Sunday, January 22, 2012

Issue #43a January 22, 2012- Recall and Political Organizing News

What This Is…
Issue #43a- January 22, 2012
In this issue: Recall News, What's Next, Positive Republicans?, Election Fraud, Walker's Budget, Education News, Claiming MLK, Scott Walker, Two Views of America.

This week's edition is broken up into two installments.  This first one deals with the political news of the week and ways to organize our efforts to counter the conservative forces at work in Wisconsin.
Recall Information…
One Million Signatures!!!!  That number really speaks for itself, but when combined with the other 5 GOP elected officials targeted for recall rises to nearly 2 million.  A few articles from around the nation and world.

Most of these articles focus on the usual points that have been the heart of news coverage since last year.  We must work to get national recognition that we are not just fighting for collective bargaining rights, but are also united to defeat the other initiatives offered by the GOP.  Collective bargaining rights alone are worthy of our full support, but when combined with the other issues that are part of our platform make our cause worthy of widespread appeal. 

We will hear Walker and his spokespeople offer many different ideas about the recalls in the near future.  It is important that we don't allow his comments to go without comment.  For example, his claim that he believes the people of Wisconsin support him and wants to put his policies to the test in an election are false.  The GOP will do anything and everything to undermine the process and slow the momentum for recall that currently exists.  For this reason Walker will ignore the Democratic Party's offer to waive the objections to the recall and move ahead with elections. 

The spin of the numbers is always entertaining.  I seem to recall Governor Walker talking about the mandate that voters gave him in 2010 (with around 1.2 million votes).  Yet in this interview on CNN he talks about a million being a "small minority". 

The amount of time and money that keeping the recall process open is amazing.  Not only can you watch the signature counting room, but eventually scans of all the recall petitions will be available on line.  While keeping the process "transparent" is important in order to maintain public faith in our system there are some concerns that these efforts raise.  We can't forget that anti-recall activists targeted signers of petitions for harassment when images of the petitions were shown on a newscast.  It also doesn't speak well of us that we need to keep the petitions under guard for fear of some act of political terrorism. 

Where Do We Go From Here?…
We are engaged in a conflict, and like most conflicts this one will not be solved in any single action (short of complete capitulation by one side).  This is a long term struggle that involves constant effort, focus and dedication from all progressive activists.  From the initial events of last year this need for maintaining the energy and enthusiasm to fight back has been one of our greatest challenges (and one of the most remarkable things about the resistance to the conservative agenda in Wisconsin). 

As with any struggle there are times of intense action along with significant lulls in between noteworthy events.  Just remember the "Phoney War" in Europe just prior to the German invasion of France in 1940.  However, as the Allies learned in the 1940's, these breaks in the action are really just the calm before the storm.  It is these respites that we must use to our advantage. 

There is no doubt that a large number of volunteers were active during the signature gathering phase of our recall effort.  These activists braved the weather, opposition bullying and other obstacles while maintaining the other parts of their lives (family, job, etc.) as well.  Now that the immediate need for significant volunteer hours is lessened momentarily these volunteers can take a moment to recharge and reorganize themselves.  I encourage all activists to be sure to make the effort to celebrate and relax a little.  Make sure that you are ready to engage in the next stages of the struggle.

At the same time we are taking advantage of a few moments to restore balance to our lives we must not forget that we have more preparation to do.  The preparation we do now will serve us well in the upcoming months.  Evidence of this can be seen in the organization of the recent recall effort as compared to the efforts earlier in 2011.  We were able to learn from our mistakes and build on our strengths and achieved tremendous success.

We must remember that democracy can't defend itself.  Instead, democracy relies on the citizens represented by the government to be its defenders.  We have seen how quickly democratic rights and values can be taken from us over the course of the past year.  It is up to us to prepare ourselves to protect what we believe in.

Perhaps the most obvious thing to do for progressives is to find candidates we can rally behind and who will be able to beat Walker, Kleefisch and the 4 GOP senators.  This will not be a smooth, easy process.  It is of vital importance that we build support for our candidates and don't simply rely on anti-conservative feelings to carry us to victory.  Already the conservatives are working to fracture the alliances formed between different groups who have supported the recall.  They will claim that it is the union bosses who will be picking the candidate that best serves the needs of the "liberal elite".  We must make sure that we take the time and select the best candidates in an open and honest manner.      

