This Valentine’s Day marks the one-year anniversary of an event at the Capitol that was not so sweet: the TAA’s opposition to Walker’s slashing of collective bargaining rights for public employees. To commemorate the event, Opinion writers and guest columnists reflect on what turned out to be an interesting year in Wisconsin politics. The version of these columns published online feature expanded content, with additional columns by Joe Timmerman and Vince Borkowski.
TAA celebrates, calls Wisconsin to arms again – BY ALEX HANNA and ADRIENNE PAGAC
One year longer, and one year stronger. A year after nearly a thousand students, faculty, staff and graduate employees marched from the Memorial Union to the Capitol to protest cuts to the UW and attacks on public employees, we’re still here. Since that cold Monday last year, we’ve seen one of what turned out to be many occupations across the U.S. and the world. The thread that started in Tunis and Cairo went through Madison before making its way to Zuccotti Park. Now that fight continues in Athens as people are rejecting inequality and injustice.
At the same time, the fight never stopped in Wisconsin, as grassroots organizers collected over a million signatures to recall Gov. Scott Walker and collected tens of thousands more to recall four state senators. Every day as Walker and Republicans propose and pass legislation that harms not only workers but people of color, youth, women, the elderly, not to mention the environment, Wisconsin citizens are rallying and building power to remove him and his ilk. This Tuesday, we are not only rallying to remember what was accomplished but to reinvigorate our commitment to accomplish what needs to be done and to state loudly: We STILL <3 the UW and Wisconsin.
Alex Hanna (email@example.com) and Adrienne Pagac (firstname.lastname@example.org) are co-presidents of the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association.
Walker gives pink slips to Wisconsinites – BY BRETT HULSEY
Wow, what a year. A year ago, the Packers had just won the Super Bowl and Wisconsinites were thrilled.
Then Gov. Scott Walker dropped a bomb on the people of Wisconsin by unveiling his secret plan to strip workers of their freedom and hand our state over to greedy special interests.
This action sparked record numbers of us to converge on the Capitol and prompted our Democratic senators to travel to Illinois in search of clean government. That’s when I knew our state was in trouble. Assembly Democrats debated the bill for a record 62 hours before Republicans shut down debate and finished the vote in 17 seconds.
This week, Walker is sending Valentines to his special interest contributors all over the country. And they are returning the favor with TV ads filled with false and misleading statements like, “It’s working.”
It’s not working. With Walker’s policies, Wisconsin is first in the nation in jobs lost in the last six months, second in cuts to our K-12 schools and third in cuts to our colleges and universities. Our state will likely face a deficit again in 2013.
Walker cut more than $300 million from the UW System, causing higher tuition for students and limited course selection. He also took worker rights away from thousands of UW employees so they can’t even bargain for safer working conditions.
In the last year, my Democratic colleagues and I have proposed a comprehensive agenda to get Wisconsin working again:
Keep and create good jobs rather than sending jobs to other states and Canada;
Invest in the state’s schools, UW system and job training rather than cutting them;
Promote clean energy and clean water, rather than catering to polluters.
Now we should change course and get Wisconsin heading in the right direction. Contact me at Rep.Hulsey@Legis.wi.gov or call 608-266-7521 for more information.
Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison (email@example.com) is a Democrat representing the 77th assembly district.
A year later, political contrasts still dominate Wisconsin discourse with partisan factions - BY DONALD DOWNS
The politics and protests at the State Capitol last year riveted the nation and the world for a simple reason: They cast into stark relief the contentious new politics surrounding the difficult policy dilemmas that liberal democracies must confront in a world characterized by interconnected factors such as entrenched economic malaise, globalization, the proliferation of new technologies, mobile capital and burgeoning debt accumulated by the welfare states and public pensions. We have to face these problems whether we like it or not, lest we end up like Greece. But we also must deal with the dislocations being wrought by the changes in our political economies.
