It’s Not About Hope…
By Alexa Nelen, a student from University of Central Florida
When it gets down to it, in order to speak for the people you must first speak to the people. We are witnessing an epidemic of offices being won not by the people’s vote but by the official’s ability to fundraise. When money outweighs community, and dollars equal votes, it’s no longer imperative that officials serve their constituency over the arbitrary desires of wealthy businesses. Those on the ground – students, teachers, middle/working/lower class families, laborers, women, unions, and minorities – are the ones most brutally affected by the streamline of “anti” legislation which varies from anti-woman to anti-sex, anti-worker, anti-community…etc. Those on the ground are also those not being heard; they’re collective voice cannot outweigh 90.3 million dollars from corporate and out of state sponsors that was funneled into Scott Walker’s 2012 Wisconsin recall campaign.
Why is this? As a nation in the wake of the Occupy protests, SlutWalk, and a number of other massive populist movements, we are constantly inundated by chants and war cries that aim to unite the people and empower us to move forward, but what happens when ordinary people have historically been neutralized and depoliticized? Those cries become radical and the left is viewed as a liability, not a sanctuary.
When I was in Wisconsin in the beginning of June, I worked with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin doing c4 political work on the recall Walker campaign. There was a clear consensus on why we were there: to demonstrate the power of the vote to the government of Wisconsin and to the nation watching. In county, state or federal elections, especially after the implementation of Citizens United, one finds oneself doing a lot of hoping. I personally view “hope” as an empty concept in which one has no power or control over the result or outcome. When one hopes, one is not necessarily acting; hope means we are waiting to find out what’s going to happen next and maybe it won’t be completely destructive. However, after Scott Walker revoked all collective bargaining rights from unions, started to defund Planned Parenthood, removed 65,000 women and children from BadgerCare (the state’s Medicaid program) among countless other anti-human measures, the people started to act. The Capitol building in Madison was crowded with hundreds, thousands of people for months. Direct action was taking a priority and it looked like the hope was subsiding and the state was now getting educated on what this meant for them and the families of Wisconsin.
Scott Walker’s measures were not only anti-labor and anti-Wisconsin, but the were anti-women measures. Walker particularly attacked teachers (disproportionately women) and women’s health. Women’s Health was one of the top three issues discussed in this recall election, which is a small but definitive victory for our nation. Years ago women’s health wasn’t a concern, let alone “controversial” as Walker put it while justifying why he defunded Planned Parenthood. Inevitably though, if Walker was defeated women’s health would not have to be discussed because it was vulnerable to extinction, but solely because of its importance to our society. Until gender equality has been achieved though, the issues of the “other” (i.e. women) will never be considered major issues to the patriarchal state.
The power in Wisconsin peaked when the coalition partners “We Are Wisconsin” recruited 50,000 volunteers in the final 96 hours before Election Day and knocked on 1.5 million doors throughout the state. Such small actions gave a powerful impact; in order to defeat Democrat Tom Barrett, Scott Walker had to out spend Barrett’s campaign eight to one. Walker also was guided to victory by numerous voter suppression acts, such as hanging campaign literature on thousands of doors in lower income communities with the wrong polling location; Walker’s campaign also spread word that Wisconsin citizens needed a photo ID in order to vote, which is certainly not true. These voter suppression acts affected the young, old, lower classes and minority races disproportionately because of the scarce resources available to these folks.
With tens of thousands boots on the ground, our “volunteer army” wasn’t enough to defeat Walker because the coalition wasn’t strong enough to defeat the questioning individuals who neither understood what the recall was about or how it would affect this nation past June 5. Wisconsin has been a key state in several federal elections; it has come into the depression with a surplus and economically sound. Therefore, with the dismantling of social programs and the working class with no consequences to Walker or his corporate sponsors, the precedent is set. Unless the people on the ground, those being torn apart and their allies come together to support what is correct and the rights of all citizens and non citizens, then the Walkers and Scotts and Perrys of the country will remain at the top of the power structure and the people will be relinquished to the bottom where their work is considered “unproductive”.
The direct action at the Capitol in Madison, as eye catching and powerful as it was, needs to persist. Further measures must be taken besides door knocking and phone banking for a liberal election. The “power of the people” comes from a combination of voice, movement and vote and when those are divided, they will be conquered.