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On, Wisconsin! Inside the Uprising…

Imagine 2050 Staff • Mar 24, 2011

In mid-February, just days after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker introduced his now infamous “budget repair” bill, some 300 high school students in the small community of River Falls—four hours northwest of Madison—walked out of classes in support of their teachers and in opposition to the Governor.  In nearby Hudson last week an otherwise unheralded presentation by the Governor quickly yielded seventy, then two hundred protesters opposing the bill. In tiny Washburn on the shores of Lake Superior, two thousand protesters greeted the Governor.  Outside the Pierce County courthouse last Sunday morning two women collected signatures on recall petitions for State Senator Sheila Harsdorf, a Republican supporter of the bill.

As a resident of rural Wisconsin, it’s fascinating to watch the state’s uprising portrayed by media and politicos over the past month.  By most news reports, the uprising is a “liberal Madison” phenomenon.  Among supporters of the Governor’s commitment to break public sector unions, the uprising is allegedly spurred and populated by countless “outside” interests and agitators bussed or flown in to the state from far-flung places by national union bosses.  Neither portrayal is near the mark, even though the state has indeed become a national battleground, replete with “outsiders” from every point on the political spectrum—from national unions to national tea partiers.

The Wisconsin uprising is deep, widespread, and still unfolding in virtually every community and county in the state. It has awakened a sometimes indifferent and dispirited progressive electorate still stinging from last fall’s rightward Republican sweep.  Even the state’s vast number of independent voters appears to have had enough of the Governor they helped elect, and tea partiers are struggling to recapture headlines.  The uprising, moreover, has stirred renewed consideration of the state’s often volatile political history, with right-left swings that have rocked the nation in the past.

The challenge ahead, however, stretches far beyond this Governor’s union-busting “budget repair” bill.  Walker’s ties to the Koch brothers and to the tea party are notable and chilling, and his unbridled pro-business agenda portends real trouble—one of his first acts in office was a media blitz during which he hung “open for business” placards on “Welcome to Wisconsin” signs at the state’s borders.  His stance on immigration issues flipped toward Arizona last year after he initially criticized that state’s draconian anti-immigrant law.  Where he goes from here on these and other key issues is both unknown and portentous, given his power-grabbing actions in the brief time he has been in office.

Inside the uprising the air is as fresh as the Wisconsin spring, but the hot summer lies ahead. Recalls are underway.  Protests continue.  The tea party may have met its match.  Unionism is reinvigorated.  On, Wisconsin…on…

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