Freedom Inc. Joins the Protest
This week’s protests are a revolt in defense of the right of public employees to self-organize. But not all the protesters here are public sector workers, or their family members. Many have recognized the role of college and high school students in initiating and energizing these protests. But few journalists have yet noted the efforts of Hmong, African American, Latino, and other activists of color to deepen and broaden the protests.
Monica Adams of the Madison-based community justice organization, Freedom, Inc., is one activist who has tried to add some color to the standard portrayal of this uprising. In an unpublished submission to the Wisconsin State Journal, earlier this week, she wrote that:
“Let’s be clear: Gov. Walker has been after all of us from day one — and not just on the union issue. The Republican legislature’s drafts of Arizona-style anti-immigrant bills threatens immigrants and would make it more likely than ever that people of color would face discrimination while driving. Unemployed workers took it on the chin when Gov. Walker vetoed high rail jobs. And Gov. Walker’s threat to cut BadgerCare, FoodShare, and other life-saving services for millions of Wisconsinites imperils the health and welfare of our residents.”
“Gov. Walker’s mistake is the orchestrated political attack on all of us. Such an attack requires an orchestrated response. Labor unions must work to unite their struggle for their members with the struggle of the unemployed, threatened communities of color and abandoned low-income communities in Wisconsin.”
I spoke with Sangita Nayak, communications director for Freedom, Inc., just now. She informed me that the organization has succeeded in mobilizing scores of southeast Asian and African American youth to participate in the protests. And she expressed frustration that, as of yet, this solidarity has not been noticed. As one African American MATC student told Sarah Manski yesterday, “protesting while Black” is often a risky business.
For both students and for youth of color, the risks they have taken this past week may pay off next week, when Governor Walker begins to release the details of his next full biennial budget proposal. Will public sector unions, already mobilized and in the fight of their lives, come to the aid of students facing 26% tuition hikes? Or unemployed youth of color facing drastic cuts to life-sustaining services? After this week, more of them may.
And that’s what the organizers at Freedom, Inc. are counting on — the broadening of the uprising to unite all the poor and working people of Wisconsin. As Nayak put it to me on the phone just now, “there are more young people, youth activists, coming out here every day, and we need to keep this movement growing.”
Special Op-Ed from Ben Manski of the Liberty Tree Foundation
Walker budget bill could harm many covered by Medicaid in state
Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan could harm many of the state’s 1.2 million people on Medicaid, but that message has been lost amid protests about collective bargaining rights, patients and advocates said Sunday.
“I’m scared … I don’t want to go to a nursing home,” said Barbara Vedder, a Dane County supervisor who was paralyzed in a car crash years ago and relies on Medicaid, the state-federal health plan for the poor, for home care and other services.
Vedder said she was inspired by public employee rallies at the Capitol last week, but “what I found missing was the discussion about (Medicaid).”
She was among about 30 groups representing children, the elderly, people with mental health conditions and others gathered at the Madison Senior Center to voice concerns about Walker’s plan.
“I am living comfortably at the moment,” said 77-year-old Dee Hambley of Madison. She said SeniorCare, a Medicaid drug program, pays for her expensive medications.
Without the coverage, “it could end up being (a struggle for) survival again for me,” she said.
Walker’s budget repair bill, introduced last week but stalled by the protests, would give the state Department of Health Services the authority to restrict eligibility, modify benefits and make other changes to Medicaid with less legislative review than required now. If the federal government didn’t grant permission to make some of the changes, the state would drop at least 50,000 people from Medicaid next year.
Cullen Werwie, Walker’s spokesman, said changes and flexibility are needed to plug the $1.8 billion hole in the state’s Medicaid budget over the next two years. The program, which includes BadgerCare Plus, Family Care, SeniorCare and other health plans, accounts for half of the state’s estimated $3.6 billion budget gap.
Advocates acknowledged the possible need for cuts but criticized the process Walker is proposing.
Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, compared Walker’s plan to President Barack Obama hypothetically ordering Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, to quickly and substantially cut Medicare, the federal health plan for the elderly, with little review.
“Imagine the rallies around the country at a power grab like that,” he said.
Paula Buege, of Middleton, said Medicaid-funded in-home treatment helped save her son, Donovan Richards, after he was placed in psychiatric hospitals seven times from age 4 to 7. He has bipolar and autism spectrum disorders.
Now 16, Donovan is a student at Middleton High School and in a few years will be a “taxpaying member of Wisconsin,” his mother said.
He’s doing well largely because Medicaid covers his two medications, which cost a total of $1,100 a month, Buege said.
“Without Medicaid, there’s no way we could afford to pay for those,” she said.
Madison, WI: A Prelude for Economic Justice
By Brian Soloman, Alder for Madison’s 10th District
As Bob Dylan once sang, “The battle is outside raging.” Thousands protest daily and Madison and Wisconsin have made national news once again. Wisconsin: the state that produced Fighting Bob LaFollette, unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, and suffrage for women. Madison: the city that produced lasting images against the Vietnam War and in favor of civil rights.
We all struggle to conjure the vocabulary to describe tens of thousands of people – young and old, black and white, rich and poor – descending daily upon the Capitol, standing side by side, carrying signs, protesting peacefully for what they believe in, chanting and singing and dancing and refusing to back down. It is inspiring beyond words. It is historic. It is beautiful and meaningful and, hopefully, consequential.
But it is not enough. And the joy and pride I feel for the battle we are fighting remains sadly diminished by thoughts of the war we continue to ignore.
