THE PROGRESSIVE: Wisconsin activists gears up to stop budget bill

June 6, 2011
Rebecca Kemble

The limits of the conventional political process have been reached.

Wisconsin is gearing up for mass action at the Capitol in Madison in advance of the 2011 – 2013 biennial budget deliberations by the full Senate and Assembly. Governor Walker and the Republican legislative leadership have said they want the budget passed by June 20. The installation of the Walkerville encampment on the Capitol Square this past Saturday night was planned as a way to provide a base camp and organizational hub for teach-ins and for disseminating information about legislative calendars and the contents of the bills under consideration for the next two weeks up until the budget is taken up.

This year, the Joint Committee on Finance convened only four 8-hour public hearings on the budget in far-flung locations around the state, the fewest in Wisconsin’s history. All of the hearings took place during regular working hours and none were held in a city larger than West Allis, WI, population 60,272. At that hearing held at the State Fair Grounds, the last people allowed to testify before the hearing was closed at 6:oo pm had registered to speak at noon.

In response to the lack of meaningful and diverse public input on the budget, last week the final two sessions of budget deliberations by the Joint Committee on Finance were disrupted and postponed by dozens of protesters demanding that funding for public education be restored. The immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera mobilized students, teachers, and School Board members from Racine and Milwaukee to attend and give their testimony in defiance of Joint Committee rules against public speaking during Executive Session.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that a large part of the political crisis in Wisconsin involves the intransigence of Republican lawmakers who seem hell-bent on ramming through their ALEC-crafted agenda without giving even passing consideration to the views of the minority party, let alone the direct concerns of their own constituents. When Democratic Assembly Representatives are driven to floor speeches referring to their Republican colleagues as glazed-eyed zombies, and to reminding them that if they want to jam through legislation they have to sit through the messy process of democracy because of their stonewalling tactics and behavior, the limits of the conventional political process have been reached.

Some have criticized the disruptive action that Voces and their allies took last week, asserting that it was pointless because it did nothing to actually stop the Joint Committee on Finance from voting to pass the budget onto the full Senate and Assembly. Other criticism focused on the fear of negative publicity and the effect that may have on the efforts to recall Republican Senators and elect Democratic ones.

Apart from the lawsuit blocking Act 10 or the “Budget Repair Bill” from being published due to open meetings law violations, Democratic legislators have been unable to effectively intervene in the rapid, systematic dismantling of civil rights and the commons that Republicans and their corporate backers have so relentlessly pursued since January. The extreme frustration of people whose basic human and civil rights are being trampled and whose lives will be seriously affected by decisions being made in state government calls for an escalation of civil disobedience as a way to gain media attention in order to educate the public about the nature and severity of this agenda, as well as a last-ditch method for gaining redress and a forum for grievances through the court system should arrests be made.

With his ascendance to state power, Scott Walker announced that Wisconsin is now “Open for Business.” Since the beginning of the year, each week more specific pieces of legislation and executive orders roll out to give us a clearer picture of the precise meaning of this motto. From the more than $450 million in tax breaks for the rich and big business, to gutting public education, natural resource administration and public health agencies in a state that has been a national leader in each of these areas, to privatizing state facilities, to making the requirements to carry a gun less onerous than those for casting a vote, and opening up the northwoods to vast strip-mining enterprises, it is clear that those for whom Wisconsin is now open are a small, select group of people and companies whose interests lie in extracting economic value from the people and from the land without giving anything back.

As larger and larger numbers of people in Wisconsin become aware of this dystopian version of society being made manifest in the Walker legislative agenda, more are subscribing to the notion that Wisconsin must be “closed for business as usual” so long as the voices and rights of people are being so callously disregarded.

Today at 11:45am there will be a march up State St. and rally on the square led by firefighters, nurses and farmers to kick off a week of actions.