Friday, March 11, 2011

On The Continuing Protests In Madison, Wisconsin.

As impressive as the tens of thousands of Wisconsinites have been in protesting the harsh austerity bill being pushed through by Governor Scott Walker, let's not overlook the fact that this battle is just getting started.  Any lulls in protest activity are still punctuated by huge protests on the weekends and literal signs for a general strike are appearing and being carried all over town.  Horns are still blasting around the Capitol building at any given hour and vigils are still being maintained.  There is a sense that the unions, and the rest of the populace, are preparing themselves for the next round.  And as hard as it might be to conceive of these huge recent protests as part of a rope-a-dope strategy... it is the general population that has been playing gently with the Governor thus far.  History has shown us that the masses ultimately have the power, if they are willing to use it, and it doesn't appear that the right-wing has a very thoughtful tactician to guide them through the impending battles. 

That said... the protest movement, particularly insomuch as it is being manipulated by mainstream politicians and self-appointed marshals, could falter.  It will be up to individuals, thinking for themselves and communicating their ideas horizontally, to prevent this movement from becoming too watered-down and compromising.  It should not be misunderstood -- the power at this point is in the hands of the masses of protesters.  Not to put too much of fine point on it, but it's somewhat reminiscent of the scene in Fight Club when Tyler Durden reminds the local politician...
"The people you are after are the people you depend on. We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances, we guard you while you sleep. Do not fuck with us."
I'm not suggesting that union members should start fight clubs, and lord knows I wouldn't want to go fisticuffs with a steelworker, but the point is that no one should allow their power or importance in society to be diminished -- especially when considered collectively as part of mutually beneficial organization.  The people hold the real power in this world -- as long as they are willing to use it.  They should not be looking to give concessions -- they should be looking to take them, all of them.  And when the grassroots "leadership" starts talking about giving concessions... their megaphones should be shoved somewhere the sun doesn't shine.  The notion of giving concessions at this point is beyond ridiculous -- unless you're willing to take yet another step towards giving everything away. 

What needs to be understood is that this right-wing putsch by Governor Walker, and it is an attack on far more than worker's rights, was a blunder which must be thoroughly capitalized upon.  Right-wing asses are showing and now is not the time to help them pull up their pants or to offer them your extra pair.  The right-wing putsch has suddenly accelerated the political pendulum -- and we need to take the momentum on the back-swing to topple everything the right-wingers stand for.

With this harsh but simplistic legislation proposed in Wisconsin, the far right has brought everything they've been doing in recent years under sudden and intense scrutiny.  And I've made a point in not referring to Walker and the state Republicans as "conservatives" because that's simply not what they are.  Take, for example, the provisions for no-bid contracts included in the budget bill.  That's not conservative at all -- and it's hardly even capitalism.  At best it's crony capitalism and that's a first cousin to corporatism.  The point is... it's corrupt, expensive, and a big change from the way things legally are supposed to be.  It's hardly conservative in any way.  And, because of the overreach, people are paying more attention to such issues than they otherwise would. 

But the issues go far beyond crony capitalism -- as corrupt as that might be.  And the positions of state politicians in Wisconsin are reflective of the corrupt and expensive policies pushed by politicians in Washington, D.C. on the national level.  For example, getting to the point, let's look at the cost of the current wars.  It's been estimated that if only 151 soldiers from Wisconsin were returned from Afghanistan... the savings from their deployment costs would cover the budget deficit.  If the war in Afghanistan were stopped altogether... that would amount to savings of $1.7 billion dollars, for Wisconsin alone, in just the first year after the war ended.  And again... we see that the wars aren't pushed by "conservative" politicians but, rather, by right-wing politicians.  For pragmatic purposes alone this point should be reiterated until the cows come home.          

And then... let's look at the prison-industrial complex.  In Wisconsin, as with the rest of the country, this industry has seen explosive growth in the past few years.  But beyond the money which gets cycled through the growing government bureaucracy for this institution... it's a very expensive burden for society in general.  This is speaking in terms of the costs for keeping so many people locked up (usually non-violent drug offenders) and in terms of what it does to society.  Sure, some corporations get sweetheart deals for prison labor, but generally speaking... families are driven into poverty, the generational cycle of crime and incarceration increases, and more and more people get locked up for lesser and lesser crimes.  Simply speaking, compared to the cost benefits of drug treatment and better schools, the prison-industrial complex is a huge drain on society.  So again... we aren't looking at a "conservative" issue but, rather, a right-wing issue.  This becomes more apparent when we look at the racial identities of those who are incarcerated.        

Also, let us not forget about the corporate bailouts (which were in addition to the regular corporate subsidies).  This is pure corporatism, and as Mussolini himself pointed out...
"Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism as it is the merger of state and corporate power."
As teacher salaries are slashed and social programs are cut.... the wealthy were given bonuses -- usually in more ways than one.  But I won't even get into this topic since the details are known to almost everyone (except for maybe the Tea Party people). 

And it should be pointed out that the Democrats are often quite complicit, even directly complicit, in creating many of the policies discussed in this article.  I know that may be hard for some to hear, and the Democrats often look like humanitarians compared to the Republicans, but voters need to move on -- the American system of politics is a good cop/bad cop routine which has ended up taking away your rights and your material security.  The Republicans attack and then the supposedly liberal (or moderate) Democrats come in to make concessions and save the day.  Rinse and repeat until we all end up down the drain.  

But the real problem comes about when people don't connect the seemingly separate issues (the wars, the prison-industrial complex, the bailouts, and the attack on worker's rights) as being part of the same overall right-wing corruption.  So, for example, if the public workers want more people to understand and join their struggle... they should be addressing broader issues which effect many lives (and which are incredibly expensive to everyone).  If you want worker's rights, fine -- but why should anyone side with you if you don't want to address the other serious issues which are cost-related?  Not everyone knows about unions, but a lot of people have family members who lost their homes, or who have been killed in the wars, or who have been sent away for a pocketful of joints.  

