Like it has in past generations, the Progressive Movement in America has found its voice in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin. The years of demonization of unions and of public workers is finally hearing an organized, passionate response from the thousands of hard-working, tax-paying, church-going, flag-saluting employees who teach our children, protect our streets and fight our fires. The question is why has this resolve and fighting spirit finally been ignited?
It is clear that the budget crisis facing states across the country is being manipulated and distorted to justify not only cuts of pensions and salaries, but the right to collectively bargain. This is an extraordinary overreach on the part of the Republican Party. They have turned a financial crisis into an excuse to do something they have always wanted to do but don’t have the votes to do—attack and weaken public sector/union workers by taking away the hard-earned right to collectively bargain. It is this decision that has awakened resistance in Wisconsin and it is an extraordinary moment in the history of labor in America.
Republicans/conservatives love to talk about the “cultural elite” and the way that liberals are out of touch with ordinary people. They have taken the language of populism and owned it for years and some of that has been correct and justified, but now it is being turned on them. I know those men and women marching in the capitol of Wisconsin. I have worked with them at schools in California for years. They are middle class America, they are jeans wearing, beer drinking, NASCAR watching people. They are those that the Tea Party has claimed to be representing. But now we have been provoked, our pride has been challenged and our hard earned rights are being threatened. We are educated people, aware people, connected people. We are going to fight this and we are going to make politicians hear us and be accountable to us. Why on earth, just weeks after the wealthiest 2% of our country received breathtaking tax cuts, are the teachers and firefighters of our country being asked to sacrifice rights that we have struggled years to achieve for ourselves? Its not going to happen, it’s not going to stand.