Another key element of our preparation for the upcoming struggle is to make sure everyone who is eligible to vote is registered properly.  The GOP has been able to confuse and intimidate many people in this area and it is to their advantage to limit participation in the approaching elections.  Here are two links, one is for general information about voter registration.  The other is a link for information about becoming deputized to register people to vote in Madison.

Of vital importance to educators are the upcoming school board elections.  There are two seats up during this cycle.  The elections take place during MMSD's spring break and so special attention should be paid to absentee voting rules.  These elections are so important because it is likely that it will be the school board that will develop the policies and procedures that will replace the current collective bargaining agreement between the educators and the school district here in Madison.  We need people on the board who are willing to listen to educators and who are well acquainted with the challenges that our district faces.  People who are willing to look at the total picture and not focus exclusively on single issues or individual group interests. 

Finally, now is the time to build more connections and support for our cause.  We know that there are a number of citizens who are politically active and who will participate in actions to advance the progressive cause.  However, there are a larger number of people who are not as engaged.  It is these people who we must develop relationships with to make sure that they understand the importance of what is happening here in Wisconsin.  These are the undecided voters.  They are the late signers of petitions who needed someone to come to their home and convince them to sign.  They are the ones who are vulnerable to propaganda from the right which will convince them that the GOP has their interests at heart or that the progressives are only in it for the union bosses.

In a union building class I took recently we discussed ways to "map" our workplaces.  This process involved ranking co-worker support for the union on a 1-5 scale.  A 1 was a vocal anti-union person, 2 = anti-union, 3 = neutral and uninvolved, 4 = pro-union but not active, and a 5 was an active union organizer.  The goal of an organizer was to try and move people up the scale by direct contact and education.  The reality is that it is difficult to move people more than one place in any direction.

Taking this example to the current political situation in Wisconsin if fairly straightforward.  Simply replace the union with progressive and go from there.  Using voting as an example shows how important it is to move people up the scale.  In an election we can only count on the "1's" and "2's" to get out and vote for our candidates.  "3's" may or may not vote at all, and if they vote will likely vote for the party with the most persuasive advertising or the incumbent.

This may be the most important action we can take while we wait for the recall process to unfold.  It is by talking to people, sharing information with them and spreading the positive progressive message that we will build long term strength here in Wisconsin.  Without building connections and strengthening our base we will find ourselves in the same place we are in now again very soon.  Just look at the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2010 as examples.  Democrats initially were extremely successful, but without deep underlying support fell flat in 2010.  We can't rely on the ability to energize our base just during election years.  That leaves us vulnerable to the inevitable political cycles and allows for extreme politicians to take advantage of current events and trends.  Talk to your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  Write letters to the editor and to elected officials and express the ideals we espouse while supporting your arguments with facts.  We must share our message and frame the debate as we struggle for the future of our state.

Positive Republican Actions?…
We've all heard the stories about confrontational anti-recall bullies and their verbal (and sometimes physical) assaults on recall activists.  While I'm sure that some recall activists have also crossed the line in their behavior it has not been as widespread as the actions I'm aware of carried out by conservatives.  I'm not referring to offhand comments and argumentative acts, but rather to the cursing, gestures and other more intense behaviors that recall volunteers have reported.
I don't know why this is the case that conservatives seem to be more aggressive in their actions and am not qualified to make any broad generalizations about what makes the two sides so different. 

I believe that one of the contributing factors to this different approach is the fact that progressives had something positive to do.  We were frustrated, angry, scared, etc. but at the same time had some recourse for our feelings.  Whether it was protesting, organizing or petitioning, our negative feelings were channeled into positive action. 

I'm glad to hear that the conservatives of Wisconsin are mobilizing to validate signatures and prepare for the upcoming elections.  While I would be very happy if they would simply give up and "see the light", I know that having differing opinions is vital for the health of our political system.  I hope that by getting more people involved in volunteering and other activities it will give conservatives in Wisconsin a positive outlet for their emotions.  Maybe these organizing efforts will begin to restore some civility to our political discourse here.  We can only hope.

