(via Josh Healey)
For most of the last decade, I lived in the crazy, cold, contradictory state that is Wisconsin. I wrote research papers in Madison, performed poems in Milwaukee, walked picket lines in Jefferson, organized student conferences in Eau Claire, led artistic workshops in Green Bay, spoke at my roommate’s wedding in Merrill, and went camping with my future wife at Black River Falls.
A big-city kid from the East Coast, I never fully got used to the overwhelming whiteness of Wisconsin — the winter, and yes, the people. But I eventually learned how to wear five layers in February, and that amidst the farms and abandoned factories, there was a working-class people with a strong populist ethic. As my freshman roommate from Wausau once told me, “Josh, I don’t follow politics. I just hate corporations.”
Fast-forward to 2011: the new Republican Governor, Scott Walker, has declared war on my old roommate and all Wisconsin workers. Under the guise of a budget deficit, Walker just put forth a bill that would destroy the unions that represent teachers, social workers, and over 100,000 public employees. He’s also making huge cuts to schools, health care, public transportation, and anything that actually helps people live.
Want more crazy? Walker ordered the National Guard to get ready to respond to a strike or any resistance to his plan. The last time Wisconsin called in the National Guard during a labor dispute was way back in 1886, when Guard militiamen shot on a rally of Milwaukee workers advocating an 8-hour work day. Five unarmed workers were killed in the massacre.
I loved living in Wisconsin. Truth be told, I hated it many times too, especially when its ugly side came out like now. I was fighting this same struggle during most of my junior and senior years at UW. Our campaign demands were nothing new: lower tuition for students, better health care for workers, higher taxes on the rich, and a real investment in public education over private incarceration. That was with Jim Doyle in office. But now with this dude Walker, it’s at a whole new level.
Of course, the people aren’t going down without a fight. There have been unprecedented demonstrations at the state Capitol in Madison every day this week — from 1,000 the first day to over 25,000 yesterday.
I wish I could be out there on State Street with my Badgers in the struggle, but at the very least, I can do my best to spread the word. So for all my old students and roommates taking to the streets, and for everyone else wondering what the hell is going on in America’s Dairyland, let’s clear some things up:
1. The deficit is a made-up crisis.
Like most states, Wisconsin is struggling in the recession, but the state government isn’t actually broke. The state legislature’s fiscal bureau estimated the state would end the year with a $121 million balance. Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — but it is not because of an increase in worker wages or benefits. According to the Capital Times, it is because “Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for corporate and special-interest groups in January.” Nice. A man-made “crisis” as an excuse to push neoliberal cutbacks: Shock Doctrine, anyone?
2. Even if there was a deficit, blame Wall Street — not the workers.
The economy isn’t crumbling because state workers in Madison have decent pensi