Give Walker credit for not sticking his head in the sand like the governor of Illinois and his minions, who are content on turning their state into Greece on Lake Michigan by simply raising taxes without making any meaningful dent in public pensions and expenditures. Illinois is drowning ever more deeply in debt, unable to pay many of its bills, while a host of companies and individuals flee to less encumbered states. Trapped by public pressure groups, other blue model states like California and New York are not faring much better.
Unfortunately, Walker’s methods – and the reaction to them – reflect another major public problem: the intractable polarization of our political elite. Rather than prepare the state for his policies through meaningful discussion in the campaign and the building of a measure of consensus, Walker and his forces chose to spring them on the state right after assuming office. Their extremely partisan approach all but guaranteed a partisan reaction and threatens to undermine their reforms if Walker and his cohorts lose the recall elections. Meaningful change in democracies requires building the kind of broader public support that is necessary for sustained remedies, democratic consent and shared sacrifice.
Conflict is part of life, especially in hard times, and is the midwife of historical change. But the conflict we are witnessing in Wisconsin now that the genie has been let out of the recall bottle could lead to wild swings back and forth between red and blue, with the public serving as the ping pong ball. Between 2008 and 2010, state Democrats pushed a new public union agenda, only to be rebuffed by Walker. Would we witness the same thing if Walker loses the recall election? And then what?
Regardless, the Wisconsin story is still being written. It is a harbinger of major economic, institutional and structural changes that are headed our way, the forms of which we do not yet know. Meanwhile, both political parties – in the state and in the nation – remind us of the truth that reactionaries reside on both sides of the political aisle. The country cries out for genuine vision that goes beyond the entrenched interests and shibboleths of the present right and left. Who and what new politics is slouching toward our capitols, waiting to be born?
Donald Downs (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin.
Inside view on protestors’ gall, public incivility - BY JEFF SNOW
Many of us will never forget the political chaos that overtook our State Capitol early last year. As an intern in Governor Walker’s Office, I had the unique experience of working at the Capitol while the protests erupted. While the protesters had every right to make their voices heard, I have never witnessed such a level of incivility, hate and disrespect in my life.
Our Capitol was defaced, littered and taken over by thousands of angry protesters who would constantly yell, blow on vuvuzela horns and bang on drums. Public officials and their families were threatened. Staff members and interns were told to leave through back-room doors and dress down to avoid harm. Fourteen Democratic state senators abandoned their constitutional duties to represent the people of Wisconsin while they took orders from union bosses in Illinois for three weeks.
Despite all the demagogic rhetoric and chaos in the Capitol, I was inspired by the overwhelming amount of people across the state that called the governor’s office to voice their support. These were hardworking Wisconsinites who did not have time to come to Madison to chant catchy phrases and sleep over at the Capitol. These were the silent majority of people who elected Governor Walker to end the days of large deficits, tax increases, raided funds and a bad business climate.
Because of Governor Walker’s budget reforms, Wisconsin is projecting a surplus for the first time in over 15 years. Collective bargaining reform for the public employee unions has allowed local municipalities and school districts across the state to save over $903,517,079 to date. Teachers can now be hired, fired and given raises based on merit and are no longer mandated to join a union. School district tax levies have decreased by an average of 1 percent this year as opposed to a 5.5 percent increase in the past five years.
These reforms have businesses realizing that Wisconsin is on the right track. In fact, a recent Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce survey shows that 94 percent of job creators believe we are on the right track, as opposed to 10 percent when the Democrats were in power. This is a good sign for college students looking for jobs in Wisconsin upon graduating.
Governor Walker did what few politicians do: Solve the problems at hand with structural reforms that will leave the next generation better off than the current one. In the upcoming recall election, the College Republicans look forward to fighting for Governor Walker because he has fought so hard for us.
Jeff Snow (email@example.com) is a sophomore majoring in marketing. He is the chairman of the College Republicans.
Politicos use Wisconsin stage as a testing ground- BY KEVIN BARGNES
The Occupy movement began one year ago today, in Madison, when 1,100 people – a hodgepodge of liberals, socialists, teaching assistants and political science students – marched from Memorial Union to the front door of Scott Walker’s office.
