Social media is emerging as a primary organizing tool for both groups and individuals opposing Scott Walker's push to eliminate negotiating rights of Wisconsin public employee unions. After the governor unveiled his agenda on Friday, labor groups around the state planned a series of demonstrations at the state Capitol this week; at the same time, spontaneous discussions erupted on Facebook and Twitter, coalescing into a variety of campaigns seeking to take on Walker.
The capacity of these peer-to-peer networks to facilitate the rapid mobilization of protests is being heralded as an essential element of contemporary political organizing. Social media has been used for several years in this country as a direct communications tool for activists of all ideological stripes, and has more recently been credited by boosters as indispensable to popular movements against autocratic governments around the world, most recently in Egypt's revolution toppling dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Now labor and student activists around Wisconsin are hoping to utilize these strategies.
One demonstration has already been organized via these channels. Just after noon on Saturday February 12, a "Rally against Scott Walker's race to the bottom" was held on the front steps of the UW Memorial Union. "Bring your phones!" proclaimed its event listing on Facebook. "We will be sending out Twitter, Facebook and E-mail blasts throughout the rally directly to Governor Walker." WMTV reported that some 50 people attended this gathering.
Meanwhile, another set of protests were organized for Sunday. The first one is a picket of the Governor's Mansion at 99 Cambridge Rd., on the north side of Madison, running from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. This is followed immediately by a rally on the State Street steps at the Wisconsin Capitol.
Here's a look at ongoing social media organizing intended to cultivate public opposition to Walker's agenda.
More demonstrations, as well as a lobbying campaign, are planned for February 14-16. Multiple, overlapping listings have been published on Facebook, each intended to drive turnout and increase the public visibility of Walker's opponents. These include:
- TAKE A STAND AGAINST FOR WORKERS RIGHTS! Demonstration at the Capitol!
This listing is for the Capitol rally on Sunday.
- I ? UW :: Governor Walker, Don't Break My ?
This listing is for a rally and associated delivery of Valentine's messages to the Capitol on Monday.
- Hands Off Our Teachers
This is a general listing for the Tuesday and Wednesday demonstrations.
- Rally against the Budget Repair Bill
This is another general listing, once again for Tuesday and Wednesday.
- Two Day Rally for WI Workers Rights Tuesday and Wednesday
This listing for the rally and lobbying days at the Capitol provides travel details for participants traveling from Milwaukee.
- Rally against Walker's attacks on public employees
Created by WEAC, this listing likewise covers Tuesday and Wednesday.
- WEAC NIGHT TIME Rallies--Tuesday and Wednesay
WEAC has also planned evening rallies on Capitol Square, running from 3-7 p.m. with speakers at 6:30, for teachers after the end of the school day.
- Save Our Unions! Help Us Get Support Outside of Madison
Those "attending" this event are encouraged to take the actions listed in an alert issued by the American Federation of Teachers.
- Virtual Wisconsin State Employees Unions Solidarity Vigil
This "virtual event" is intended for those looking to share information on Facebook.
The last couple of days have also seen a flurry of activity on Facebook pages devoted to opposing Walker and his agenda. Some are long-established and affiliated with established organizations, now focusing intensely on this issue, while others are new, spontaneously-created amidst the online furor that followed Friday's announcement. These include:
The social media auxiliary of the Wisconsin Education Association Council is a central gathering place for the Wisconsin teachers' union membership and their supporters, all sharing news and commentary about the matter. Its followers are being encouraged to both use social media to share information, and to attend the Tuesday and Wednesday demonstration, with an update providing details and another platform for discussion.
This social media arm of the Teaching Assistants' Association at UW-Madison has likewise been very active on the issue, sharing news, events listings, and other Facebook groups. Followers are being directed to online alerts ( and here) detailing the lobbying and protest efforts planned for this week.
- Scott Walker Failure Files
This is the social media component of an online project of the same name that's operated by the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.
