If you read my article about the protests surrounding the inauguration of Gov. Scott Walker, you already have a good idea of what went on. Today I aim to give you a more personalized account and critique of the event, and some thoughts about the future of our fair state under the Walker administration.
Inauguration day dawned gray, cloudy but in the comparatively balmy 20s -- so I decided to bundle up and avoid any potential traffic snarls by riding my bike up to the Capitol. I got there in time to catch the very beginning of the protest rally that had been informally planned via Facebook, as a dozen or so people gathered at the Martin Luther King Blvd. side of the building.
People seemed remarkably upbeat, given the cold weather and impending swearing in of a guy they all clearly cared very little for. A few were working on a long painted banner which read "Hey Scott Walker! You work for us now!" Two young men carried signs trumpeting the personal and financial benefits of stem cell research, something the new Republican controlled Legislature is already in the process of attacking via a bill that would deny tax breaks for facilities where the research is conducted.
Around 10:45 a.m., I took a walk around to the State Street side of the building, where a contingent of some 300 protesters who'd taken buses in from Milwaukee were just arriving. Organized by a coalition of neighborhood, labor, and faith-based groups, they represented the concerns of working class people in Wisconsin's largest city. I was heartened to see them there -- honestly, they added a level of diversity (economic, racial, cultural) all too often missing from Madison demonstrations. A fuller representation of all the voices of our state's citizenry is crucial if the progressive movement is to succeed.
The group from MLK soon moved to join everyone on the State Street steps, where a series of speakers took turns at a microphone -- each echoing a similar sentiment: Jobs.
An unemployed mother, a minister who'd had his church office broken into by some desperate soul, and several others all implored the incoming Republican government to focus on bringing sustainable, good paying jobs to the state. And that's the key: We're not talking about just any old job. We're talking about the kind of employment that offers people the chance to live a decent life, to have a family, to not have to worry about going bankrupt should they get sick. A livable wage. Benefits.
It's never too much to ask for, not even in a down economy, that employers treat their employees with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, too many business leaders and politicians seem to think that the answer to our country's financial woes is to slash and burn the working class -- instead of where there's actually fat to trim at the very top.
I shot video of the speech given by Milwaukee Area Labor Council Chief Operating Office Sheila Cochran, which I think offers a good representation of the sentiments of most who gathered at the protest:
My only point of contention with the protest itself is solely the responsibility of a small group of "anarchists" who showed up and attempted to hijack the proceedings. The black flag waving, face mask wearing kids tend to have a presence -- albeit a small one -- at almost every lefty rally I've been to or seen. When you read about violence or vandalism at a left-leaning protest, it's almost always the doing of the anarchists and not the majority of the protesters.
They drive me nuts.
Honestly, this group annoys me just about as much as any hardcore neo-con -- because they represent extremes, and extremes are dangerous. Not to mention hypocritical! I couldn't help but notice that one of the guys holding a black flag was wearing name brand clothing and looked pretty well fed and groomed. I suspect that actual anarchy would not sit well with him.
It didn't help, either, that several of the group took to shouting contrary chants -- as when they yelled "Walker's head!" in response to a "What do we want? (Jobs!)" call. I was especially appalled when one of them screamed "God's dead and we killed him!" at one of the men who got up to speak, simply because he'd said "...with God's help we can do this."
I'm about as firm a believer in the separation of church and state as you're likely to find, but even I have respect for the faiths of other people. Attitudes and sentiments like the one so inelegantly expressed by that young man in black are deeply harmful to the movement he supports -- because it ostracizes many of its own members, and gives the hard right something to point to and say, "See! The left hates your religion!" (wrong as that is).
Still, other than that small clutch of misguided souls, the rally exceeded my expectations. Because it was a cold morning of standing around outside, because it was a weekday, because this is just the beginning of the Walker administration, I didn't have high hopes for a particularly high turnout.
Somewhere between 400 and 600 people did show up, though -- with signs, with layered clothing, with passion and determination to make their voices heard. And I admire each and every one of them.
(It's worth noting that I'm pretty sure I experienced a rare Blaska In the Wild spotting near the end, when my fellow TDP blogger wandered up to the then almost entirely dispersed rally and began telling one woman holding a "Good Jobs Now!" sign how great Walker was going to be for that purpose. Seeing as how Walker's already responsible for the loss of thousands of jobs due to his sending back the federal high speed rail grant, I don't think she believed him.)
View the full set of photos I took at the rally here.
Why we fight
Though several of the speakers at the rally expressed their willingness to "work with" the Walker administration on job creation and other important issues, I'm not entirely optimistic that Walker is remotely interested in reciprocating.
Already he's authorized Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to join a lawsuit against the federal health care overhaul. I've yet to see any studies about exactly how much money this will cost the state -- in terms of Van Hollen's work hours spent on the project, anyway. Though, if successful, the lawsuit has the potential to negate some "$365 million in GPR savings over the next five years for Wisconsin's Medicaid and BadgerCare programs for children, mothers and low income residents."
Add that to the $810 million in federal high speed rail grant money that Walker returned and we're already looking at a just over $1 billion chunk of lost change when we've got a $2.71 billion budget deficit.
In his inaugural address yesterday, Walker laid out a five-part pledge of what he hopes to accomplish during his time as governor:
- Wisconsin is open for business. We will work tirelessly to restore economic growth and vibrancy to our state. My top three priorities are jobs, jobs, and jobs.
- We will right-size state government by ensuring government is providing only the essential services our citizens need and taxpayers can afford. My fellow state workers, I invite you to partner with me in this necessary work.
- We will also remain focused on the long term, creatively improving our education system so that our children can be competitive in a global marketplace.
- We will protect our vital natural resources.
- And we will honor and respect the foundational role of the family in our society.
He claims his "top three priorities are jobs, jobs, and jobs" but he's already operating at a deficit of thousands since killing high speed rail.
Walker also says government will "only" provide "essential services our citizens need and taxpayers can afford." While I'm all for more mindful spending (that is, cutting waste and making sure money goes to those who truly need it), I have a strong suspicion that Walker simply intends to cut back on crucial services used by the most needy citizens. He has stated, after all, his desire to significantly shrink the rolls of BadgerCare.
The phrase "creatively improving our education system" sends more than a few shivers down my spine. Does education need reform? Yes; in implementing comprehensive sex education, in better science and math education, in making sure at-risk kids aren't left behind, in paying our good teachers what they're actually worth, in ensuring that the arts and music don't suffer disproportionately. None of that's really important to Walker and his ilk, though. They're more concerned with unproven or potentially destructive programs like vouchers, union busting, and abstinence-only education.
I'm not sure how Walker plans to reconcile "protecting our vital natural resources" with his call to lessen regulations on businesses in the state. Said regulations do things like protect Wisconsin from environmental destruction wrought by careless companies.
And finally, his pro-family stance at the end may sound all nice and fluffy, but based on pretty much everything Republicans in the state have said and done in the past -- including his Lt. Gov., Rebecca Kleefisch -- you can bet what he really means is no equal rights for gays and lesbians.
All of this is to say that progressives in Wisconsin have a long, hard fight ahead of them if there's any hope of just maintaining the rights realized and progress made over the years.