In Indiana some Republicans have begun to defend labor and are attacking supporters of the "Right to Work" legislation that is currently being pushed by many GOP legislators.  It is nice to see some members of the GOP begin to break ranks and recognize that the extreme policies being promoted by the more radical branches of their party are detrimental to our nation.  On the other hand if it means we are left with more "moderate" Republicans in power (our beloved Tommy Thompson for example) we won't see much in the way of progress for the 99%. 

I do have to admit that their ads are really pretty cool.

Election Fraud…
Republicans have been warning us about widespread election fraud and the deceit perpetuated by the "liberal elite of America".  To prevent it they've instituted Voter ID Laws and other "reforms" to make our electoral process safe.  They've redrawn voting districts and used laws that call for partisan representatives to man polling places.  Along the way they forgot the most important part of an honest election…accurately counting the ballots cast. 
I know it's a different situation than a general election, but the Iowa Caucus doesn't do much to increase confidence in the ability of the Republicans to manage an election.

It should be a significant concern to all of us that we have doubts about the validity of the vote counting systems in place all over our state and nation.  This is a long video that demonstrates the problem in Arizona, but we can't ignore the fact that the electoral system in Wisconsin is not without its problems.  These issues have been demonstrated quite clearly in the past few elections, most notably the race for State Supreme Court in 2011.

A letter posted on Facebook recently laid out the concerns that we have about elections in Wisconsin. 
Feeling good about the recall petitions? You should be worried instead.
Are you gratified by the incredible results of the recall petition drives? Well, here's an important caveat that I want every Wisconsinite to start thinking about SOON. And trust me, this isn't just tinfoil hat stuff.

Most will agree that the stakes here in Wisconsin are tremendous - not only for the state but for the entire country. MILLIONS of dollars are already being poured into the state by various interests in an effort to influence the outcomes.

Going beyond even just the money, most readers will agree that certain stakeholders -- both in Wisconsin and outside Wisconsin -- will do literally anything in their power to try to ensure that the recall elections come out the way they want it.

Now for the really bad news:

(1) We do NOT currently have the power to verify that votes are counted and reported accurately.
(2) The very few people who DO have that power are NOT public election officials, they're the commercial vendors/programmers of the voting machines.
(3) None of the "certification" done by the GAB protects against fraudulent programming of the vote-counting software for a particular election.
(4) There have been serious questions raised in the past about the ethics and ideology of ES&S, the provider of voting systems in Wisconsin, and/or about the reliability of their machines.
(5) The vote counting software, as well as the memory cards used in a specific election, have been declared proprietary and therefore off-limits to public scrutiny, either before or after the election.
(6) We, the public, do NOT currently have the legal right to insist on random independent audits of vote counts.
(7) There is ample circumstantial evidence that the lack of public accountability and/or reliability in electronic vote counts have tipped crucial past elections.

ALL of the above statements can be easily verified. Taken together, they should make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. To summarize, our coming recall elections will be entirely "faith-based" -- we must simply TRUST that no one will have both motive and opportunity to exploit gaping vulnerabilities in our election system. This naive trust is completely undeserved, period.

If you are surprised and shocked by any of the above, NOW is the time to begin applying serious pressure to restore transparency and accountability to our upcoming elections. I would start with item (6) above, since that is probably the solution that could be most quickly and convincingly implemented in the short term. In addition, it would help to try to educate election officials and county clerks as to the vulnerabilities. Most of them, presumably, want clean elections and simply trust that the machines "work".

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM: RIGHT AFTER I wrote the above note, I was pointed to this brand new video of a jaw-dropping press conference from just a few days ago (Jan. 12, 2012) in Tuscon, Arizona. Almost everything discussed in this press conference is potentially applicable to Wisconsin as well. It reinforces the points I made above more powerfully than anything I've seen so far. Please watch and share widely!
There's always the reality of the fact that Citizens United has completely changed the face of American politics in the current era.  I love what Colbert and Stewart have done as they expose the utter absurdity of the system as it exists today.

A more immediate, less entertaining and more troubling example of what good advertising can do…

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