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<nettime> report from Madison: why Wisconsin?
Dan S. Wang on Mon, 28 Mar 2011 11:00:42 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> report from Madison: why Wisconsin?

Dear nettime,

Just to keep the words from Madison coming...

Thanks for all the encouragement, I/we appreciate it!

Dan w.

Check blog for images and such, plus earlier reports, they kinda build on
each other:


We are into phase two.

The massive crowds of 15-30k on the weekdays and 75-150k on four consecutive
Saturdays have dispersed. Now the people are spread out, working the ground
of the entire state in a multi-pronged strategy of electoral canvassing,
working recall campaigns, bird-dogging Republican state senators and the
governor himself wherever they go, organizing targeted protests, coherently
c4c002e0.html>  andincoherently boycotting businesses
ith-threatened-boycott>  that are said to have a Walker association, or
simply lashing out in hundreds and maybe thousands of acts of primitive
resistance, ranging from wheatpasting General Strike posters on utility
boxes to gluing locks
ith-threatened-boycott> . Wisconsin is alive, electric with political
activism and political expression, both organized and not. Window and yard
signs blanket the neighborhoods of the hippie east and the bobo west sides
of Madison. In Milwaukee, joint union/teacher/immigrant rights actions are
being planned. Nine hundred people marched in the little town of Mt. Horeb
<http://www.wkow.com/Global/story.asp?S=14251606>  a couple weeks ago, which
is more amazing than 100k in Madison. Our new adoption worker, a woman just
starting out in her social services career, showed up on our doorstep
smiling and professional, but sporting bright blue and yellow anti-Walker
buttons. The bus driver wears a button that says Friends Don¹t Let Friends
Drive Republican. Many at the Stoughton Opera House for Friday night¹s Tim
O¹Brien show (high quality white music, for the unfamiliar) wore Kloppenburg

The political inhibitions of the average Wisconsinite, only two months ago
seemingly internalized to the degree that politics had become a subculture
rather than everyone¹s business, have evaporated, steamed off by the extreme
attacks of Scott Walker. 
<http://prop-press.typepad.com/.a/6a0133f3da504b970b014e6027fcde970c-pi> The
political has returned to Wisconsin, to everyday life, to people¹s
expressions in both private and public spheres. And just in time, because it
is not too early to call a victory for Scott Walker. More on that below.

But first I continue my inquiry into the conditions of the uprising. What
has been happening, at the various distances of the local, the regional, and
the global, that the Walker agenda began to generate a kind of oppositional
coherence, a broad sense of belonging to a current far beyond oneself, or
one¹s town, or one¹s country? On this blog I have already discussed both the
local and the global, how the Madison infrastructure and the international
echoes of Cairo played into the uprising. From where I type this, both of
these elements continue to be present. Last Wednesday evening I attended the
Chris Hedges event on the UW campus. After being out of town for nearly two
weeks, I was curious about what I¹d see. The lecture was held in Humanities
2650, a room that seats 268. There were hardly any empty seats and quite a
few standing in the upper reaches of the hall. People came out on a crummy,
cold and icy night?a good sign that interest and motivation remains high at
the grassroots level. The energy in the room was lively and Hedges ended up
taking questions for an hour after a thirty-five minute lecture.  Whether we
are talking about movement analysis events organized by the Havens Center,
immigrant rights groups working to fight Walker¹s cuts to bilingual
education, the neighborhood bars hosting benefits for interfaith labor
justice projects, or the Dane County administration and judicial
establishment standing up to the GOP¹s legally questionable manuveurs, the
Madison activist and progressive infrastructure is humming. 

As well, the global echoes?drowned out and overshadowed for weeks by
everything from the disaster in Japan to attention on the Wisconsin 14 and
the villanous Koch brothers?reappeared on the fifth Saturday, in all-too
tragically convenient a way: the massive demonstrations that were sparked by
Scott Walker¹s attack on the day Hosni Mubarak resigned came to a close on
March 19, both the eighth anniversary of the bombing that started the Iraq
War in 2003, and the first day of American and European bombing of Libya. If
the War at Home/Wars Abroad meme had been shoved aside for a little while,
history will always neatly bookend the first phase of the Wisconsin uprising
in the wrapping of a single global class and energy war, and the beginning
of generalized global chaos. Lots of us, including Iraq Veterans Against the
War, who called for the March 19 Madison demonstration and came out in a
force of more than fifty GWOT veterans
<http://www.ivaw.org/blog/10-000-stand-solidarity-iraq-war-anniversary> ,
would not have it any other way. 

