Tuesday 22 March 2011
Ramrod democracy was working so well until it hit Wisconsin. The news from that state just keeps on coming and growing in significance.
The latest chapter in a month-long struggle came Friday, when Dane County circuit judge Maryann Sumi issued a restraining order on Governor Scott Walker's hotly-debated anti-union bill – citing possible violation of the state's open meetings law. Now implementation of the bill which, among other things, limits collective bargaining to issues of wages (capped in any case to inflation-only increases), will be put on hold, indefinitely, pending a full investigation of state senate Republicans' heavyhanded tactics.
Walker's critics have good reason to relish in the Governor's Mubarak moment. Despite all those precious dollars lavished on securing Republican majorities in the last election, despite that flood of anti-union messages on state media, some righteous public workers, their unions, some thousands of determined protesters and, now, a Republican-appointed judge managed to stop the state steamroller. Where's the palace guard when you need them?
At the Left Forum, an annual gathering of independent lefties in New York last weekend, news of the judge's stay was greeted with glee. People power worked, they say, and here was people power in action.
Judge Sumi's decision puts paid to all those who say progress is achieved through any one set of tactics: voting or protest, law or disobedience. Wisconsinites stopped the Walker steamroller through a combination of them all: direct action, legislative action, protest, and finally a lawsuit filed by the Dane County district attorney.
Sleeping giant seems to be the phrase of the day – as in, "Governor Walker's bill has awakened a sleeping giant." That's what state senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee said, on her return to her home state after three weeks away, to prevent a senate vote on the measure. "The sleeping giant's awake," chuckled assemblyman Robert Turner from Racine, one of the Democratic legislators who'd held round-the-clock hearings in the state house to keep the assembly in session – and the state house open for protesters. Even one enormous tractor bore the words, on a handwritten sign in the window as it lumbered around the capitol, kicking off the biggest rally in Wisconsin state history, the Saturday after the governor signed the bill, 12 March. "They want us to go back to sleep, but we're not going," one Madison public school teacher told me as she watched the farmers' procession.
"Wisconsin will not tolerate backroom deals and political power plays when it comes to public schools and valued services," Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association, the state's largest public employees union, told the press after the judge's stay was announced Friday.
The fight isn't over: Republicans plan to appeal the decision, and the legislature has a chance to take up the bill again. Recall organising efforts go on, even as Walker's budget makes mincemeat of desperately-needed healthcare and education programs. It's going to take every tactic in the book to turn back the steamroller for good. At least, though, we can stop for just a minute and acknowledge what's happening in this country.
When was the last time you heard about a Tea Party rally?