Wisconsin’s wake-up call

On February 26, 100 or more Sonoma folks rallied and marched around the square, carrying signs proclaiming support for Wisconsin teachers, firefighters and nurses, chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Governor Walker’s got to go” and “We support Wisconsin workers, singing “On Wisconsin”, and “There once was a union maid.”

Flags flying, drums beating, we received a warm reception by tourists, store employees, and shop owners.

The rally was a spontaneous, last minute decision by the Sonoma Valley Democratic Club to take to the streets in support of Wisconsin workers. We were expecting, given the short notice, at most a couple dozen hard-core progressives, a few Democrats, the Peace and Justice stalwarts, and a sprinkling of teachers and union folks.

The great turnout echoes the American people’s growing support for the public employees of Wisconsin and their increasing anger and opposition to the RepublicanGovernor’s strategies to smash unions, weaken our democracy, destroy the Democratic Party, and take from the middle class and give to corporations.

Fortunately their plans have backfired. The courage of the 14 Democratic State Senators who said, enough is enough, and had the guts to leave the state and prevent a vote on Governor Walker’s assault on collective bargaining, created the space for public employees to tell their story to the people of Wisconsin and the nation. The sight on nightly news of the non- violent demonstrations in Madison growing from 10,000 to 100,000, peacefully petitioning their elected officials, sleeping overnight in the state capitol and marching in the snow, electrified people. News stories painted pictures of growing support for the protestors. Governor Walker ordered the Capitol closed for cleaning. He warned protestors they would be arrested if they refused to leave. Lo and behold, in an act of solidarity, police refused his order. The occupation continued.

On a down day, when organizers had no events planned, one person put out an internet call inviting people to meet him at the Capitol. Fifty thousand people showed up. High school students across Madison organized marches to stand with their teachers. Television cameras captured hundreds of farmers with tractors joining the fight. What started as a union protest blossomed before the eyes of the nation into a broad-based popular movement.

The 23 days of talk shows, editorials, and press conferences allowed the truth to be heard. It was Governor Walker who created the deficit by giving away 137 million dollars in tax cuts to corporations. The fight wasn’t about sharing the pain — unions already had agreed to devastating pay cuts and reductions in pensions and health care. Workers were forced to take a stand or give up their right to collective bargaining.

Wisconsin workers refused to give up their respect and dignity.

Sonomans from all walks of life gathered in the plaza because we believe the public employees in Wisconsin are no different from public employees in Sonoma. They’re not slobs, as one Republican Senator claimed on national television, and they’re not lazy overpaid bureaucrats, as the Glen Becks of the world claim. They are our hard working neighbors, friends, and family members, just ordinary middle class Americans trying to survive in these tough economic times. They put out fires, teach our kids, staff our hospitals, register our cars, mail out our Social Security checks, keep us safe, respond to life threatening emergencies, and work in our libraries.
Florida’s Governor’s 1.7 billion dollar cut to education, and the Michigan Governor’s plan to cut billions in services to seniors and low income families, have this in common: the money saved is not going to balance their budgets, it’s being transferred to corporations in the form of tax cuts. The Michigan Governor plans to go beyond smashing unions by creating a dictatorship where he can replace city councils, mayors and school districts with hand- picked czars. So much for Democracy. So much for “we all have to share the pain.”

But the “let them eat cake” attitude of Governor Walker and his Republican Governor buddies in 16 other states has backfired. Polls show overwhelming support for public employees across the country. Six out of eight Wisconsin Republican Senators are likely to be recalled. Outrage grows as the details of some of the debt reduction plans are publicized.

The conservative right, and their billionaire allies, have declared war on the battered American middle class. The seventeen Republican Governors have joined the attack. Wisconsin may be their Waterloo.

Mike Smith
Retired Union Representative
former Executive Board Member,
North Bay Central Labor Council

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