By Callen Harty
I am still coming down from the excitement of being there when a million signatures were turned in to the Government Accountability Board to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. I beamed as I walked down the street from the iconic State Capitol building to the GAB office a couple blocks away where I would witness the delivery of the signatures. I saw hundreds of citizens smiling broadly as well, while others laughed, hugged their friends, or waited in excited anticipation. There was an indescribable joy in the air. It didn’t matter that it was only a few degrees above zero. The “winter warriors” who stood out in the wet and cold for two months to collect the signatures were not going to let a little cold keep them from celebrating. It is Wisconsin, after all. We ice fish, we jump into frozen lakes, and we stand for our rights regardless of the season.
When the truck pulled up a loud cheer went up from the crowd. As each box was taken from the truck and walked through a gauntlet of security volunteers and onlookers another cheer would rise up into the heavens like the ubiquitous heart balloons that have become such a symbol of this movement. The volunteers who got to carry them were Native American, African-American, white, dark, men, women, young and old, bearded and clean-shaven, in jeans, dresses, and suits, and they represented every one of the 72 counties in the state. The cheers and smiles and high-fives continued for each one of them until the last box was removed and carried into the building. My heart soared to witness this historic event.
The truck arrived with this sign on the side.
On the other hand media witnesses, as they have done all along, mostly misunderstood it. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel headline read, “Democrats file 1 million signatures for Walker recall.” The New York Times noted that “a carefully orchestrated celebration unfolded in Madison, where Democrats and union supporters watched a truck pull up carrying box after box of petitions.” Fox News, which of course loves Scott Walker, said that his opponents “still face the challenge of transforming public outrage over his moves against unions into actual votes to oust him from office.” CNN’s online headline read “Democrats: 1 million signatures collected for Wisconsin governor recall.” The common theme in the mainstream reporting on this centered around Democrats and unions.
What the media don’t understand is that while Democrats and unions are both heavily invested in Walker’s recall—for their own survival—far more common citizens all over the state who are not Democrats or unionists are also heavily invested in this—for the survival of our home state. There were countless independent voters and yes, even Republicans, who were part of this petition signature drive. There were countless people who have never been in a union in their lives who stood out on street corners to collect signatures. While the trigger Walker pulled that may have galvanized this was the collective bargaining issue his aim was not just at the unions, and the citizens understand this. His targets were unions, Democrats, Medicaid, high speed rail, wind power and the environment, working class and poor people, and more. He set out to undo fifty to one hundred years of progressive politics in Wisconsin and those of us who love Fighting Bob LaFollette’s state could not stand idly by and watch him undo all of our social compacts.
The Democrats weren’t even really sure if they wanted to try to do the recalls, and they actually backed out of trying to recall Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald because they didn’t believe he was vulnerable in his heavily Republican district. Sometimes they only listen to themselves and they miss hearing what any of us on the streets and in the trenches could have told them—Scott Walker’s way is not the way of Wisconsin. We have a proud progressive tradition here. We also have a proud history of open and honest government and working together to solve our problems. The shameful way he and his fellow Republicans pushed through their agenda—even if it were an agenda we all agreed on (which it wasn’t)—would have been enough to warrant a recall. Recalls are not just for illegal behavior. They are also there for immoral behavior. For Wisconsinites, an elected representative who does not listen to his constituents is on shaky moral ground. They work for us. They may not ultimately make the decisions we want, but they have to listen to us first. This band of brigands did not listen–they simply steamrolled through–and that is not acceptable to regular cheeseheads. Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke learned that lesson last year.
Even Democratic chairperson Mike Tate had to admit in his speech at the big signature turn-in party on Tuesday night that Lori Compas and her grass roots volunteers did what the Democrats didn’t even attempt because they didn’t think they could do it. She was angry at her Senator, Scott Fitzgerald, an arrogant, condescending man who helped Walker push through his agenda and who did it through the use of dirty tricks and political maneuvering (when he didn’t really have to, as his party had the necessary votes anyway). When the Democrats announced they would not target him for recall she filed to do it herself and ended up organizing a massive grassroots effort out of her own home in Fort Atkinson. With a few days left to go the Democrats finally sent some reinforcements, but by then her group already had the required number of signatures. Earlier in the day on Tuesday they turned in 20,600 signatures—4,000 more than necessary to trigger a recall of Fitzgerald.
This is the story being missed by the mainstream media. Some of the most dedicated volunteers are not union workers or Democrats (though a lot of them are). They are independent voters and independent minded people who are as mistrusting of the Democrats as of the Republicans. They are willing to put themselves on the line for what they believe is right, not because they belong to a union or a party, but because they are honest, hard-working Wisconsinites with an incredible sense of fair play. They didn’t stand outside in Wisconsin winter for hours at a time because they were instructed to, but because they wanted to; they felt a need to be there for all the disenfranchised citizens of this state. They didn’t join in song every day at the Capitol because the Sing Along was organized by a union or political party, but because it was a way they could make a difference. They didn’t give up hours of their time and energy that could have been spent elsewhere because they are political operatives, union thugs, or paid out-of-state rabble rousers, but because they are people who live here and care very deeply about the future of this state and its people.
The first box of petitions being carried through the crowd.
Those who stood in the Capitol during the occupation last spring understand this. That occupation was not organized by anyone or by any political party, yet an entire community was formed out of nothing. It was an organic and beautiful manifestation of the will of the people. It was a call from within that had to be answered.
This is what the pundits and the media do not understand. This is why it is likely that Scott Walker will lose his bid to stay in office and why, despite the odds, Scott Fitzgerald is equally vulnerable. While some have been fooled the majority of the people of Wisconsin know that what Walker and his buddies did was wrong and the way it was done was antithetical to the ways of the people here. Scott Walker can go on money-hunting junkets to California, Texas, Florida, the nation’s capital, New York City, and other out-of-state places, he can kneel down before countless corporate benefactors and kiss their boots and their behinds, and he will undoubtedly collect untold millions of dollars (some of it even from Wisconsin), but he cannot collect enough money to buy the hearts and souls of the majority of the people of this state. One only had to see the reactions to the petitions being turned in on Tuesday to know that these people understand the fight is only half done and that they will be willing to do whatever is necessary to make sure the other half of the job is completed. Just as weathering the cold and snow of winter became badges of pride for volunteers, so too, no March blizzards, April rains, or summer storms will stop us from the job at hand. As spring gives way to summer and flowers start to bloom we will reclaim our state and watch it blossom once more.
Heart balloons and a sign.