So, we have the local and the global. What about the movement dynamic at the
state and regional level? Or put another way, why Wisconsin, and why now?
Sure, it is a comparatively homogenous state, with a strong and distinctive
tavern culture, a single, statewide university system, and self-embraced
customs of beer + brats, dairy + deer hunting. But what of the conditions in
early 2011? What was different then?

Having made something of the echoes of Cairo, I must say, the story of the
2010-2011 Green Bay Packers also helped to set a kind of pre-uprising
climate in Wisconsin, because of how they reached and won the Super Bowl,
the kinds of storylines that spun out of the team¹s postseason run, and the
fact that the Super Bowl was played on the Sunday of the same week in which
Scott Walker later unveiled his budget repair bill. Given the event
proximity, two of those storylines resonated with the Wisconsin uprising of
a week later. The first concerned the Packers as an institution. When the
Packers take the national stage, the national media enjoy re-telling the
story of why and how the comparatively small city of Green Bay, Wisconsin
(pop. 102k), happened to land and hold onto the most storied of all NFL
franchises. This happened in the old media world of January of 1997 when the
Packers last reached and won the big game, and it happened again in 2011.
The surprise ending part of the story goes, little Green Bay keeps its team
because it is? (drumroll) publicly owned! The merits of public ownership and
non-majority ownership clauses are then held up for consideration as an
historical quirk that actually works?unlike the failure of private
ownership, for example, to currently supply Los Angeles with an NFL team.
The merits of public ownership are then brought into the national
conversation, in however superficial a way. For Packer fans, who like most
midwesterners are more self-conscious than their coastal countrymen about
how they are perceived by the bi-coastal media/cultural establishment, it is
another reason to take pride in who they are, and another media-reflected
self-image around which the trace of a collective identity coalesces.

The second important storyline emerged in full as soon as the championship
game was over. Starting the day after the big game, sports talk radio
chatter turned the topic from post-game analysis to the negotiations between
the NFL owners and the NFL players association, a looming
millionaire-versus-billionaire labor showdown that cast a shadow over the
whole season and now finally took center stage. The contentiousness between
the two parties got football fans everywhere considering the possibility of
a canceled season or watching scab teams. If nothing else, this situation
(which weeks later hangs in a stalemate due to the owners locking out the
players) imposed a discourse of labor politics on a wide swath of the
football-watching population. A great many apolitical fans are being forced
to think about the fact that labor conflict exists. And once engaged, a lot
of fans see the players as reasonable given their concerns about things like
cumulative head injuries and the owners refusal to disclose their profits.
Here in Wisconsin, it didn¹t hurt the image of the players association that
the Super Bowl MVP, Aaron Rodgers, the latest player to reach Packer
greatness, is also the team¹s union rep. Finally, there were the two Super
Bowl XLV competitors, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers,
each club named after the twentieth-century workers associated with those
towns, and each club bucking the labor-bosses faultline?the Packers with
their aforementioned anomalous shared ownership and the Steelers with their
outspoken owner, Dan Rooney, who has openly complained about the greed of
his fellow owners. The fact that both teams had this vestigial
identification with the working man, and whose current ownership didn¹t fit
the venal role played so well by that of other NFL clubs, and yet had risen
to the top of the competitive hierarchy by beating everybody else on the
field, dispelled the claim that labor-friendly relations lead to a decline
in quality and performance. If anything, these two teams proved that the
opposite is true. 

So this whole NFL thing, with the Packers as newly crowned champs after an
improbable, attention-getting run of four straight do-or-die victories (not
including the final game), has been running parallel to the Wisconsin
uprising. At times it crossed over, with some Packer players, including star
cornerback and team co-captain Charles Woodson, tweeting statements in
support of the Wisconsin state workers
G0706/Budget-debate-ensnares-tweeting-Packers-fans?odyssey=nav|head> . 
<http://prop-press.typepad.com/.a/6a0133f3da504b970b014e6027cc80970c-pi> The
Sunday, March 19 NYTimes sports section featured an article on the NFL
lockout and its effects on the town of Green Bay
2&sq=green%20bay&st=cse> . It was the first post-uprising piece on the
Packers I¹d seen, and it necessarily mentioned the political turmoil of the
state?not the usual thing for sports journalism.

