CONSERVATIVE POLICIES AND BIG MONEY PROVE SOMETHING. JUST NOT WHAT SCOTT WALKER AND THE KOCH BROTHERS WANTED
THE WALKER/KOCH TEAM SUCCEEDS IN DESTROYING THE STATE FORMERLY KNOWN AS WISCONSIN
Charles P. Pierce, April 1, 2016
Five years ago, as part of the uprising here against Governor Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, a group of people gathered in the rotunda of the state capitol building to sing songs of protest. Since then, those people, who became known as the Solidarity Singers, have been rousted, busted, fined $200 apiece, and subjected to the delicately named "pain compliance" techniques taught to capitol police forces these days. They've been targeted by silly laws—including one prohibiting the playing of musical instruments in the building—and they've beaten those laws in court. This is because the Wisconsin state constitution gives its citizens a right to assemble in their capitol even beyond that guaranteed by the federal charter. That's part of the state's legacy of progressive politics that Walker has deliberately tried to destroy, and that he's gone a long way toward wrecking already.
Since 2011, every Monday through Friday, they gather and they sing. On Friday, they sing outside, which means that they can bring their instruments. A guitar. Assorted percussion. A fiddle. And a testifying trombone. Motorists passing by in the street still honk their support. The songs are old, their lyrics refashioned to apply to the circumstances in Wisconsin. (For me, I'm sorry they changed "Which Side Are You On?" in such a way as to remove the denunciation thatimmortalized Harlan County sheriff J.H. Blair.) They are cheerful, happy people. And there is something indomitable about them.
"The thing that keeps us going is that relationships are formed," said Rebecca Alwin, who has been singing with the group almost from the very beginning. "There are people who have gotten to know each other. One of the absolutes about this group is that we are welcoming. We accept people if they come once a month, once a year, or if they're much more regular. And it's the amazing joy of singing together."
They need all the optimism their music can muster because, truth be told, the project that Walker launched on behalf of his patrons and in the face of massive protests in 2011 is remarkably close to completion. The project was meant to show that, with the right amount of will, big money, and political finagling, radical conservative politics could succeed even in the place where progressive politics virtually had been invented at the turn of the last century. Wisconsin is now a right-to-work state. It has a restrictive voter-suppression law. Its commitment to the relationship between the state's universities and good government—the central tenet of The Wisconsin Idea—has just about been shredded, as have the long-standing institutions dedicated to good government. The state's long-standing commitment to environmental protection has been utterly reversed. Walker—and his pet legislature—have managed to turn every part of the government into purely partisan instruments dedicated to purely partisan purposes. If Walker manages to get his protégé, Rebecca Bradley, elected to a full term on the state Supreme Court, then the takeover largely will be complete.
"We don't know if we're going to win this [state Supreme Court] race with Joanne Kloppenberg," said Rebecca Alwin, before rejoining the other singers for a rousing rendition of Will The Circle Be Unbroken? "When you have right on your side, the people who are tight-fisted trying to hold onto power for the few can't stand up to the power of the many. I have confidence in that."
That Wisconsin once again has become vital to the nominating process in both parties, albeit for radically different reasons, brings a welcome dose of historical reality to the process. In a year in which the word "populism" is tossed around with promiscuous abandon, this is the place where modern populism, expressed by the democratizing progressive power of good government, was born. This has been where those achievements have been under the most vigorous assault. The energy that once brought 100,000 people to the capitol lawn is now being directed at keeping Bradley off the bench. The odds are no better than 50-50.
So what is there left to do but keep singing?
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker: Showing how conservative policies and big money donations work for you!!