I haven’t blogged much about Wisconsin for two reasons. First, based on my experience organizing anti- Iraq war protests, getting hundreds of thousands in the streets is no guarantee that demands will be met. You may just be ignored. Second, there’s been no call to arms from the major unions, no talk of massive solidarity strikes or walkouts. The hierarchy of the big unions are part of the problem, not the solution, and there’s no indication they will do the right thing.
I followed the Saturday rally in Madison of 100,000 or more quite closely, mostly because I was sick at home and had time to do it and also because my daughter Natasha was there writing about it. Truly inspiring to see so many different types of folks come out into the streets to defend basic rights. This was a Heartland of America moment, for sure.
The anti Iraq war protests were sometimes huge, often heartening – and accomplished little. The Wisconsin protests seem the same. It’s going to take more the hundreds of thousands in the streets saying Hooray for our side to get real change.
But we were not winning. This was not, as Nichols put it, a “momentary legislative defeat.” It was, instead a jolting tectonic shift that, if not properly recovered from, could become the beginning of the end of American trade unionism as we know it.
There is absolutely NO guarantee that there is anything “momentary” about this.
The response from the Democratic Party and big labor has mostly been crickets.
Now, I fear, it’s time for another round of kabuki. Hundreds of thousands have been raised in the name of the Wisconsin fight. OK, but where does it go and what will it mean? A demonization of the Republican right and stepped-up GOTV efforts by unions on behalf of Democrats. Fair enough. But it all seems like a hamster running on a cage wheel.
What is going to allow this movement to become a movement and if it does, where will it go and what will its political expression be? Elect Democrats?
The Democratic Party has been virtually mute on this, no big surprise there. They abandoned the unions and the working class in everything but name long ago. Thinking they will actuallly support labor in any meaningful way is delusion.
For real change in this country. we need something along the lines of a major populist uprising that has no ties to either party.
Look at what Noam Chomsky said about those anti war protests. Just something to think about.
(And there has been talk of a general strike. One union endorsed it, but they can’t legally call for one. The president of the firefighters union did the same thing….and the response of the Democrats? it’s to co-opt this as much as possible so that it gives them a short term electoral advantage without it becoming as militant as it needs to be)
The Iraq War – there was massive protests before it officially started, and I stress “officially” because your candidate for president of the, presidency of the EU, and his colleague George Bush knew that they were already…start[ing] the war when they were putting on a show about wanting diplomacy and so on. But before it was officially started – March, 2003 – there was a massive international protest. I think that’s the first time in history that an imperialist war has been massively protested before it was officially begun… There was no saturation bombing by B-52s, there was no chemical warfare – horrible enough, but it could’ve been a lot worse.
And furthermore, the Bush Administration had to back down on its war aims. Step by step, it had to allow elections, which they didn’t want to do; mainly a victory for nonviolent Iraqi protest. They could kill insurgents, they couldn’t deal with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets, and their hands were tied by the domestic constraints…They had to back down…Iraq’s a horror story, but it could’ve been a lot worse. So, yes, citizen protest can do something…we know that from this and many other examples. When there’s no protest and no attention, the power just goes wild. Like in Cambodia, Northern Laos.
–Noam Chomsky, “Crises and the Unipolar Moment,” October, 2009
Hmm, well, maybe! It sure didn’t seem that way at the time…