The extraordinary protests that jammed the Capitol Square in February and March were a true phenomenon: unexpected, unprecedented and unassailably sincere. They were so heartfelt that right-wing ideologues had to do their best to deny the legitimacy of outrage, contending instead that they were simply a put-up job. Sarah Palin and her ilk sought to label the protesters "union thugs," but we all know better than that.
Still, we at Isthmus, searching for a suitable topic for our occasional group journalism project, decided to profile some of the more involved members of the protesting horde. Only one of them is a paid union functionary, though there is no denying the role of unions in organizing during the actions, just as they are organizing a reprise for this Saturday. Scott Walker's bombshell budget created quite a wave that the unions have no compunction trying to ride.
Fiscal constraints are not confined to the situation in Wisconsin. All states, with the possible exception of North Dakota, which finds itself awash in oil shale and bereft of people, are dealing with financial meltdown, and administrators of all stripes, including Democrats, are figuring ways to get by with less. But very few of them are inciting civil war in the process.
So, in "The New Activists," eight writers portray nine people who were drawn to action during the budget protests. You have your legal types, your artist types and your entrepreneurial types. What you do not have is any Ayn Rand types, along the lines of the 20th-century novelist who expounded a simplistic theory of leadership by exceptionalism that was little more than thinly veiled fascism. I've heard references to her writings in the conservative reaction to the Wisconsin protests.
This story is far from over. It will reverberate at least until the 2012 elections. Will the outrage last that long? That, of course, depends on the thousands who were mobilized during the protests and their devotion to prevailing in the long run.