Friday, July 1, 2011

The post that will make the ultra far-left call me names…or something like that

Back in April, UW’s Student Labor Action Coalition [Edit: I previously called the group the Student Action Labor Commission] an organization that doesn’t get the credit it deserves for holding the administration accountable for labor policy, decided to hold a sit-in inside Bascom Hall to protest the New Badger Partnership. After occupying the main floor of Bascom for most of the working day, police walked in and threatened arrest if they didn’t leave the building. Being reasonable people, the SLAC folks decided to head out and continue a civil debate about the Badger Partnership. 

It was my job that day to head up to Bascom every once in a while to check up on our reporters and photographers inside the building. When I ran up before the protesters left, police had locked me out of every entrance to the building; guards were standing at every door and ignored my credentials. I was pissed I couldn’t get in, but my anger was nothing compared to the guy standing next to me.

"I’m just going to sit here and bang!" he yelled, without any sarcastic inflection in his voice. And he sat there, and banged. For five minutes. Isn’t that just the epitome of civil disobedience?

Today I was amusingly unsurprised to see this notice from perma-protester ‘Segway’ Jeremy Ryan, an ‘only in Madison’ type of guy. Last year he ran for mayor and became the city’s own Mike Gravel,  notable for statements like this:

As mayor I support full legalization of Marijuana (sic) and taxing… It would be regulated and sold much like alcohol and tobacco products, both of which are much more harmful…

Unlike Mayor Dave, I plan to let my actions do the talking and actually do something about it other than to simply make statements in support of legalization.

(Except Madison is already one of the most liberal cities in the country for marijuana use, and marijuana has been decriminalized in Madison, it’s not possible to overturn a federal law at the municipal level.)

Both Ryan and the banging dude are emblematic figures in what has become a ridiculous and credibility-compromising chain of “doing stupid shit and call it civil disobedience in the name of collective bargaining.” 

Student activist Kyle Szarzynski himself said the pro-collective bargaining movement has lost steam, but blamed the slogging on timid or money-hungry Democrats urging angry folks not to protest. 

But what is clear is 1) such a movement – including civil disobedience, strikes, mass protest – is our only hope for the realization of our ideals and 2) Taking back the Senate through the election of more Democrats will, in itself, do nothing to reverse the long-term, anti-worker and anti-public sector trends occurring in this state.

"This is what democracy looks like!" was, and remains, the defining phrase of the movement to prevent Republicans from removing collective bargaining rights for public employees. Democracy includes, as any 7th grade civics student has learned, an electoral process allowing citizens to hold public figures accountable for their actions. The recalls are a natural, grassroots continuation of an uprising to prevent Republicans from turning Wisconsin’s democracy into the 21st Century version of 1930s Louisiana. Continuing antics at the Capitol only hurts that progression. 

In February and March, I noticed an incredibly diverse group of activists and union members standing up to Walker. They were the blue-collar families most organizers canonize as the foundations of the movement—the reason their activism at the Capitol cannot die. I’m fine with Walkerville and the rotunda sing-alongs, they make sense.But could it be possible that people like Ryan have become so enveloped in their own delusions and hatred for Republicans that they’ve lost touch with the salt-and-pepper-haired teachers approaching retirement?

I’m talking about the ones who resent what Scott Walker is doing but don’t want to have a ‘full-time job’ out of sitting at the Capitol and—well—banging on doors. They’re the ones who matter, and they’re sitting at home, not striking, and doing work that is unfortunately disrespected in our current political climate. And even though it’s a shame Jeremy Ryan is broke right now, hopefully it gives him a chance to rethink his role in the union movement. 

As my Teamsters’ local president grandfather would say: “You’re not as good as you think you are.” At this point in #wiunion history, the movement needs more SLAC and recalls and less Jeremy Ryan and door-banging.