Protests against Walker's budget plans have now continued into week two the Energizer Bunny ain't got nothin' on Wisconsinites. I admit that I'm having a harder and harder time getting out of bed in the morning, being that I'm only getting a handful of hours of sleep each night and spending my days running around in a manner not dissimilar to a chicken with its head cut off.
It's impossible not to, though, with so much going on that's so important.
Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down as part of a blogger roundtable interview with SEIU president Mary Kay Henry, who's in town to show support for the thousands of health care workers in Wisconsin who belong to that union.
She was very personable, knowledgeable, and dedicated to the fight for workplace fairness and equality not just for unionized employees but everyone which is, I think, a crucial part of the overall message and goal of this protest.
"When you look at the deindustrialization of Wisconsin," Henry noted, "we have to make a decision to invest in working people in order to lift communities back up. There's probably as many health care providers in the state as there used to be paper workers, so when you think of the health and well-being of our communities, and economic fairness, we have to lift wages and provide benefits for all workers, by the way, not just union jobs. That's what I hope punches through in all of this, that collective bargaining is the last line of defense for the American middle class."
Part of the debate about Walker's budget proposal that's been mostly overshadowed by the outcry over cutting collective bargaining, of course, is his desire to impose sweeping changes on the state's Medicare system. That affects BadgerCare, Family Care, and SeniorCare, among other things. It's all connected especially for home health workers and for the working, low-income people of the state in general. Henry was sure to address those problems, as according to Shawn Doherty's thoughtful piece in the Capital Times, "The provisions would allow the administration to revamp and even gut the programs without following state laws or the normal legislative processes."
This is just as serious of an issue as the threat to union rights and deserves just as much of our indignation. We're talking about putting into jeopardy the very well-being of our elders, the disabled, the most vulnerable populations in the state.
In other words, Walker's bill is a full-frontal assault on the regular folks of Wisconsin. If passed, the new budget would cause a serious hit to the quality of life for everyone in the state. The poorest among us would get it the worst, of course, because they're always the ones to take it on the chin when the very wealthy feel threatened.
But wait; there's more! Also buried within the budget repair bill is another gobsmacking piece of the conservative agenda that would "allow for the selling of state-owned heating/cooling/power plants without bids and without concern for the legally-defined public interest."
That's provision 16.896 and it's a doozy. Read more at the link above to get the full flavor of this blatant, deregulatory power grab (it's also directly tied to the Koch brothers, like much of Walker's playbook and wallet).
Debate over the bill looks to get heated and very lengthy as the Assembly goes into session today. Assembly Democrats have apparently crafted over 100 amendments to the bill, presumably to address the many ridiculous provisions within the current version. Senate Democrats remain in hiding in Illinois, rightly refusing to return until Walker agrees to do his job and actually negotiate with them.
I'll be returning to the capitol to cover events as they unfold. I'm hopeful that the protests will remain peaceful (especially since security at the capitol has only intensified over time), though I wouldn't be surprised to see them return to the loud, boisterous type of mid-last week. You can follow my real-time updates via my Twitter feed.
The circus comes to town
I've been slightly uncomfortable by some of the developments and changes to the protest that occurred over the weekend. While the overall tenor of events has been peaceful and focused on the issues at han with scores of volunteers stepping in to keep the capitol building and grounds clean, donating food and water to protesters, and generally maintaining a really convivial atmosphere there have been moments when I've found myself wondering if some of this wasn't just turning into theatre.
Heck, I like theatre, too but I worry that some of it could be detrimental to the movement. It becomes difficult to avoid once the national media descends, of course. Last night The Daily Show's John Oliver showed up to tape a segment which will presumably air on this evening's show. I'm all for The Daily Show covering the protests indeed, more national and international attention is a crucial component to putting pressure on Walker and Republicans to do the right thing but their very presence can influence certain individuals to show up simply for the attention, instead of to actually support the cause.
I would hate to see all of the time, effort, and passion of the protesters go to waste because a few folks get distracted by the lights of the cameras. As things drag on it becomes more important than ever to stay focused and determined. There's simply too much at stake not to.
The schedule of events
Today and tomorrow look to be the biggest days of the week in terms of events and protests. This morning, the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to and rallied with students, staff and parents at East High School. The Assembly meets to debate the budget bill today, so the rotunda should be buzzing with activity yet again.
There are rallies planned for today at noon and again at 5 p.m. on the State Street steps of the capitol.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) should be especially interesting: Wisconsin Manufacturer's and Commerce, a notoriously right-wing corporate lobby with way too much influence in our capitol, is holding a "Business Day in Wisconsin" at the Monona Terrace Convention Center...which is just a couple blocks away from the capitol building in Madison. Featured guest speakers at this event include Rep. Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker (this event was organized prior to the beginning of the protests, so keep your eyes peeled if they make any last minute agenda changes). A picket is being organized by Wisconsin Wave at 1 p.m. - more details here.
One last note
I've been thinking a lot about the bigger picture for Scott Walker in all of this. Certainly the budget repair bill and killing of high speed rail have done a lot to piss off large swaths of the Wisconsin population. Many Republican-identified constituents have turned against him since it all went down.
Nationally, however, I worry that this is just part of a long-term strategy to catapult Walker to higher office. What he's doing is, after all, a neo-con GOP wet dream: union busting, attacking health programs for the lower classes, killing public transit plans, blatant favoritism toward the wealthiest individuals and corporations that support him in return.
Walker already enjoys the support of the now notorious Koch brothers, and the national attention he's now receiving can only be further endearing him to the hard-liners within the party. Walker may well end up being the next darling of the Republican party because of what he does in Wisconsin despite the fact that, if left unchecked, what he does here could well ruin the state.
It's something well worth keeping an eye on who all has an interest in the Walker administration, especially from outside of the state? I never wanted this guy to leave Milwaukee County, let alone be loosed on the country at large. Let's see that that doesn't happen, shall we?