What This Is…
Issue #20- August 17, 2011, Election Result Analysis, Where Do We Go From Here?
Election Result Analysis…
While last night's wins by the two Democrats wasn't a surprise, it certainly was a relief. Throughout the past 6 months (or so) there have been enough unexpected events to make me cautious about anything political. The funny thing about watching the results last night was that Holperin was ahead for the whole time I was following the coverage and it was Wirch that trailed for the first hour or so.
In the end it all worked out, but I have to admit I didn't relax until the winning checkmark appeared next to both Wirch and Holperin.
Now that the "Summer of Recalls" (definitely not the "Summer of Love") is in the books where does Wisconsin stand? To be honest I wrote last week's reflection on the results with the assumption that the two remaining recalls would go in favor of the Democrats. The comment posted about that edition was very accurate in saying that real analysis needed to wait until this weeks results. However, with the last two results in, my overall analysis hasn't changed too much.
A recap of last weeks reflections (Issue #18):
*No one won- Not true, see below.
*Everyone won- Not true, see below.
*Everyone lost- Depends on what happens next.
*It's difficult to defeat any incumbent- Still true!
*That's a lot of money- Still true!
A little more analysis:
*The Democrats came out ahead- I know that both sides will be busy spinning the results to show that they won. It is also true that the Republicans still control the Wisconsin Senate (although by a narrow one vote margin). Still, it can't be denied that the Democrats gained two seats and won five of the nine races. All three Democrats defended their seats, winning by sizeable margins. The results serve notice to Republican leaders that they should begin to think about ways to work with Democrats and not just over and around them.
*This is a long term struggle- Part of last week's feelings of letdown was the fact that many Democrat supporters were counting on regaining control of one house of the legislature. Many people that I've talked to were viewing these recalls as the culmination of the efforts to fight off the attack on labor rights in Wisconsin. Many of us involved in the re-energized and revitalized labor movement need the reminder that this is a long term struggle. It wasn't going to be won by recalling state senators and it won't be won if Gov. Walker is recalled. This is a battle that has been waged throughout history and we need to adjust our expectations to recognize this fact.
*It is extremely difficult to recall anyone- That still holds true. It is what makes the two recall victories so monumental. I did a quick look at the history of recalls in the United States and the small number that have been successful speaks to this fact. A significant number of recalled politicians had committed a crime of some type or were involved scandals. Several resigned prior to being ousted from office because of their guilt.
Why did we recall these Republicans? Contrary to what conservatives will tell you, it wasn't simply because they didn't vote the way we (union thugs instructed by union bosses) wanted them to. The reasons are more complicated than that. They center around the ideas that these senators violated their obligation to represent all the citizen in their district, they consistently violated established rules and procedures, and they destroyed the bipartisan nature of our government rendering the political process meaningless.
It is much easier to campaign to recall someone who has committed a felony for example, than it is to recall someone for these more abstract ideological reasons. That makes for a tougher sell and makes the success of the recall movement even more impressive.
*Huge turnout, but…- Many websites and news agencies will talk about the huge number of voters that turned out. I say, "HOGWASH!" Yes, we did have more people vote than is typical in a local election. Yes, it was a significant number of people voting in a special election held in the summer. Still, with all the efforts on both sides to get people out to vote we still couldn't get a significant majority of eligible voters out to the polls.
The simple reality is that too many of us are not engaged in the political process. There are many reasons for this, but until people see the value in expressing their opinion in a meaningful way democracy will suffer. People need to recognize the need to be informed and exercise their rights as citizens before they are negatively affected by political actions.
*How can we heal?- One of the more unique aspects to these recall elections was the passionate feelings that were aroused. The issues debated in the races truly became divisive in communities, friendships and families. I invite you to read the comments after any on-line article about the recalls and see what is being said. One important question that comes out of this summer is, how can we return to being a civil society? Both sides need to abandon the hateful rhetoric and really look at the issues involved.
*Analysis needs to wait for history- We really won't know the full effects of this summer's events for a while. That's the difficulty of being a part of history instead of studying it. Time will tell the full impact of our actions. Hindsight is truly better than foresight. It's always easier to judge our actions when their full impact is known. However, that shouldn't stop us from acting in the present based on what we know at this moment.
*Politics, economics, etc. are more about perception, opinion and confidence than any reality- This is true in all the social sciences (political science, economics, sociology, psychology, etc.). What is "true" or a "fact" can be different for different people in different situations. Just compare how different people react to the same event and you will see this "flexible truth" in practice. How many times have you heard someone say, "I just don't understand how they could think that was a good idea!"? Our ideas of what makes a society "good" and how to get there are based on widely different foundations. Our challenge as a state/nation is to find a way to unify those different bases into a working collective whole.
In my mind this is why any ideology that can't accept compromise is so dangerous. It is why we are do divided here in Wisconsin and why our national government is struggling to be effective. If we can't find ways to work together to achieve a common good then our chances to be a successful democracy fade. Another reason the recall process was so important. It should force Republican leadership to realize that they need to listen or they will not retain power.
Now that the Senate recalls are completed the question becomes, what happens now? Will there be a "return to normalcy"? For the immediate future the Republican response to this summer will be telling. Will there be true efforts at bi-partisanship? The labor movement can't simply sit back and wait to see what will happen. I see four main areas that need to be addressed as the summer ends:
Define Movement- What are we fighting for? The current anti-Walker movement is made up of a broad coalition of labor, political and social groups. The interests of these groups overlap in their opposition to the Walker Agenda, but diverge in many areas as well. Historically this has been a weakness of coalitions like ours. Given enough time or pressure these differences have weakened the strength of the movement.
Different groups need to play to their strengths and be willing to work with others who may have different focal points for their agendas. These groups, and the individuals who are their backbone, need to carefully analyze their goals and objectives. Once these are clearly defined compromise becomes possible between groups and the coalition can maintain its strength.
Different strategies- Social movements have many ways to achieve their goals. Some of these are:
Political Action- Recalls, elections
Mass Protests- February in Madison
Legal Action- Lawsuits
Social Activism- Networking and communication
Media/Education- Get the story out
None of these will work alone, but a combination of them can be extremely effective.
Strengthen Base- There is already a large base of energized citizens who are ready to work to reclaim our state. However, there are still a significant number of people who are not engaged in the process. As time goes by an effort needs to be made to reach out to these people and get them involved. They need to be shown reasons why they should support our movement and convinced that they can have an impact on what happens here.
The same needs hold true for our existing supporters. As time goes by it is a natural tendency for people to accept the status quo. Loss of rights, loss of money and lack of opportunity become "normal". If this happens the movement to resist weakens and it becomes difficult to regain the momentum. The middle class worker who formed the core of the initial protests is not easy to keep mobilized. Jobs, families, etc. take focus away from political and social struggles. The sudden loss of income for many of us will put additional pressures on our time and energy (just as the Republican strategy intended).
Maintain and expand organization- The activism and the organization behind it has been incredible during these past months. From essentially nothing a powerful organization has been built. This organization is key to our success. Without it we are widely dispersed and isolated individuals. We need to carefully assess our progress in organizing our base and work to make our efforts even more effective and efficient.
A brief, but heartfelt, THANK YOU!! to all the staff members of the different organizations who made our volunteer efforts into a force for change. Your support, guidance and instruction were instrumental in the efforts to recall the Republican senators.
Also thanks to all the people who I met over the course of the protests, canvassing, phoning, social networking, etc. You've all given me hope for the future of Wisconsin.
The Struggle Continues…