7 Lessons Democrats and Progressives Should Learn From Wisconsin

No matter the outcome on June 5, the Wisconsin uprising is serving up a passel of lessons that Democrats and progressives should heed.

1. Grassroots organizing is powerful. It has been fascinating to watch the people of Wisconsin turn anger into action. They got behind their 14 Democratic state senators – yes, there are courageous politicians – and leveraged their rebellion into a campaign that collected hundreds of thousands of signatures, successfully recalled two state senators and may actually bring down a sitting governor. And they did it despite a system that in many respects was rigged and an opposition that fought dirty and maybe even illegally

2. Focus. The Badgers had a goal and they were singular in their efforts to accomplish it. They weren’t aiming for a perfect world, they only wanted to rein in a majority they feared was poised to destroy their state.

Progressives in contrast are all over the place. Granted there is a lot that deserves attention but behaving like the dog in UP can seriously damage a game plan. Today there are two core issues imperiling democracy, voter suppression and corporate money; until those are corrected everything else is a distraction.

3. React fast and furiously. While it was largely informal and spontaneous, the recall forces in Wisconsin had a fantastic response capability. Maybe in the end it won’t have sufficed to counteract the money and thus the media arrayed against them, but they certainly gave it their best shot. Remember the Fox piece claiming that protests around the state capitol had turned violent; the clip with the palm trees? The grassroots located the real subject of that tape (a demonstration in Sacramento, California months earlier) and within hours it was viral and Fox was debunked. They have kept this up for over a year – rebutting Walker’s versions of the truth almost before the words were out of his mouth.

4. Involve the media. No disputing that much of the media has been corrupted through corporate ownership but there are still journalists who do real research, ask probing questions, buck the tide, and tell the truth. Some, like Rachel Maddow, Robert Greenwald, and Bill Moyer have real platforms, others struggle to be heard. If a cause can grab the attention of one of the honest brokers, as Wisconsin did with David Corn and Ed Schultz, or Benton Harbor has with Maddow, then sometimes the MSM will, even if belatedly, follow.

5. Don’t Trust the Establishment. It is a nasty little secret that party leadership is dependent on maintaining the status quo. Example: in 2006 a sane and credible Democratic was running against one of Georgia’s signature crazy incumbents for congress. The incumbent was vulnerable and the challenger, escorted by a genuine hero of the party, went to Washington to drum up support. Candidate and hero were almost literally thrown out of Rahn Emanuel’s office by staffers who made it very clear that their boss, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), had no interest in assisting an outsider.

The Democratic Party’s tepid support in Wisconsin makes it clear that Emanuel was not alone. The base (again alerted by Wisconsin’s smart media management) pushed Debbie Wasserman Schultz into some last minute lukewarm assistance but it is clear that the party establishment has its own agenda. The base is expected to fund the DCCC, SCCC, national and local parties, and then go away. Wisconsin has shown us we should pick our own candidates and causes then support them with our efforts and whatever money we can spare. Let the establishment extract funding from the fat cats because that is where their allegiance lies.

6. Learn who is paying the bills. Anyone who has been awake for the last year knows about the Koch brothers and ALEC but it was Wisconsin that forced them out of the shadows. It is easy to find out who pays to elect your representatives at all levels. Follow the money and watch their votes. An alert and informed citizenry would never have allowed ALEC or the Kochs to gain the power and control they enjoy today.

7. Voting and due diligence are equally critical. Even if you feel like you are voting for the lesser of two evils it is still a lesser evil. All of the people who stayed home in 2010 because they were either too pure or too lazy to vote might have buried the entire country. At the very least they have dug a much deeper hole requiring us to undo two years of legislative mischief and outright repression to even get back to where we were in 2010.
But before you vote, find out what the hell you are voting for. Scott Walker may not have campaigned on his intention to disband the unions but he left plenty of clues about his ethics and ineptitude for those who were paying attention. Voters in Virginia had a ton of data about the intentions of Bob McDonald and the subsequent actions of John Kasich should certainly have come as no surprise to the people of Ohio.

As of this writing the polls and the pundits are giving the election “handily” to Walker.  The people of Wisconsin have already accomplished more than they probably thought possible and we need to realize that a defeat does not discount the lessons from their fight.  However, if the June 5 election does not put Tom Barrett in the governor’s chair the only lesson people may actually take from Wisconsin is that elections are only won by money and mendacity. That would be a shame.

