People Power

Madison Protest

Image by pchgorman via Flickr

Who would have believed that an uprising in Tunisia would start a domino effect of disenfranchised uprisings around the world. It is still too soon to know whether any of them will turn out well for those whose energy have fueled them. Each of today’s series of protests have been countered by “protests” from the other side of debate. There is a history of such uprisings being hijacked by more powerful forces so that what at first seemed like a genuine revolution faltered.

Interestingly, the U.S. protesters of the past few years (the Tea Party) are the counter-protesters today in Wisconsin. The Tea Party claims to represent ordinary citizens, and yet so do those who are protesting in Wisconsin.  In a sense, I believe both of them. The Tea Party has many ordinary people as members, and the streets around the capitol in Madison are also filled with ordinary people.

Both of these opposing groups long to claim the mantle of being part of a “grassroots” movements.  Consider some of the differences, and you will see why I think what we’re seeing in Wisconsin deserves being called “grassroots” more than the Tea Party.  The Tea Party movement started slow, and it took many months to garner the sort of numbers that the Madison group has achieved in a matter of days.  The Tea Party movement was egged on by media types such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  The Billionaire Koch brothers helped “‘educate,’ fund, and organize Tea Party protesters.” The Tea Party rallies were planned out.  They appeared at a pre-planned location on a pre-planned date. The protesters in Wisconsin showed up and they keep showing up, and no one really knows when it might end.  Many figure this was all organized by labor unions, but I see little evidence at this point that this was orchestrated in any way like the Tea Party rallies were.

The key piece of evidence for me is to follow the advice of “Deep Throat” in the movie “All The President’s Men“: follow the money.  If you follow the money, you can tell who is behind something.  In the case of the protesters in Wisconsin, they want to see money NOT flow out of the pension funds of school teachers. In the case of the Tea Partiers, they at first wanted to see money NOT flow into banks in the form of the bail-out, but later they seemed to change direction by wanting to protect the flow of money into insurance companies (by opposing Health Care reform) and into banks (by opposing Wall Street reform).  They want to see money NOT flow out of Big Energy and Industry (by opposing cap & trade, alternative energy development, global warming legislation, etc.)

The Tea Party movement seems to me to have been a modest movement that gained legs only after big money interests steered them toward advocating for the rich.  The upheaval in Wisconsin is still very young.  Right now it is just a modest movement.  It isn’t as good at playing political games.  In an effort to be reasonable, their demands are modest. They’re willing to allow their governor, Scott Walker to balance the budget on their backs (even though he has already given tax breaks to the rich).  They have only asked to keep the rights to bargain collectively.  Once Walker gives them this tiny morsel, then ostensibly they’re done, and will then go home.  On the other hand, the Tea Party has arrived in Wisconsin with much more strident demands.  They want a recall of every democrat.  This puts them in a much stronger position to negotiate.  I hope that over time we begin to see the main group in Wisconsin begin to demand more from their governor.

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