The war has been around since the beginning of humanity, but one could argue that it became full fledged at the beginning of the industrial revolution. 130 years ago, partially in response to the Pullman strike to organize the railway industry (and partially to buy back some domestic capital after calling out troops to suppress the strike), President Grover Cleveland took a New York City workers rights parade and turned it into the first Labor Day.
Fast forward to the 1930s. The National Labor Relations Act was passed to encourage collective bargaining and protect the rights of both employers and employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act was also passed, establishing a minimum wage and a 40 hour work week, prohibiting child labor, and guaranteeing overtime for certain occupations. There are strong arguments that these laws, along with Social Security and other New Deal protections, helped pull America out of the Great Depression, cement the middle class, and initiate the greatest period of sustained economic growth in our nation’s history. This led to the 1940s, where 35% of the American labor force was unionized.
Many have forgotten the details of the 1981 air traffic controllers strike. Thirteen thousand walked off the job to protest long shifts and mandatory overtime. Two days later, President Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 of them, imprisoned union leaders, abolished their union, and hired permanent replacement workers. And, I would argue, set off a chain reaction that continues to unravel the progress of the last hundred years.
There is a battle raging right now in Madison, Wisconsin. But what is the goal? How do we define victory? Imagine the following: Governor Walker backs down and allows collective bargaining to continue in the public sector. The crowds diminish, victory is declared, and America settles back into the comfortable slumber to which we’ve become accustomed.
But guess what else happens?
- Minimum wage remains at a 50 year low.
- A full century after Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, occupational health and safety standards are weak and growing weaker.
- Union membership hasn’t been lower in three generations.
- Almost all worker protections of the last half century have been dissolved.
- As Salon.com reported last year, the “gap between rich and poor last year grew to the widest amount on record (14.5:1, double that of 1968).
- 12 million Americans, mostly unskilled single mothers, were pushed into the labor market by welfare reform. Most continue to make minimum wage, like low income workers throughout the nation, working two or three jobs just to meet ends meet.
For the first half of the last 50 years, there was a basic bargain: work harder and become more productive and your wages will increase. Starting in the 1970’s, this bargain went haywire. Had the trend continued as it had through the 50s and 60s, some estimate that the current minimum wage would be $19 an hour. Call it class warfare. Call it wage warfare. But make no mistake: this is the war. And if we don’t fight for better wages for all workers, public and private sector, blue and white collar, skilled and unskilled, then there are a few guarantees we can count on:
- The gap between rich and poor will continue to grow. The only way to address this chasm is to raise wages.
- The economy may keep improving but not for the poor or the middle class. Don’t believe me? The stock market is back to pre-recession levels with high unemployment, low wages, and decreased benefits. If the stock market can succeed under those conditions, there will be no incentive for those conditions to change.
Economic justice is, arguably, THE modern day battle for civil rights. Martin Luther King, Jr, remember, was assassinated not during a rally for racial justice. He was assassinated while participating in a strike of sanitation workers. And as MLK said, “In a real sense, all life is interrelated. The agony of the poor impoverishes the rich; the betterment of the poor enriches the rich. We are inevitably our brother’s keeper because we are our brother’s brother. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
I was listening to the radio today, on my way home from another day of protesting, and heard an angry caller bemoaning the support middle class public sector employees are receiving while he toils in unemployment. “These are my taxpayer dollars,” he screamed into the phone, “and I can’t afford to pay them more.”
And in the end, that sums it up. We have been hoodwinked. In one of the greatest scams in American history, middle class American’s fight against each other and vilify the poor, while corporations grow stronger and the income gap grows wider. Middle class tea partiers rally with the Koch brothers because they believe government is the problem, instead of the billionaire oil barons with whom they unite. Don’t believe it? Then why would President Obama propose a budget that cuts community service block grants, energy assistance for the poor, food stamps, and Pell Grants? Because we blame the poor for our economic problems. If we didn’t, these proposals would never have even been entertained by a sadly desperate President.
We are in the midst of something incredible and astonishing. An opportunity that is both historic and tragic, if we let it pass. Where are you, low income workers? Minimum wage earners? Unemployed? Private sector employees working harder than ever, without raises, so that corporate profits can go up and the stock market soar?
Because if we don’t let this battle become the defining moment in the war, we will have let an historic opportunity pass us by. And while we might have a chance in this battle, we are losing the war. We are being bamboozled. Its time to wake up and realize that helping the poor is not what’s killing the middle class. Remember, it wasn’t teachers, nurses, 911 dispatchers, fire fighters, police, home health aids, migrant laborers, immigrants, or welfare moms who caused the Great Recession. It is time for a Fair Labor Standards Act, Part II. A time for us to remember: everyone in America making less than $100,000 a year has far more in common with each other than with those who do. Workers do not gain wages, benefits, or rights at our expense. A gain by one is a gain for all.
This is the time for all workers to unite. We number in the millions. We are the backbone of the nation, of the economy, of the electorate. We have an opportunity to stand up strong, build on the momentum that is underway, and renew the path of a half century ago, the one that built an American middle class, rewarded hard work with dignity, and created the strongest economy on earth. May this battle awaken us from our three decade long slumber. May the protests currently underway serve as the momentum for something bigger than their origins: a real victory in this real war.
Leader Of Wis. Law Enforcement Association ‘Regrets’ Endorsing Walker
Thousands Protest At Capitol
Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said there were no arrests. He refused to say how large the tea party contingent was, but union supporters clearly outnumbered them.
The governor said that the moves are necessary to better contend with the state’s fiscal problems and he can’t negotiate with the unions since the state has nothing to offer. The bill’s supporters said public workers must make sacrifices to help balance the state’s budget. The state has a projected $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
However, the measure’s opponents said that they believe the bill is an attack on middle-class families.