Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dispatch from Wisconsin

What follows here is an excerpted from an e-mail from Chris Blythe, a Wisconsin state worker and (undoubtedly long-suffering) spouse of a Wisconsin teacher. Chris's enthusiasm and passion speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Unbelievable rally yesterday!! Temperature was about 18 degrees and it snowed the whole time. Still, close to 100,000 people showed up!! (...) The square was packed shoulder to shoulder - couldn't even hardly move in the streets. There were so many people marching in the street before the rally that it took us about 30 minutes to go 2 blocks!! It was amazing to just see a sea of people in every direction. I have never seen/felt so much energy and togetherness, not even from the presidential candidate rallies I've been to here. Just imagine what will happen when we actually get a NICE day!!

Started out with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary) singing a bunch of union songs. Then a bunch of speakers - some union, an actor (Bradley Whitford of "The West Wing") who is from Madison, plus "Skilley" (Jeff Skille, the co-pilot hero who helped land the plane on the Hudson River 2 years ago). He's from just outside of Madison and he RIPPED the governor and the right-wing crazies, while laying lavish praise on the teachers who are educating his kids. He is a huge hero around here, so it was great to have him point out that when they landed the plane and saved everyone aboard all the people involved - pilots, flight attendants, EMR workers, rescue boat operators, cops, firemen, etc. - were all UNION members, working together for the common good. Then more union members, including a not-too-articulate but incredibly passionate snow plow driver who has become somewhat of a folk hero for his speeches, trademarked by his concluding (and clearly unscripted) statement "AND BY CHRIST, I AIN'T GOIN' ANYWHERE!!!"

This is not going away. On Tuesday our gov will introduce his budget bill that will drastically slash aids to schools, health care for the poor, and municipalities. Then people are REALLY going to be pissed. And the passion here is already running very deep. I've run into so many people I know at the marches, many of whom I would never dream of seeing at a political rally and they are all fired up. One such woman yesterday told me "I don't care if they fire me - I'm not going away!" And they will get the same response from me if they (my bosses) ever ask me to defend any of the governor's proposals in court. Diane & I will both be taking a cut (and keep in mind that we've taken cuts each of the past several years) of somewhere in the range of 8-15%...

I have never seen such an egotistical, arrogant ideologue as Scott Walker in all my years in politics. If you've listened to his phone call with "David Koch" you know what I'm talking about. The guy thinks he is Ronald Reagan and that he's going to be the new leader of the right-wing conservative movement. I don't know what's more pathetic - his shameless ass-kissing of the guy he thinks is a billionaire contributor, or the fact that he considered bringing in trouble makers to stir up the rallies, and thereby risk the safety of everyone.

It's really great to see all the rallies in all the states (all 50, according to news reports) in support of worker rights and what we're standing up for here in Wisconsin. They mentioned that at the rally yesterday and it got one of the biggest cheers of the day. Carol & Rick - thanks for the picture and the poster with our names on it! And we noticed the Wisconsin sweatshirt, too! It's also amazing how much support we're getting from all the private labor unions, plus the firefighters, who would be exempt under Walker's bill. They don't have to be here but they are every day, and as soon as they start up with their bagpipes, it brings tears to your eyes.

As you know, Cathy is an aide to Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader, who has become one of the stars of our side of the fight. It's nice to get a lot of the inside scoop on what's going on behind the lines in the Capitol. She's pretty much been living down there the past couple of weeks. As we mentioned, if you want to help out financially, send contributions to "Act Blue for the Assembly."

A few items to note, if you're ever talking to people or writing letters, etc.:

-Not once during his campaign, did Walker ever mention his plan to eliminate collective bargaining.

-Walker has NEVER returned a single phone call to any union representative since the election.

-The unions have publicly stated that they will agree to pay and benefit cuts, but not the elimination of collective bargaining rights, yet Walker continues to state that he will not negotiate on anything.

-When the Republicans rammed this bill through the Assembly, they only left the vote open for 17 SECONDS until they got their 51 votes, then abruptly closed the vote, clearly for the purposes of: a) not letting most Dems vote (they were all in line at the microphone to speak on the bill); and b) letting a bunch of Repubs off the hook by not having to cast an unpopular vote. So after 61 hours of debate, during which the Republicans rejected EVERY SINGLE AMENDMENT offered by the Dems, they called for the vote without warning, then shut it off in less than 17 seconds. Democracy? I think not.

-The so-called "budget repair bill" not only eliminates collective bargaining rights for nearly all state workers, it also: a) drastically cuts Badger Care, and health care program for poor people (mostly kids) that was initiated by a Republican Governor (Tommy Thompson); b) adds 35 political appointees for the governor throughout state agencies; c) gives the governor almost unbridled unilateral power to implement "emergency" rules for any state agency; and d) allows the state to sell public power plants through a no-bid process (are you paying attention, Koch brothers?).

-In addition, since he has been governor, Walker has:
1) rejected federal funds in the amount of $800 million for a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee
2) rejected $23 million in federal funds for high-speed internet access in rural parts of Wisconsin
3) enacted "tort reform" making it much harder to ever sue a negligent business (this includes a provision that bans a patient who has been abused by a nursing home from using state investigative reports of that home when suing the institution)
4) made it nearly impossible to add any additional wind power through draconian regulations regarding the construction of windmills (in a state that imports 96% of its energy)

-the legislature is on the verge of passing a "voter ID" bill that would require all voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls in order to vote - clearly aimed at suppressing the votes of minorities and students

The one good aspect of all of this is that Walker has succeeded in doing what many of us could not - he has re-energized and awakened the union/democratic movement in Wisconsin in a way that I thought could never happen. And I do not think this is a temporary movement that will fade away in a few days or weeks.

Thanks for your continued support & interest - come to Wisconsin and bring your friends and join us on the streets!

P.S. One of the better lines of the day yesterday - "Governor Walker, thanks for ruining our Super Bowl Party!"
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