining powers for state workers continues.

“Many people have said there’s this recall fatigue setting in and we won’t be able to keep up this intensity but we will, we will for the rest of our lives,” he said.

Other observers, many of them Occupy Wall Street activists, have called for more radical change, partly because the institutions—the Democratic Party and elections—that historically housed the left have proven themselves to either be inadequate or hopelessly corrupt.

For example, Mother Jones posted a disturbing chart showing the difference in out-of-state contributions between the two parties. Challenger Tom Barrett (D) received 26 percent of his $3.9 million in total donations from out-of-state contributors, whereas Governor Walker received a total of $30.5 million, 66 percent of which came from out-of-state sources.

When out-of-state anti-union parties obliterate the autonomy of a state—strange, considering conservatives believe so deeply in those states’ rights—and the Democratic Party remains largely complicit in the gutting of public sector unions, where are pro-union protesters to go?

Their choices in the election booth are bleak.

Walker’s challenger, Tom Barrett (D), surrendered the narrative early on to Walker when he stated he was not labor’s candidate. Ditto on austerity. Even though Wisconsin’s corporations are taxed at a rate below the national average, Barrett never challenged Walker’s rationale that the state is “out of money.”

As a result, Democratic voters were experiencing some serious ennui about their candidate. 47 percent of Barrett’s backers said their vote was more against Walker than it was for Barrett.

As for voters, the hostility toward unions (52 percent of voters polled said they supported the changes to the collective bargaining law), can easily be explained by the facts that fewer people than ever belong to unions, and Democrats have joined in on the union-bashing, oftentimes embracing the same “special interests” narrative first shaped by the right.

Alienation from the traditional leftist institutions was the cause of the original occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol, followed by a slew of occupations all across the country and the world. Burnt by the Republicans and abandoned by the Democrats, protesters turned to nontraditional forms of protest, including camping in public spaces and refusing to leave.

Tuesday’s loss is unquestioningly demoralizing, but it is unsurprising. Pro-union supporters were outspent $30 million to $3 million. Wisconsin is under siege by anti-worker forces. Some view that as a rallying clarion, while others say they’re ready to pack up and go home.

“People were still voting,” said Russell Novkov, who had spent the day as a volunteer worker at a polling station in the city. “I can’t believe they called the election before everyone got a chance to be heard.”

In fact, Walker won by eight percentage points, a bigger victory than in 2010 when he was first elected governor.

Novkov, who said he regularly participated in anti-Walker protests outside the state capitol, vowed to be back on the protest line Wednesday morning.

But others seemed exhausted by the 16-month-long fight.

“I’m done,” said Mary Swenson, a public school teacher in Madison.

There’s been a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about what Wisconsin’s election means for November, but little emphasis on what this means for voters and voters’ choices.

Yeah, okay, President Obama might secure Wisconsin in November, but what will Obama do for unions and their supporters? If the recent union-gutting history of the Democratic Party is a barometer, pro-worker voters are in for a tough decision.

But if pro-worker protesters in Wisconsin, and all across the country, have proven anything, it’s that they often thrive when pushed into the margins of society. It was only after Wisconsin’s dark hours in which Walker all but eliminated collective bargaining rights for public workers than tens of thousands of protesters launched the original Occupy.

The dedication of these pro-worker protesters is unquestionable. However, what is up for debate is the soundness of traditional institutions, such as the Democratic Party and corporate cash-soaked elections, which are simply not worthy of these individuals.

Occupy Wall Street’s Twitter echoed these grievances in the wake of the Wisconsin loss.

“WORKING people are forced to fight for what they have or left to fall in giant gaping holes by both major parties,” the account re-tweeted from a supporter.

“Any more elections? Or just auctions…” OWS tweeted, and most simply:


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