It's go time in Wisconsin for the progressive movement: Today marks the first of the two big recall elections against incumbent state senators, this time the six Republicans targeted for their unwavering support of Gov. Scott Walker's agenda.
(Find your polling place here)
To say the political air in the state is electric might be a bit of an understatement. The whole nation is watching us now, to see whether Walker's radical anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-working class mission will come out victorious, or whether the people will rebel against such a massive overreach.
Pundits and pollsters and politicians will certainly over-simplify the meaning of the recalls and their results -- but there are many who see far greater nuance and reach in what's happening in Wisconsin.
It's no secret that I would love to see the senate flipped -- and it will take just three Democratic gains to happen, a result currently enjoying a fair 50/50 chance of happening -- but more than that I sincerely hope, regardless of the outcome of today's election, that what we're witnessing is nothing less than a countrywide wake-up call for a truly progressive movement.
Because the relentless onslaught of right-wing, corporate-bought legislation has nothing to do with whether average folks call themselves Democrats or Republicans, liberals or tea partiers, and everything to do with the American people's right to govern themselves, live their lives in peace and some degree of safety, and not find themselves increasingly under the thumb of a wealthy minority.
Today isn't just about putting Democrats back in control of the senate -- although that would do a lot to throw a great big wrench into Walker's plans. The number of people who vote today, and how they vote, is more about a serious attempt to bring our state and our country back from the brink of disaster.
You can see it in the massive cuts to school budgets that will send shockwaves through the population for decades to come in terms of how well our children are educated and the kinds of jobs they'll be able to find when they grow up. Want to know what happens to societies that under-educate their kids and/or leave nothing for them to look forward to after graduation? You don't even have to go to the third world anymore to see it -- just check in with the poor neighborhoods of London that are currently on fire.
Republican Senator Luther Olsen, facing a recall challenge from Rep. Fred Clark in the 14th District, has but one thing to say about all of that, though: "Thank goodness."
You can also see it in the gutting of collective bargaining rights for public employees, who suddenly found themselves the targets of a massive demonization campaign by many of those on the right. Instead of reminding everyone that a rising tide lifts all ships (that is -- we should all enjoy the benefits fought for and won by union employees, both public and private), the Republicans claim that public employees are worthless and lazy, and that folks without representation should revile and resent them for having the few shreds of a safety net that they themselves have been denied.
Republican Senator Dan Kapanke, facing a recall challenge from Rep. Jennifer Shilling in the 32nd District, simply hopes that all of his government employee constituents will stay in bed today instead of voting.
The picture is crystal clear when it comes to women's health issues (and, indeed, the health needs of everyone in the state), too: Walker's budget, which all six of the recalled Republican senators supported unwaveringly, is just another part of a full-frontal assault on health care. Among many other things, the budget cuts off joint state-federal funding for nine Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin health centers "in small communities like Oshkosh, Fond du Lac, Eau Claire, and Kenosha, and cuts off 12,000 uninsured women from access to preventive health care."
None of the funding received by Planned Parenthood had been going to their very small abortion provider divisions. There was no reason to attack them other than for dangerously misguided ideological reasons. That didn't stop Republican Senator Alberta Darling (facing a strong challenge from Rep. Sandy Pasch) from voting for the provision, though -- effectively reversing course on her history of actually showing some support for women's health. Darling had once served on the board for Planned Parenthood (for nearly ten years), but since it's become taboo for GOP politicians to think independently she's simply claimed that she left the board once Planned Parenthood began offering abortion services - even though she actually left the board several years after that decision was made.
The reasons to recall these six Republican senators are numerous -- and they speak to much larger issues now facing the entire nation. Do we wish to be a country that tears itself apart looking for and demonizing differences, that allows the gap between very wealthy and very poor to grow, destroys its natural environment, gives corporations more of a voice than individual people, ignores when its elected representatives flout the rule of law, and simply sits idly by while the economy tanks because the über-rich continue to refuse to pitch in and do their part?
Or would we rather be a country that gets each other's backs despite our differences, that looks out for the well-being of the least among us even when it's the more difficult thing to do, that protects its natural resources while still finding creative ways to prop up our economy, and that makes damn well sure every last person has a voice -- no matter how rich or how poor they may be?
I'm sticking with the latter choice, come what may. I hope like hell the wonderful people of this state and country do, too.
Voting for the Democrats in today's recall elections is just the first step. After all of this is said and done, regardless of the outcome, is when the real work begins because then we have to commit to being in this for the long-haul. Each of us needs to be involved in our communities on a day-to-day basis. We have to hold all of our elected representatives accountable -- Republican, Democrat, independent, etc. alike. We have to work hard to undo the damage already done. There is no time for apathy now, only action.