Saturday was a cold day in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with temperatures in the low teens. Thousands of everyday working people turned out on this cold winter’s day to express themselves; to shout out in a collective voice their outrage at the on-going events in Wisconsin. These two neighboring states have long running feuds and continually joke about each other but today no one was laughing about cheese heads. Today we were all Wisconsinites.
Union leaders spoke, politicians spoke, even Congressman Keith Ellision spoke. He invoked the memory of the late Paul Wellstone and then he began to speak about a young Illinois state Senator who went on to become a US Senator and who then went on to become the President of the United States. It was at this point I yelled out, “Then what did he do?” Many in the crowd turned to stare at me with shocked looks upon their frozen faces and I realized that these good people still don’t get it.
These were good people with honorable motives. They fear for their homes and jobs and lifestyles but are unable to break out of the mold; unable to understand that the former Illinois state senator and community organizer has held his tongue over the events in Madison. He has used his bully pulpit as a sleeping bag while the Wisconsin state workers are used as a punching bag. The President’s silence speaks to his true leanings.
It was a good rally, but there was something missing. The crowd was electric but the speakers were somewhat tepid. The crowd was very obviously further to the left than the rally organizers. I saw several signs calling for a general strike. Several Socialist organizations worked the crowd but none were allowed to speak. A young lady was selling copies of the “The Activist” and volunteers were passing out handbills for the Socialist Alternative. The speakers were all mainstream Democrats and union workers, this was their microphone and their rally, but it was our people.
This massed crowd of Americans braved the sub-freezing temperatures and came looking to hear something more than what they got. They came to hear a message of hope and of salvation, but the message they heard was only about Koch and Walker and “we ain’t going to take this anymore, now let’s pack up our microphone and loud speakers and go home.”
When the Solidarity trade union movement was organized in Poland, the founders understood that the movement had to be outside of government auspices. The Communist one-party state had both moderate and repressive wings. Had the union workers been willing, they could have compromised with moderates inside the government. Much in the same way some are calling for compromise with Governor Walker. “Come, let’s talk and find a moderate solution,” then when the crowds have all gone home they will ask for even more compromise.
Native American tribes were once asked to compromise and gave up vast tracts of land. Within a few years the white man returned and asked for more land. Each time the Native Americans had less bargaining power and were forced into smaller and smaller tracts of land. Through moderation all was lost, and by trusting in those who suddenly befriended them, they were undone. Look at the situation in Palestine. The Israelis offer peace negotiations and once the Palestinians have met their unacceptable conditions, they find that the Israelis are already building. They are creating in fact and concrete, that which can never be bargained away.
Wal-Mart moves into communities and when it meets local resistance they withdraw their request for a building permit. Then six weeks or six months later when the furor has died down they will submit the permit application again. If they meet resistance they will withdraw and repeat, knowing that they have time and money on their side and the public is burdened with the day to day affairs of life.
Accommodation is to capitulation as surrender is to …? Would the lunch counter protesters of the civil rights era been satisfied if African Americans had been allowed to eat at the lunch counter after two o’clock? Perhaps, if Montgomery would have segregated just one side of the bus rather than the front and rear of the bus a compromise might have been reached? Obviously, these things are not so, injustice is injustice. It cannot be moderated or placated. There is no honor among thieves.
What is going on in Wisconsin is part of an ongoing struggle, a generational battle. Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s assault on organized labor and the middle class right down to Governor Walker. Slowly and for the most part imperceptibly, the Democratic Party has either been bought out or has been so compromised as to no longer be trustworthy as the workers ally in Government.
The fourteen Wisconsin Democrats know that they will be the first to lose their jobs if Governor Walker’s budget passes. They’ve worked to make concessions on wages and benefits despite knowing about the corporate laundry list of tax giveaways in the bill. The Democrats have become the reservation Indian agents filled with promises, short on accomplishments but always with the same message, “We must compromise to get the best deal that we can; we must be bipartisan.”
Great father in Washington, Bill Clinton, promises you many green jobs if you sign off on free trade agreement. Great father in Washington, Obama, promises you card check legislation, he promises you health care and he promises you that if anyone tries to take away your collective bargaining rights he will put on his moccasins and walk many miles with you. Great father Obama is your friend and you can trust him as long as the grass grows and the river flows.
The Poles in Gdansk did more than shout slogans and wave funny signs; they understood that the government only wanted their eventual destruction no matter how much they spoke publicly of accommodation. It was strikes that brought the Polish government to its knees. Despite what the Polish radio, television and newspapers said, the Polish workers knew better. They understood that the government was not on their side. They were tired of being hit and decided to strike back.
The radio, television and newspapers in this country are no less controlled. Ray McGovern stands silently with his back to Hillary Clinton in protest and the media calls him a “heckler.” Rallies held in in all fifty states and here in Minnesota have drawn thousands on a snowy cold Saturday afternoon and the media sent one camera man. And in all honesty he was sent just in case, just in case violence broke out or a bomb went off. As I researched for the location and time of the local rally, the major media said nothing about it; news they chose not to report.
There is nothing new in this. During the 1930s, the Hearst newspapers downplayed worker demonstrations or mischaracterized them as riots or inspired by “Red” agitators. The struggle that we face today is no different than that faced by my grandfather. Who will decide fair wages and who will decide fair taxation? Who will run this government?
If you think that accommodation and moderation is the path to follow then be prepared to give up half your lands. Be prepared to cede your rights as a free people and understand that you are ceding power to those who would extinguish you. The same people who have off-shored your jobs, foreclosed on your homes and plundered your banks are now coming for your right to organize. They have time, money and patience and if not in Wisconsin they will try again somewhere else. That is why it is fundamental to understand the guiding principle here. This is a state government actively attempting to destroy the fundamental rights of its people. This is an act of war against the people of the United States by a sovereign state government. This isn’t Dredd Scott, this is Fort Sumter. You are being fired upon no matter where you reside.
Can the same political parties and politicians who happily led us into the slaughter house be trusted to lead us out again safely? The Republican’s called for deregulation of the banks, the Democrats have re-regulated them under corporate terms. The banks are in charge of mortgage rescue and mortgage rescue fails. Consumer protection is put in the hands of the Federal Reserve, about as sound a decision as putting environmental protection in the hands of British Petroleum. Corporate America enters a new golden age while Main Street crumbles. Unemployment is discounted and the suffering of millions of American families is ignored.
The Republican’s assail us while the Democrats cry, “Trust us! We will get you the best deal we can through accommodation and moderation and capitulation.” Romans on the right of us and Judas on the left, lips puckered with coins jingling in his pocket. I was enjoying the rally in Saint Paul; we sang the military national anthem about bombs and rockets. Then we sang another anthem about this land being your land and this land being my land. The voices were louder and more enthusiastic during this anthem because this one speaks to the issues at hand. Whose county is this?
As this anthem was sung though, they conspicuously left out my favorite verses; to me at least, the most important ones and the ones most heartfelt.
As I went walking I saw a sign there
and on the sign it said “No Trespassing”
but on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
is this land made for you and me?
Nobody living can ever stop me,
as I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
I was glad that I attended the rally. It served a vital purpose but missed the mark. Americans are looking for more than the same tired rhetoric. They are tired of playing defense and tired of playing games. They are tired of compromise and of being compromised. Woody Guthrie would tell you that you can’t find the right road home by following the folks who got you lost in the first place.
This land was made for you and me–after we took it from the Native Americans with agreements and treaties and compromises.
David Glenn Cox is a staff writer for TLR and an award winning writer and musician; he is the author of the novel, The Servants of Pilate.