Why the Wisconsin Protests Matter to You

My mostly politically uninvolved, disabled mother is campaigning for me to get her to the protest this week in a wheelchair.  That says something about how profoundly the current protest movement is inspiring people. 

photo credit: Peter Gorman

The streets of Madison have been filled not only with labor union members, young social-justice activists, and political baby Boomers, but also with conservative, hard-working, tired families; firefighters, construction workers, child-care providers, and religious groups- many of whom voted for the very governor now attacking their rights.  Additionally, plenty of people are marching who are not currently directly affected, but who understand that to fight for the dispossessed is a fight for the inclusive democracy we need in order to create sustainable economic prosperity.

For seniors, the disabled, and low income-children, medical assistance funded by Medicaid is at stake, which would affect more than a million residents of Wisconsin who currently use this safety net to cover their most basic health needs.  Another feature of the changes would limit the legislative process to challenge changes made in such programs at the very top levels of administration.

~ ~ ~

Friends in different parts of the country have been sharing stories with me about how the protest in Wisconsin is coming across their newswires.  I’ve heard a lot about depictions of self-interested, greedy, petty public workers, and pathetically little about what’s really at stake right now, especially for seniors and the disabled.  (The exception is from those who get their news selectively from websites and independent broadcasts they trust.)

This is NOT about Wisconsin or more money for our workers.  It’s about political power and the basic right to fight for realistic, liveable working conditions, now at stake nation and world-wide, highly contagions issues whose outcome will foreshadow what democracy will look like in the US next year, in 10 years, and for your children and grandchildren. 

Wisconsin is only one of numerous states considering curtailing rights that we’ve taken for granted for almost a century, since the AFL started winning battles for safe working conditions, child labor protections, decent wages, an eight-hour day, and additional protections for workers’ health and job security.  We assume the weekend will keep coming, but forget it was hard-won.

As someone who’s an independent voter, will listen deeply to both sides of any argument, and has never found either Republicans or Democrats to be more or less human, I would assert that in this particular case, the mainstream national news has both missed the point and severely distorted the spirit of the protest.

This is not about Democrats or Republicans.  Plenty of Republicans have stood up at our capitol protesting these last weeks, including seniors, who do not believe in giving the government the power to strip away their right to organize to protect their already meager wages and rapidly eroding benefits.  The public employees have bent over backwards to demonstrate that they are willing to negotiate with regards to benefits and pay scales, which did not appease our governer in the least, showing that this is not about balancing the budget.  It’s an attack on worker’s most fundamental rights.  The protesters understandably are not willing to give up their right to organize publicly and collectively- a basic human right.

In the words of Robert Borosage,
“Wisconsin is the first fierce battle in what will be a brutal and extended struggle. Will America come out of the economic collapse with policies that revive a broad middle class and widely shared prosperity? Or will the power of wealth and Wall Street succeed in continuing the squeeze on working and middle class families?”

In closing, I wanted to share a fantastic interview I heard last night with Jean Feraca, (Host of “Here on Earth”) and John Nichols, one of my favorite political commentators who’s considered a progressive liberal, but never fails to give his supporters a kick in the pants regarding their assumptions and errors.  Both Feraca and Nichols are much more politically eloquent than I could ever hope to be, so it’s well worth your time to listen to them directly if you enjoy thoughful, nonpartisan, intelligent discussions.  They do a brilliant job of connecting what’s going on here to the greater issues at stake in the US and around the world.

Listen to it here by clicking and then scrolling down to the 3PM entry, if you wish:

http://www.wpr.org/ideas/programnotes.cfm?dteDate=2/22/2011

The protest has been incredibly intergenerational, with lots of school closings. But maybe this particular student should have been in class.

 


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