Thursday, March 3, 2011

Five points to keep in mind regarding the protests in Madison

With the protests at the Capitol coming into their third week, it's important to remember some major themes present within the protest itself. A lot has happened over the past couple of weeks, so it's key that we stay on message and remember what exactly has transpired.

People need to be aware of the major issues surrounding the debate, of the governor's attempts to remove workers' rights from those that make this state run. With polls indicating that most are in support of these protesters (1, 2), it's clear that Scott Walker is outside the mainstream. Still, for those who are unconvinced -- a sizable number of Wisconsinites, sadly -- here are a few reminders of why you should support the workers who are protesting this ghastly bill...

1. The people of Wisconsin support workers' rights. While polls show that more Wisconsinites agree that state workers should pay more into their pensions and health benefits, an overwhelming majority agree that the right to collectively bargain their contracts needs to be kept intact (see links above). What Walker and his Republican allies are proposing goes directly against the will of the people, and was never proposed in any campaign by the governor or legislators.

2. The protesters have been nothing but peaceful. The recent spat between protesters surrounding Glenn Grothman, a Republican senator who is the most ardent supporter of Walker's policies, is being exaggerated by many on the right as a "mob" or an "assault" on the legislator. Grothman came out of the fray unscathed, and in fact was later quoted as saying he never felt threatened by the crowd's presence. Furthermore, the police have commented on how amazingly peaceful demonstrators have been, another sign that the imagery of violent protesters taking over Madison is wrong.

3. The demonstrations are in support of democracy. The idea that the protesters are trying to reverse electoral results (by trying to prevent representatives from carrying out their agenda) is phooey. The tenets of representative democracy don't state that you give up your goals and aspirations after you've cast your ballot -- it requires more than that, direct appeals to legislators and speaking your mind when you feel wronged. The very fact that Wisconsin has the ability to perform recall elections is proof that elections themselves can be reversed, if so desired by the people.

4. The 14 Democratic senators want to vote on this bill. When the Wisconsin 14 will return to the Senate is totally up to Scott Walker. A very reasonable compromise has been proposed by the 14 Democratic senators -- they would agree to return for a vote that would create higher pay-ins on the pension and health benefits of state workers if collective bargaining rights were left intact. Walker said "not a chance." If the budget repair bill is only about economics, why is Walker holding out on an un-economic issue of the bill?

5. Walker is showing that he doesn't like democracy all too much. Finally, Scott Walker has demonstrated strong disdain for the protesters and democracy in action. Though he stated in a televised address that he supported the protesters' rights (though not their goals), in private his words and actions have proven otherwise. Talking to a blogger impersonating a billionaire donor, Walker mentioned he had considered placing troublemakers in the crowds, jeopardizing the safety of protesters and law enforcement personnel. He's also made it clear through closing the Capitol building (a violation the state Constitution) that he doesn't want people inside the building, possibly swaying some moderate Republicans to accept a deal, keeping only a limited number of people inside the building at all times -- in turn, limiting the amount of democracy allowed in the people's house.

Taken collectively, it's clear that the workers fighting for their rights are justified in doing so. These are workers, after all, who already pay nearly 100 percent of their pensions, pay a considerable amount of their own health plans, and earn very little compared to their private sector counterparts. But these protests aren't even about the financial burden -- they're about the political implications that surround the removal of collective bargaining rights.

Keeping these five points in mind, it's hard to imagine why anyone would support Gov. Walker's proposal to end the rights of workers in this state. The right thing for Walker to do would be to compromise -- a trait that we're seeing is far too adult for him to carry out.

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