“Kill the bill,” they chanted, referring of course to the governor’s “budget repair bill,” three words someone should have spent more time coming up with, considering how much ink has been wasted on them in the past 365 days.
Soon the Valentine’s Day protesters were joined by thousands of others, and suddenly, Madison was the political epicenter of America, the home to a classic war of words between big labor and conservatism.
Senate Democrats took an Illinois vacation in a futile attempt to delay the inevitable. Ed Schultz wore earmuffs at the top of State Street and blabbed incoherently about starving Wisconsin teachers on MSNBC. Thousands of people – including this writer, for one absurd evening – spent their nights “occupying” the Capitol rotunda, in hopes that their stall tactics would weaken Walker’s resolve.
The effects of the late winter protests can still be felt this Valentine’s Day.
In Wisconsin, the governor faces a near-certain recall attempt, as do some of his freshmen Republican colleagues in the state Senate.
Nationwide, the Occupy movement – a term first used in the modern era by Madison protesters – succeeded in bringing national attention to the concept of wealth inequality. The end result of that debate is a proposal to require all millionaires to pay a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent, as announced Monday by the White House. President Barack Obama is betting the farm on that wedge issue, and he’s likely to win.
But what those three weeks of protests proved is a simple idea that will last through this decade: Wisconsin is the new guinea pig of American politics.
We are a state of 5.5 million people, home to Madison elitists, Weyauwega hicks, Milwaukee welfare mothers and Brookfield WASPs. It swings to the left during most presidential elections and to the right during most of the other ones. And it drinks more alcohol per capita than any state in the union.
You put that all together, and you’ve got a state primed to be the crash test dummy for every political trick in the book. The Republican National Committee had its fun trying to yank union rights. Now the Democratic National Committee is seeing what would happen if they used recall elections for political retribution.
I have fond memories of the protests – it was truly remarkable to be so close to something that historic, and to be running this newspaper during the largest political story Madison had seen since the Vietnam War.
Sadly, the past 12 months have been little more than party leadership holding a clipboard as cheesehead-wearing hamsters shuffle back and forth in their cage, alternating between the exercise wheel and the water bottle.
Kevin Bargnes worked for The Badger Herald from 2007 to 2011, most recently serving as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. Catch up with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Protesting fervor bows aside to realism, healing – BY SIGNE BREWSTER
One year ago, I had never been inside the Capitol, let alone slept on its floor. I had never taken part in a protest or observed the Legislature in action.
Entering the rotunda on the night of the first protest, I was wide-eyed. The eclectic signs, drum beat and untiring protesters created a swell of idealism that was hard to resist. It pulled in thousands, and for a while seemed like it would win out.
Today, without the cushion of chanting protesters, all that is left to observe is the divide that runs through the Capitol. I am no longer wide-eyed, but I see more. I know now that a few nights on a cold marble floor and even a 6 a.m. testimony are not always enough. There is a real aftermath to wake up to.
We know a lot of things that we did not on Feb. 14, 2011. If I have learned anything in the past year, it is that this state will persist. Despite the hurt, Wisconsin will be OK.
Signe Brewster (email@example.com) is a senior majoring in life sciences communication.
University still suffers from state budget cuts – BY ADELAIDE BLANCHARD
Gender and Women Studies 103 was by far the most influential class I’ve taken at the University of Wisconsin. To be honest, I stumbled into it. I had heard it was interesting and I needed a science credit, so I thought, “Sure, why not”?
Every lecture wove gender and health issues together to create a bigger picture of social problems, and this made me decide to add a gender and women’s studies certificate to my journalism major.
It was incredibly compelling and informative, and while I’m skeptical on the necessity of safe spaces, my discussion was a great place to talk about relevant and controversial issues, which more often than not affected someone personally in the class.
But good luck if you want to get in next semester.
Our lecture was packed, and our professor, Araceli Alonso, told us hundreds more students were on the waiting list.
She said the problem was that there was simply not enough money to hire the TAs necessary for everyone to take the class, and this was a direct result of the budget repair bill and the cuts with which UW had to work.