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13 Replies to “7 Lessons Democrats and Progressives Should Learn From Wisconsin”

  1. THREE core issues. Separation of church and state is as important as the others (granted, they all tie together).

  2. Walkaway: You are preaching to the choir. I just don’t think we have a shot at that one until the configuration of SCOTUS is more in our favor. The others can be changed or at least modified through executive or legislative action.

  3. You have a good point, but I think that we need to consider the dominionists and all of the people who have been steeplejacked, because after all they do provide the foot soldiers. The reason why we did so bad in 2010 was because they were mobilized and many Democrats sat out. I also think we need to consider that the dominionist churches might be ready this time to take “foot soldier” to the next level… more than people trying to get out the vote and suppress the vote of Democrats like last time. (They do have Jesus Camp with Guns, after all.)

    BTW… the people at Talk2Action have been aware of ALEC and trying to get the word out since at least 2006. Wisconsin rather woke people up to the organization, but we’ve been trying to get people to see what is going on for quite a few years (and ALEC is tied to dominionism as much as to politics and the 1%… it seems to be kind of a go-between).

  4. “The polls and pundits”..yeah, I would question which polls and pundits? But whatever, it’s going to be about GOTV and I don’t get the idea that DWS is “lukewarm” over helping the People of Wisconsin giving Walker the pink slip.

    Maybe those polls and pundits’ prediction will backfire and only help with the critical GOTV.

    That is Excellent Advice for Dems who want PROGRESS TO FOLLOW,Yellow Dog Yankee!

  5. Walkaway – I first heard about ALEC from Bill Cronin but it was at about the same instant as the Wisconsin protests began and while that may have caused me to conflate the two in my mind I really think the latter served to draw a lot of attention to the former on a national basis.

    Cha – I truly, truly hope you are right.

  6. Sorry if I seemed to be criticizing… I don’t think that many people know that ALEC has been on the radar for a while.

    I’m not sure how we can deal with the third issue… the “foot soldiers” so to speak. There is nothing that will get through to them that they’re not only selling their fellow citizens to the 1%, but they’re selling themselves as well. They cannot hear that they’ve been following lies (it takes a pretty big amount of personal suffering to start breaking through the lies). And, of course, they have the right to vote, freedom of speech, religion, all that. It’s heartbreaking that all of that is being used against them and they don’t realize it.

    I guess the only thing is to get people out and voting, and hope that there are enough honest people left in law enforcement (like at the Fed level) to keep the Republican/Alec/dominionist crookedness to a minimum. That and hope and pray (if you do) that we can win.

    The other two issues, yeah, we might have a better chance at them, if the people we are counting on to do their jobs come through.

  7. Didn’t take it as criticism. And your analysis of the foot soldier issue is at the crux of the whole political problem. I find that people are even more likely to vote against themselves in the South – the two R’s – Religion and Racism.

  8. Walkaway … “I don’t think that many people know that ALEC has been on the radar for awhile.”
    ALEC has been around for 30 years. Where were the journalists investigative reporters? I started INVESTIGATING the Koch brothers after reading Jane Myers NYT. She should win the Pulizer prize. SHCCCC

  9. Any church that discusses politics during a church service (Mass, Temple, whatever your group calls it) should lose it’s tax exempt status throughout the church, not just the congregation.

    Any church that posts election ad signs on their property should lose their tax exempt status. (I’m in a small town in NC. Our polling place was next door to a church. The church had at least two dozen “Protect Marriage” pro initiative 1 signs on the front lawn right at the sidewalk beginning the day early voting started and they’re still there.)

    Any church that sponsors organized events that present only one side of a political issue should lose their tax exempt status.

  10. I’m not so sure about the issues thing… yeah, that church should have been punished for what it did (that sort of thing has happened in this county), but at the same time my church advocates for the poor, for racial and ethnic minorities, for people who work for a living, for LGBT people, for the environment (we strongly support sustainability), and so on. They could use the same argument to harm us and probably would if they could shut us down (the only organized liberal voice I know of in this county).

    I guess it would come down to this… are they trying to influence the election, or are they trying to inform the public? Is there duplicity involved, or just demonstrated facts (that could not be challenged in a scientific way or in a court of law)?

  11. I knew they’d been around for a while, but not that long. No wonder they’ve gotten as far as they have – they started around the time I walked!

    Do you know what year the article you mentioned was published? I wonder how long they’ve actually been on the radar, so to speak.

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