By now, it's unlikely that anyone besides Scott Walker would dispute that the protests at the Wisconsin state Capitol have energized the labor movement, as well as citizens throughout the state and nation. What became clear during raconteur Michael Moore's 30-minute talk this afternoon is that these events have also radicalized the public, in ways no one anticipated and those in power should perhaps fear.
Between a performance by Michelle Shocked and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin telling the audience that "this is the fight of our lives," Moore delivered a rousing speech full of invective toward the ruling class. There was nothing surprising about that. What was surprising is that his speech was received, seemingly from every quarter of the crowd -- estimated from the podium at 50,000 and by police as "tens of thousands" -- with thunderous applause.
Moore began by showering praise on the "Wisconsin 14" -- the state senators who have fled to Illinois rather than let Walker's assault on collective bargaining rights be passed.
"This kind of resolve we're used to seeing on the other side," said Moore, referring to Republicans. "They only need one of them [to cave] and they won't do it. And they're Democrats!"
Moore then launched into a critique not just of Scott Walker but of contemporary American capitalism. Again the response was enthusiastic -- more than I would have thought possible for his thoroughly radical message. (I once introduced Michael Moore at an overflow event at the UW-Madison. But it was nothing like this.)
"America is not broke," declared Moore, playing off of Walker's incessant refrain that Wisconsin "is broke" -- except, of course, when it comes to givebacks to businesses and the rich. "The country is awash in cash," Moore assured everyone. "It's just not in your hands." He identified what he said were the world's three biggest lies: 1) Wisconsin is broke; 2) there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; 3) the Packers need Favre in order to win the Super Bowl.
Applause and cheers, from tens of thousands.
Moore talked about the nation's growing economic disparities, saying the total amount of wealth held by the nation's 400 richest individuals is equal to the assets of 155 million Americans on the other end of the spectrum. He said people don't like to admit what has happened in America in recent years but that it is time to face facts: "We have indeed surrendered our precious democracy to the wealthy elites."
Boos and catcalls, from tens of thousands.
Moore charged that 'the very people who don't pay taxes crashed our economic system," referring to the economic collapse of late 2008. He said these wealthy few manipulated things to their advantage and everybody else's detriment, by threatening to crash the economy unless the taxpayers came along to bail them out. He describes the nation's meek response: "Take our money. We don't care. We'll even print more for you!"
Afterward, he said, the fat cats were writing huge bonuses to themselves and laughing about "how perfectly they had played a nation of suckers."
Boos and catcalls, from tens of thousands.
Moore continued, "But there was no revolt -- UNTIL NOW!" Applause and cheers, from tens of thousands.
"I am so proud of you," Moore said, Tammy Baldwin by his side. "You have aroused a sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America! Right now, the earth is shaking and the ground is shifting under the feet of those who are in charge. Your message has inspired people in all 50 states, and that message is: 'We have had it!'"
He added, mischievously, "We are all Wisconsinites now." Chuckles from tens of thousands.
The crowd at one point picked up his chant: "The United States of America!" Moore ran with it. "Thank you, Wisconsin. Right now is our last best chance to grab what is left of America. One thing is certain: Madison is only the beginning!"There was more from Moore. "The rich have overplayed their hand." They aren't content to just ship jobs overseas. Now they want to strip school teachers of their dignity. The rich want to "demean and dehumanize" the working class. The media are flummoxed over what is occurring, unable to get the story right. (Um, Michael, maybe you ought to check out TheDailyPage.com.)
He wrapped up on a high note. "Madison, you are not alone. America thanks you! Don't give up. Please, don't give up."
Applause and cheers from tens of thousands, none of whom had any intention of giving up anytime soon.