I was lucky I got into a class that changed my academic path for the better. UW is full of classes and professors that have the potential to change any student’s worldview. The more classes are narrowed and the more students are turned down, the chances are low that others will have experiences similar to mine.
Adelaide Blanchard (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in journalism.
2011 protests not Wis. reality – BY ALEX BROUSSEAU
One year ago today, Madison was a very different place. Protesters ruled the streets with signs, megaphones, banners and repetitive chants. Students skipped class en masse and chose to sleep on the cold, hard granite of the Capitol floor over a warm bed. Teachers left their classrooms to join in the demonstrations, putting a halt to education for days.
As the national media quickly turned its attention to Madison, it seemed the liberal state of Wisconsin had left its “Midwest nice” demeanor behind and began to revolt against its conservative and oppressive government.
While the protests in February 2011 taught us many things, it also reinforced Madison’s most popular moniker as 77 square miles surrounded by reality.
The reality is that it was the citizens of Wisconsin who chose to elect Gov. Scott Walker over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and voted to give majority control of both the Senate and the Assembly to the Republicans.
The reality is that the first set of recall attempts in the summer of 2011 failed. Of the 16 attempts, only nine legislators actually faced recalls, and a large majority of them won re-election. Most importantly, Republicans still maintained their control of the Senate.
The reality is that although Walker now faces a recall election, he has raised millions of dollars in support of his campaign and will continue to garner support while the Democrats squabble over a primarily election filled with unqualified and unremarkable candidates.
The reality is that Walker will win re-election. He will trounce the divided Democrats and continue to make the hard decisions the other candidates have refused to make in order to keep our state on the right track toward recovery during these tough economic times – and not at the expense of the citizens’ pocketbooks.
Madison truly is 77 square miles surround by reality. With a city full of liberal-minded students and progressive city residents, Madison does not accurately represent the views of the rest of the state – something this city should keep in mind as the gubernatorial recall election approaches.
Alex Brousseau (email@example.com) is a second year law student.
Protests unique experience for a student journalist- BY RYAN RAINEY
The Badger Herald’s newsroom normally stands immune to the most shocking of all major news events that happen in Madison. Russ Feingold’s defeat in November merely elicited an unsurprised eyeroll out of the opinion section that night. President Barack Obama’s chuckle-worthy response to a reporter’s question about his visit in a conference call led to a collective and ephemeral “huh, that’s cool” from the news team. No story was worthy of epic treatment, and the stories that did get heavy treatment, like the city’s new plans for the Overture Center for the Arts, mostly were mundane.
But something about watching the first protesters march through the Capitol’s State Street entrance immediately suggested the Herald would be involved in an unprecedented story of remarkable scale for a student newspaper. From my perspective as a news reporter at the time, the protests began to consume my life. The chants associated with the movement became so impossible to avoid that even the lurching of my dishwasher sounded like the ubiquitous “kill the bill.” I awoke multiple mornings to demonstrations outside my window. One especially snowy day, as I walked across an empty Bascom Hill, I couldn’t see the Capitol, but I could hear the 20,000 people who showed up on a weekday to protest the budget repair bill.
The movements that the protests initiated continue to defy conventional political and journalistic wisdom. What began as a march of University of Wisconsin students from the Memorial Union to the Capitol was a media frenzy by the next week. The Feb. 14 protesters were quiet enough to walk on the State Street sidewalk – making a good shot difficult for the single local news camera at the Capitol – but the massive demonstrations that followed closed the entire Capitol Square and attracted coverage from outlets like Al Jazeera and Fox News.
The entire city was full of chaos, from the blistering speeches on the Assembly floor to the reprehensible signs comparing Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler, to the antagonistic nature of the Tea Party protests and the parallel political volatility in Bascom Hall. But when chants were too loud and the overwhelming scale of the event consumed my mind, I only could remind myself of how uniquely lucky I was to be a student journalist in Madison.
I’ll probably never again live in a city with the political sensibility and activity of Madison in 2011. And because of that, I’ll love this city forever for the unfiltered experiences I had.
Ryan Rainey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in journalism and Latin American studies.