On the question of spatial scale, the Packers reinforce state identity as a
constituency, because in Wisconsin the Packers are regarded as belonging to
the entire state and not just the city of Green Bay, literally owned by
thousands of shareholders around the state, and Packer fandom is practically
a secular religion binding together far-flung Wisconsinites, including those
of the Wisconsin diaspora. Also interestingly, of all the population centers
in Wisconsin, Madison is the least Packer-crazy town. Too many transients,
hoity intellectuals, and Chicago transplants, plus a fan focus on the
University of Wisconsin teams. So the NFL and Packer storylines spoke more
directly to the people of Wisconsin outside of liberal Madison than inside,
helping to generalize the politicized climate of labor strife to the far
corners of the state. Even more than that, the Super Bowl underlined a
fundamental turn in consciousness that informs any political uprising,
anywhere. And that turn happens when an angry people wanting to do something
become aware, and then are self-confident enough to tell themselves, ³Why
not us, and why not here?after all, we are somebody, we are somewhere.²

 And that's how we get pure Wisconsin action, like artist Rick Kurki showing
a new painting at a recent protest up north in Hayward, Wisconsin. Pic by
Pete Rasmussen.   

Not to overplay any of these factors?the Packers, Cairo, the built-in
activism of Madison?but taken together, they all mattered, they all
reinforced the tide. Then, as a movement imprinted with the stamp of
multiple places, signaling a simultaneous belonging, echoes of itcould be
heard in other places. Demonstrators in Albany on March 23 chanted
³Wisconsin, New York?the struggle is the same!²
sj_share_facebook>  Last week a solidarity event in LAdrew more than ten
thousand people 
6154>  and featured Wisconsin firefighter¹s union president Mahlon Mitchell
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzOir-Bcfww> , one of the scores of new
leaders to have emerged in the course of the last six weeks. Activists in
Michigan have measured the smaller demonstrations there against what
happened in Wisconsin
re%E2%80%99s-wisconsin-spirit> , trying to ascertain the different limits
under which a nascent Michigan movement toils. Movements sited in and
identified by place, whether that place is first thought of as a city, a
state, a country, or a region, are doing the work of validating the
movements of other places. We have learned from the world social forum
strategy from the past decade. No more summit hopping. We work where we
happen to find ourselves, but build into the process a sending and receiving
of signals from other places.

My attempt, speaking to Oaxaca and Wisconsin, from Chicago, pic by Alice


More to say about Wisconsin, good and bad, besides the Packer thing, but
moving on?. 

Let me end this post by addressing the state of the movement, in bullet
1. Now it is clear that the story of the fourteen senate Democrats who fled
the state in order to stall the passage of Walker¹s bill stands in danger of
overwriting the earlier heroism of the grassroots. Had not the Madison
teachers, public school students, firefighters union, the Teaching
Assistants Association, a goodly number of undergraduate students and lots
of independent citizens stuck their necks out in the days leading up to the
Flight of the Fourteen. And yet through all their hero¹s welcome, not one of
them has given full credit to the strategy of peaceful, legal escalation
that gave them the opportunity to take dramatic action with full confidence
of widespread support. Even worse are their exhortations to support the
Democrats, exclusive of the many elements making up the backbone of this
movement. As the struggle continues through a protracted phase without
further massively unifying attacks by the GOP, the splits between Democrats
and the grassroots will widen.
2. Walker won. His bill is still not clearly law, but he¹s not waiting
around for any court decision to implement it, even though every move he
makes toward implementing it further muddies the legalities. And the
question of political payback remains highly motivating, and there are
plenty of deserving targets, not only Walker himself. Through electoral
politics we will end the careers of at least a few, and make life at times
miserable for the rest through all manner of activist confrontation. But the
fact is, we will live with a seriously degraded state bureaucracy and a
dysfunctional state government, and a horribly unbalanced state budget for
years to come. Undoing the damage will be monumental task beyond the
capacities of the Democrats. Thus, one of the high points of the liberal
state structure?twentieth-century American Upper Midwestern state
government, effective, professional, and mostly non-partisan?in Wisconsin is
definitively no more. Time to roll up our sleeves, grab a tool, and start
planting or building whatever it is that we want to grow.
3. The movement response to the March 9 surprise assault by Walker and his
state senate minions remains unexamined. Surprising, when one considers the
fact that we know the day and even the moment the movement lost the battle
over Walker¹s bill. But perhaps not so surprising when we consider the
unpalatable truths such a examination would reveal. To begin with, the
failure to meaningfully respond begs the question, where, exactly, the union
interests lie? If the rank and file¹s willingness to strike was overridden
by the leadership, that is one thing, complete with an ugliness all its own.
But what if the basic conservatism of the unions crouched in a defensive
posture stands at cross purposes with those of us looking ahead to a
different world? In other words, what if, as Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs would
say, a job ain¹t the answer? Even though the various unions took all
different kinds of heroic and historic action over the last six weeks, I
can¹t help but point out that the visionary element is completely missing
from the union side, and the lost opportunity of March 9 showed us the price
of accumulating power without vision. Nicolas, Erin, and I are working up a
fuller treatment of March 9. Will post when it¹s ready.

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