Thursday, February 17, 2011

The People Rise Up and Say Enough

These past few weeks the world has watched as the common ordinary people grew tired of the conditions of their lives and hit the streets to protest. Tunisia was first and the government tumbled, then Egypt and now Bahrain, Iran, and Iraq. The politicians and the pundits pondered and posed questions, contemplating a possible “domino effect” in the Mideast. But perhaps they should have been looking a little closer to home. The people in the state of Wisconsin are proof that it can also happen here.

Really, no one should have been surprised at the protests in Wisconsin this week. My surprise was only that it has taken this long for some group to get pissed off at the government here. For years our hard-fought rights have been chipped away. The Patriot Act has taken away our privacy, the economic downturn took away many of our jobs, our retirement savings and foreclosure has taken away many homes.

We could all argue over the causes and most of us would line up on the progressive left or the conservative right and all would spout the talking points and fight over which political party was responsible. In truth, we are all responsible because we allowed it to happen. We should have risen up as a people long ago and said enough.

We did nothing when the tragedy of 9/11 was used as an excuse to decimate our rights and eventually lead us into a war with first Afghanistan and then Iraq. The war in Afghanistan was perhaps justified given the events of 9/11, but the war in Iraq was not. It was based on a series of what we now know were lies.

We did nothing as the lies continued into the Health Care Reform Debate. Republican politicians stood up before their constituents and flat out lied about what was in the bill. They used scare tactics and spoke of “death panels” to describe what was essentially a living will.

I could go on and on with the lies and the deceptions perpetrated against us. I could probably fill pages with all of the examples. But what would be the point? It would just offer further proof of our gullibility. And it is that gullibility that allowed the Republicans to think they could do anything once they gained control again. So now instead of focusing on jobs and restoring the health of our economy, they seem hell-bent to push every right-wing conservative issue they have been sitting on. From women’s right to choose, immigration to now union-busting; it is all on the table.

The debate has been hot, in Washington at the federal level and in the statehouses across the country. Except for the state of Wisconsin where there was little debate at all. Republicans now controlled both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office. Governor Scott Walker just decided to shove through a bill that would essentially break the power of the unions by putting an end to collective bargaining for public employees. The Cap Times ran an editorial Sunday with the headline "Walker is acting not as a governor, but as dictator."

Governor Walker and the Republicans ignored the criticism and continued to move forward with the bill. Much to his surprise, the people affected rose up and marched on the capital. The teachers, the firefighters, the prison workers and snow plow drivers all showed up and said no.

The protest shut down the schools in Madison as teachers called in sick so that they could come to the Capitol to protest. They were joined by many of their students who marched in support. Also joining in support were present and former members of the World Champion Green Bay Packers who along with their union, the NFL Players Association, released a statement in support of the protest.

On Wednesday it was estimated that the crowd at the capitol numbered 30,000 strong. But even with all of that support, today it appeared that the bill would be passed in the state senate. Because the Democrats who opposed the bill could not stop its passage, they staged a walkout. They did not just leave the chamber; they left the building completely and then quickly left the state. With their departure, they successfully postponed the vote. In an interview with CNN Senate Minority leader Mark Miller stated that they left because they were “trying to allow opportunity for democracy to work."

It is still too early at this point to know what will happen in this case. The leaders of the teachers unions have once again asked its members to come to the Capitol on Friday and Saturday to protest. And schools in Madison will be closed again on Friday. Many may be asking if it will be worth the cost if they do not succeed. I for one think it will. Just as the successful people’s protest in Tunisia provided an example to the people in Egypt and the Middle East; perhaps Wisconsin can be an example to the rest of the country. We don’t have to take it anymore either.