Partisanship mauls democracy – BY REGINALD YOUNG
My first reaction to the protests last year was hesitation. I worried they were the result of hysteria, not political interest; it was the “cool” thing to do. I can think of several friends who suddenly became “activists” even though they had never uttered a single political phrase before last fall.
And while yes, there are narcissists who got involved just to hear themselves speak, there are many that got involved for the right reasons. Furthermore, who can argue that increased civic involvement is a bad thing?
Over time, the fight hasn’t been given up. There are no longer throngs at the Capitol, but that’s because the venue has changed. The battlefield has moved to courtrooms and recall elections. To me this shows enduring beliefs; with over a million recall signatures, it’s hard to argue the protests were whimsical.
What’s disappointed me most, though, is the lack of teamwork. Union structure caused some snags, but small problems warrant bipartisan restructuring, not abandonment. Gov. Scott Walker’s administration seems to have trampled over Democrats with its agenda, paying no heed to any feasible objections. That’s not politics; that’s hubris. Walker’s administration is, due to its one-sidedness, likely to face strong backswing in the next year.
I don’t think Wisconsin Republicans are inherently wrong in what they work to accomplish; they simply approach problems from a different angle. Things in Wisconsin, for the most part, have remained civil, but there have definitely been disrespectful actions on both sides. Whether ripping up recall petitions or yelling during the State of the State, both sides are equally guilty of misbehavior. So next time you read a headline deploring a party, don’t jump to generalize from that example.
Instead of pointing fingers, we ought to be shaking hands. If that notion had been followed, Walker probably wouldn’t be up for recall. But then again, he would have to be a politician to understand that. Businessmen run an institution for profit; true politicians run an institution for people.
Reginald Young (email@example.com) is a junior majoring in legal studies and Scandinavian studies.
Social media play key role in activism’s newest generation – BY TAYLOR NYE
My dad, who was exactly the age I am now in the Summer of Love, once told me, “I’m sad for your generation, because you can never really get back what we had. Everyone cared about what was going on. No one protests like they used to.”
Even though my dad may be right, what last year’s protests showed me was that my generation does have what it takes to enact change – in our own way. A huge aspect of last year’s protests was social media. I can barely come up with words to describe how powerful it was to see the outpouring of involvement through Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites.
At first, just a few of my most diehard liberal friends switched their profile pictures to read, “I Heart UW: Governor Walker, don’t break my heart.” But then momentum grew quickly, and soon it seemed like everyone posted a mobile upload of them holding a sign from the capitol steps.
Here we are, a year later, and social media is now a main vehicle for enacting political change. The Wisconsin protests and those in Egypt are shining examples, and the fact that this change is ongoing is a testament to the staying power of networking websites as a way to raise your voice.
While it was awe-inspiring, social media activism has its downfalls. In one way, in the spirit of true democracy, it allows everyone to chime in. In another, it lets any sycophant jump on the bandwagon without really having to commit to attending a protest or standing behind what they say.
In an entry in my diary from Feb. 14, 2011, I reflected on the Hunter S. Thompson quote, “We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.” But of course, he was speaking about my father’s generation. Can we ever be them? Can we ever, as my dad said, “Get back what we had”? The power of advocating through social media makes me think maybe. We may not be getting tear-gassed, but in our own way, we’re changing things. Even if it is something as simple as a status update.
Taylor Nye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in human evolutionary biology, archaeology and Latin American studies.
Wis. uprising no longer current – BY CHARLES GODFREY
Wisconsin’s political situation imploded on itself last spring. I will never forget a certain morning, during the week of the never-ending protest, when I rolled out of bed to drag myself to chemistry and was swept away by a shouting and fist-pumping mass as I attempted to cross State Street. A friend of mine was leading chants and screaming himself hoarse, and when he noticed me he said in no unclear terms, “We’re going to the Capitol!” I couldn’t argue with that, so I joined this chanting and fist-pumping crowd and marched to Capitol Square, backpack and all.
The excitement of February has all but fizzled out. I think the movement to overturn Walker’s budget bill and oust Walker himself has ceased to be a matter of public outrage and has become a matter of party politics.
