More than 3,000 people showed up in Baraboo for Fighting Bob Fest last weekend to hear progressive Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), candidates Susan Happ and Mary Burke, and a big roster of speakers, thinkers, organizers and rabble-rousers from around the country.
Burke came out to address her base at a moment when it seemed she had a real chance to beat Scott Walker. And Sanders stopped by on his way to Iowa, where he is exploring an insurgent progressive presidential run.
But the energy behind Bob Fest (cosponsored by The Progressive, where I'm the editor) comes not from partisan elections, but from the drive to build a movement that can reclaim politics for ordinary people from what Fighting Bob La Follette called "the money power."
"Okay, I've got 15 minutes to start a revolution," said Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times correspondent and radical author Chris Hedges. Hedges denounced the "corporate coup d'Ã©tat" in the United States and called for a nonviolent popular movement using mass civil disobedience to "overthrow the corporate state."
An increasing number of Americans are getting it," he said. The "continued pillaging of the nation" has left half of America living in poverty or near-poverty. Instead of a rational response to the 2007 economic crisis, which would have included the immediate erasure of mortgage debt and student debt, a massive jobs program and universal health care, we saw a crackdown on Occupy, increased domestic spying and a bailout for the big banks.
The political system is broken, Hedges told the crowd. The political parties are hopelessly corrupt.
Naturally, the candidates who spoke had a different take.
Burke used a first-grader's artwork to illustrate her campaign themes: "Better schools, better jobs and a better Wisconsin."
She talked about her family's roots in Wisconsin, her grandparents' humble beginnings and her pride in the business her father built, the Trek Bicycle Corp.
In a strange political twist, Scott Walker has accused Trek of taking part in the global capitalist enterprise Hedges denounced, by exporting jobs to low-wage workers in China.
Walker is hardly an enemy of corporate globalization. His economic development agency has been handing out tax dollars to companies that close facilities and outsource jobs -- a practice the head of that agency actually defended.
Burke pointed out that Trek still employs almost 1,000 people in Wisconsin. And she made the obvious points about Walker's failure to create jobs, as he hands out sweetheart deals to his corporate contributors and cuts health care coverage for the poorest Wisconsinites.
"I talk to too many folks who are working harder and harder, but they are struggling," Burke said at Bob Fest. "They have a governor who doesn't seem to care."
Burke is not and never has been the candidate of the Wisconsin uprising or the Occupy movement that gives Hedges hope. But she is running a strong race against Walker. And that contributed to the generally good mood at this year's Fighting Bob Fest.
"They spent $7 million in attack ads, and I'm ahead in the polls," Burke said in her biggest applause line.
Maybe democracy can triumph over the corporate coup d'état after all, through a regular election led by a mainstream, pro-business Democrat.
On the Hedges side of the ledger, however, is the voter ID ruling, issued the day before Bob Fest, which is throwing the November election into doubt. It's possible that voter ID will allow Walker and his right-wing backers to keep power simply by preventing people from voting.
The system doesn't get much more broken than that.
The law, purportedly passed to solve the nonexistent problem of in-person voter fraud, is already causing chaos as state and local officials try to figure out whether thousands of absentee ballots that have already been cast are now invalid,
The voter ID ruling is "a little bit of a road bump," Burke told the Bob Fest crowd.
That's a major understatement. State Dems are scrambling to develop a ground game to get ID to voters and redouble their get-out-the-vote drive.
The same folks who came out to Bob Fest, worked on the recall and staged those massive protests will have to work heroically over the next several weeks to overcome this huge hurdle to democracy. Otherwise, the next step is joining Hedges' revolution.
Ruth Conniff is the editor of The Progressive.