- WI Public Employees Against Walker's Attack on Workers Rights
Launched on Friday evening, this busy group features members sharing statements of support, links to news coverage about the dispute, and details about upcoming demonstrations.
- UW-Madison Faculty Organizing for Change
Started late Saturday, this group is targeted towards UW faculty and instructional staff.
- Wisconsin State Workers against Scott Walker
This was launched after the election, but talk has picked up since Friday.
- WI against Governor Scott Walker
This one was launched Friday.
- The Scott Walker Watch
This is another compilation of anti-Walker links and statements, and shares the name of a website dedicated to opposing the governor.
- Scott Walker is a Douchebag
Claiming a following larger than many of the others, this one is quite active via its members venting their thoughts on Walker.
The other primary social networking tool, Twitter, has likewise been humming over the last few days with talk about Walker, public employee unions, and the burgeoning dispute between them. Here are several hashtags that are being used to organize these discussions:
We introduced this last Friday afternoon via @IsthmusTDP with the hope of providing a short tag that could accompany any tweets referencing the showdown.
This tag, directly referencing the governor by name, was in use long before Friday, but has been increasingly used since then.
Another, shorter tag directly referencing Walker, this one is central to a Twitter campaign launched by the AFL-CIO. It's being heavily used, but almost exclusively in the form of retweets.
This is the official tag of a UW-based effort to focus on education.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous subject of the social media chatter surrounding this issue, outside of the upcoming demonstrations, is the potential for a recall effort against Scott Walker. Such a campaign would not be possible until January 2012, given statutory requirements that the governor be in office for a year before a recall could be initiated. State law also requires organizers to submit valid signatures of qualified voters equal to or greater than 25% of total votes cast in the preceding election for governor, in excess of 540,000 in this case, and to collect them all within 60 days after initial registration of a recall.
The rationale for and political efficacy of a recall, not to mention the potential (or lack thereof) for a successful campaign, are all the focus of heated debate online. Here are some of the social media efforts seeking a recall of Walker:
- Recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Launched on Friday, this may be the most heavily trafficked of the recall-themed pages, its membership vociferously sharing their dissatisfaction with Walker and his policies.
- 540,000 To See Scott Walker out of WI, January 2012
Also launched on Friday, this page has been sharing stories, image macros, and rhetoric at a furious pace, all in support of a recall election next year.
- Recall Scott Walker
This one was started on Saturday.
- Recall Scott Walker
Started after the election last November, this group has been as active as any over the last two days.
- Recall of Governor Scott Walker
This group, likewise replete with links and chatter, is the relaunched version of a Facebook event, itself buzzing since Friday morning.
This Twitter account was started Saturday.
Making light of one's political opponents is a venerable tactic, and one that has gained currency over the last decade with the ascendancy of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Naturally, there are anti-Walker wags looking to score some barbs via wit, irony and sarcasm.
"Scatt Walker" is a satirical persona lampooning the governor, complete with Facebook and Twitter accounts; it was started shortly after the election last year. The name's scatalogical pun quickly drew clucks from the State Journal political reporters.
Scott Walker's state-provided SUV is the subject of another joke Twitter account. "I am better than that stupid Saturn," reads its description. "I will report on all the interesting talk I hear driving the Gov around Wisconsin." This spoof's vehicular identity riffs on info uncovered in a trio of reports by Bill Lueders (here, here, and here), detailing the mileage and cost of a 2011 GMC Yukon XL used by the governor and his entourage during a two-month period before he assumed office.
Then there's "Not Scott Walker," the name of another satirical Twitter account. "Humor will be required to get through the next 4 years," reads its description.
This listing of events, groups, and other social media accounts and strategies is by no means comprehensive, and can only be considered an introduction to the online organizing that continues against Scott Walker's agenda for Wisconsin and its public employees. If you know of other social media groups or accounts relevant to the dispute, please add them in comments below.