When all of these issues are acknowledged together... a broad coalition of people will be formed -- in addition to the strong numbers already showing up at the Capitol to protest.  When this broader coalition takes to the streets together... the only issue then will be in showing continued solidarity as the right-wing starts making concessions.  And have no doubt... to maintain their power, and their very tangible wealth, the right-wingers will have to start making concessions.  They absolutely can (and will) be forced to make concessions.  But even when all the union employees end up getting raises... there will still be issues that effect them in the long term.  Even if these current wars are ended, equally imprudent new ones may be quickly orchestrated, and the prison-industrial complex will still be ripping communities apart.  All of these issues are connected and will end up coming back to haunt us -- unless we force very broad fundamental changes.  That may sound daunting, but unless you want to merely be hacking at the branches... this is the type of protest movement we need.  That is to say... we need a revolutionary movement.  And it will be a populist movement as well. 

Finally, before closing, I would like to say a few words about protest tactics.  Although I've learned a lot from what I've already seen coming out of Madison... I've been involved with many major protests (WTO, G20, et cetera) over the last decade and I've given the matter of protests some considerable thought.  So, if I may be so bold, I'd like to offer up some thoughts and suggestions... 

First of all, despite being overwhelmingly popular, this protest movement will continue to have critics.  But no matter how mild you are or how many concessions you might offer... the right-wing media will still criticize and demonize everything you do.  So, instead of trying to placate any uninvolved portion of the population with meek actions, the protesters will gain more support if they step things up with bold actions.  Even when the traffic finally gets stopped and someone can't make it home in time to watch American Idol... that person needs to be made to understand that these issues are about them, about their lives, and their families, and the future of their community.  Wake them from their slumber, get them to join the protests and actually live.  If they can't (or won't) grasp what's at stake... don't sweat it -- and don't let them derail the protest.

Secondly, although the relative restraint of the police surrounding this protest has thus far been bemusingly anachronistic, historically the police forces usually end up serving the people holding their leashes -- and that ain't you.  I'd love to be proven wrong, but cops aren't usually the members of society fighting for social justice and human rights.  The corporate power elite will only allow traffic to stop for so long -- and that's absolutely what needs to be done if you really want to have a true and effective protest -- before they give the order to bust up the protest.  People need to start acknowledging that fact now and they need to think of ways to protect themselves as the general strike moves ahead.  I'm not necessarily talking about committing the heinous sin of self-defense, but people might want to get creative in the ways they start impeding traffic flow. 

Third, let's not condemn those who commit the heinous crime of self-defense.  If someone has lost their job, their house, their son in the war, their daughter to prison-industrial complex, and has generally been hung out to dry by the system... why should they then have to accept getting arrested or having their head busted because they were blocking traffic?  And remember, particularly in this instance, when people are defending themselves, they will actually be defending everyone else in this state.  And if the bank that foreclosed on Grandma Millie (before giving out bonuses to it's executives) gets it's window smashed... why would any decent person condemn the individual who threw that brick of justice?  That's a tiny token act, and you can bet that more people will be inspired by such a symbolic act than will be turned off by it.  It's up to you to contextualize such actions from such individuals -- it is not your duty, or in your interests, to condemn them.  I know this is hard for some liberal peaceniks to hear, but you can quote all the revisionist history of the civil rights movement you want -- and I'll stand by these sentiments.  And a window doesn't suffer or feel pain anyway.  The real violence is the violence of the system which is tearing society down at a pretty quick pace right about now.  I'm not asking you to do anything you don't want to do, or to even advocate anything in particular, but I am asking you not to condemn those who have had their lives ruined and who now decide to fight back.                 

Lastly, I would suggest that it's not in anyone's interest to delay or hold back the momentum of this protest.  This relates to a point made a few paragraphs earlier, but it's a slightly different one.  Someone, or some group (perhaps a coalition), is going to have to take the stand which starts the general strike.  A small group of a few hundred people started marching down State Street days before the hundreds of thousands joined them during this protest.  Before it became a given, a small group had to take the stand to occupy the Capitol building and force the government's hand at removing them.  Another relatively small group might have to take a stand to kick start the general strike.  I'd suggest the teacher's union might take the lead (again) and work towards that purpose -- but they'll have to deal with the subtle legalities of language should they want to move things forward this way.  In any case, whichever groups decide to strike, that will be the most inspiring action they could take if they want others to join them in bringing about real change.  Movements like this tend to grow -- they don't just spontaneously erupt because every last individual is on board.  When the teachers strike, and then the librarians strike, then prison guards might grow a spine, and then the bus drivers might strike, and then... it stops being a matter for just unions.  At that point it becomes feasible for anyone, in any sector or station, to join in -- and if traffic is stopped all over town, what could any boss expect of their employees?  At that point we might even get the last of the hesitant students to join the protest.  Everyone will have little to lose and everything to gain!      

This is what it's all about.  This is the power of the people actualized!  This is the opportunity which has presented itself!  This is the moment to seize!  It may take some serious sacrifice, and results won't be instantaneous, but this is the way to bring about serious and lasting social change.  And, with any luck, Madison might inspire other large cities across the country and... a revolutionary movement could manifest nationally.  We can end the wars!  We can end crony capitalism!  We can push back the creeping fascism that is robbing us of our rights and imprisoning people at a rate unprecedented around the globe!  Worker's rights is only the issue which opened the door!  And now that the door is open... do not let this revolutionary moment pass!  Who knows when, or if, we'll ever get another chance like this?!    

On Wisconsin!