WALKER’S WAR ON WORKERS: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has illustrated the power and the peril of the budget debates that are playing out at the federal level and in states across the country. Claiming that he must fill a $137 million hole in the state budget—after giving away almost the same amount in tax breaks and other benefits to big business in January—Walker moved to strip public employees of collective-bargaining rights and impose dramatic cuts in benefits for teachers and state, county and municipal employees. “Walker says there’s a ‘crisis’ because that gives him an opening to go after public employees and their unions, which just happens to be something conservatives have been wanting to do for years,” explains Democratic State Representative Mark Pocan of Madison. Public sector unions not only defend their members; they also defend the commons—and that makes them one of the most powerful forces in challenging the political power of corporations, which was dramatically expanded by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
The pushback in Wisconsin by unions and their allies has been dramatic—drawing tens of thousands of workers and their supporters into the streets. “In a sense, we’ve got to thank Walker for waking working people up to the threat they face and getting unions to respond appropriately,” says Ed Garvey, former executive director of the National Football League players’ union and a 1998 Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate. Walker’s threat to call out the National Guard to impose his plan actually energized opposition: archivists from the Wisconsin Historical Society showed up at rallies wearing T-shirts that declared, I Am Not Afraid of the National Guard, and cancer ward nurses hoisted posters that asked, Do You Want the National Guard Administering Chemo to Your Child? JOHN NICHOLS
KENTUCKY RISES: The office of Democratic Governor Steve Beshear was strewn with pillows and blankets recently as fourteen Kentuckians, including acclaimed environmental writer Wendell Berry, staged a four-day sit-in to protest mountaintop-removal mining, a radical form of surface mining. The group, which became known as Kentucky Rising, entered the office on the morning of Friday, February 11, to demand a meeting with Beshear, a coal industry supporter who is running for re-election this year and who recently filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency over its blocking of state-issued mining permits.
Group members refused to vacate the office after a twenty-minute meeting with Beshear that they deemed unsatisfactory when the governor reiterated his support of mountaintop removal. After being observed by state police, members of the group were informed by the governor’s staff that they were welcome to stay “as long as they wanted.”
In addition to Berry, 76, the group included a retired coal miner, a nurse practitioner who treats miners, a grandmother, community organizers, a graduate student and others.
Word of the protest spread rapidly through social media outlets and coverage in The Huffington Post by environmental reporter Jeff Biggers. Other environmental writers, like Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Michael Pollan and Rick Bass, issued statements of solidarity. Supporters in Tampa, Florida, had six pizzas delivered to the Capitol for the group.