I personally don’t approve of Walker’s administration because I think he has put the contemporary dogmas of the Republican Party and his desire to implement them in Wisconsin ahead of the needs of the state, the opinion of the public and common sense – this is pretty standard in politics. However, I’ve never supported the recall because I don’t think it is good for Wisconsin.
The recall effort is an unnecessary waste of time. In any given American election, almost 50 percent of voters are on the losing side, and they have a right to complain and critique for the next four years, but there is a certain element of sportsmanship in waiting patiently and accepting that political defeat as a short term sacrifice for political stability and respect for the rules of democracy that we have laid in place.
Madison is not Wisconsin. Many people in Madison seemed shocked and appalled when Walker was elected and when he implemented his budget bill. These were the people who wondered how a Republican like Walker could ever be elected in such a “progressive” place like Wisconsin. Madison may be the capital and the home of the UW, but the state of Wisconsin elected Walker. I think many people in this state have reason to be upset with the fact that Madison-based political activism is attempting to overturn the results of statewide democracy.
Although statewide politics are less visible in Madison, to the point that the public opinion of this city seems to be overwhelmingly against Walker, in the end statewide politics matter most. This is why I think the protests of last spring, the recall effort and the commemoration of the “Wisconsin Uprising” demonstrate a myopic view of Madison in relation to the state of Wisconsin.
Charles Godfrey (email@example.com) is a sophomore majoring in math and physics.
Protests beacon of hope after 2010 elections – BY JOE TIMMERMAN
As someone from outside of Wisconsin, I’m sure my view of last year’s protests is very different from those who experienced them personally. While the protests were going on, I didn’t even know where I would end up going to school, so I really didn’t have much personally invested. However, watching the protests from afar, seeing footage of chants and pictures of the Capitol filled to the brim with protestors did something powerful for me: It gave me hope.
2010 was not a good year for progressives and moderates. Fueled by the Tea Party, a wave of conservatism had swept the country – and the elections. For as long as I can remember, my district was represented by a very moderate Democrat with whose campaign I volunteered hundreds of hours. In 2010, a Tea Party candidate won the district by a handful of votes. He’s now most well known for a YouTube video of him screaming at a constituent with whom he disagrees. Suffice to say, I was not a happy camper.
But watching the scenes coming out of Madison showed me something. It showed me that even though we had lost the election, progressivism was not only still alive, but it was strong. It gave me hope for the future and got me excited for 2012. So, as the country watches Wisconsin this spring, let’s send the message loud and clear to progressives everywhere to hold out hope for a better 2012.
Joe Timmerman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freshman majoring in math and physics.
Protests reveal liberals’ mob mentality – BY VINCENT BORKOWSKI
While this year has seen a lot happen in the political realm, much of it is not positive. Those claiming to support the rights of the people have trounced on those same rights when used by conservatives. You need look only to the left’s fight against an open records request to publish the names of the recall signers online, the forged and fictional names on those recall papers and the liberal media’s biased coverage of any and all events related to Gov. Scott Walker. Wisconsin has also seen what the liberal political machine can do to try to lie to the people.
Big names such as Michael Moore came to spread lies about an imaginary state debt while buses brought in those from outside the state to inflate the protest numbers. The liberal media inflated those numbers even more. With protests that resulted in numerous damages to the Capitol building and its grounds along with arrests of disorderly people who threatened police, the protests grew too out of hand into a mob mentality.
Opponents of Walker and their puppets have reigned supreme in Wisconsin, denying basic rights and spewing lies in order to further their elitist cause. There is a difference between peaceful protest and outright mob violence and personal attacks, all sanctioned by those whose only argument is that Gov. Walker is wearing the wrong jersey.
Wisconsin can be better than this. You cannot claim to be protected by public rights to let you protest while you stomp on those who use those same public rights to publish the recall papers. It seems this past year was entirely filled with hypocrisy from Walker’s opponents.
Vincent Borkowski (email@example.com) is a junior majoring in neurobiology.