We Are Wisconsin, and We’re Already Winners

This morning Wisconsin voters will stream to the polls in a historic recall election that pits defenders of working people against six incumbents who backed a right-wing legislative assault on workers. It is not too late to give those working-class fighters a massive outpouring of last-minute support to counter the torrent of right-wing cash that is buying millions of dollars' worth of attack ads and robo-calls in defense of the Republican state Senate incumbents.

Through the “Call Out The Vote” campaign by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America, and the “virtual phone bank” set up by the Wisconsin Democratic Party, anyone with a telephone can persuade voters to go to the polls and elect middle-class champions to replace the incumbents who backed an all-out assault on the state's working people.

Regardless of where we live, any of us who are either in the middle class or struggling to get into the middle class and are appalled by the right-wing assault on fundamental American values can say, “We are Wisconsin.” Joining a phone bank today is one way to show it.

Though it may take several hours to determine if any of the challenged Republican legislators have been unseated, it is not too early to declare one important victory for progressive politics: No longer can conservative extremists riding the coattails of a tea party political insurgency assume that they can steamroll over the interests of working-class people without a vigorous grassroots fight from the working class. “They've put the oligarchs and their political lackeys on notice, letting them know that it won't be as easy to trample on the public as they thought,” our own Richard Eskow wrote last week.

The push-back is energizing other movements around the country taking a stand against the conservative austerity agenda and calling for it to be replaced by a jobs-first economic program. The Rebuild the Dream movement launched by activist Van Jones, today is publishing its “Contract For The American Dream,” a 10-point agenda based on the input of more than 130,000 people who helped rate ideas online and attended hundreds of house parties around the country. The Contract will serve as the manifesto for a series of events, starting with “Jobs Not Cuts” protests being organized Wednesday in congressional districts around the country and will continue through the month of August.

These efforts countering the right-wing shock doctrine will be able to regroup at the “Take Back the American Dream” conference in October, where activists and supporters will be able to plot the next steps toward ending the tea-party hostage-taking of the government and our democracy. (You can register now at early-bird rates.)

Here is the magnitude of what has already been accomplished: In six legislative districts—most of which are Republican strongholds—a grassroots uprising faced down a formidable and ruthless right-wing political machine fueled by a seemingly endless torrent of corporate cash.

That this recall effort could even happen is a minor miracle; as Chris Bowers pointed out Monday on Daily Kos, there have only been 13 successful recall elections in the entire country in the past 100 years, and only two of those have been in Wisconsin. Bowers adds that “Republicans outperform their statewide numbers by 10-15 percent in the key districts we are targeting” and “the days when we could outspend Republicans are gone, possibly forever.”

Nonetheless, Daily Kos polls in four of the six districts released Monday showed the Democratic challenger ahead in one of the districts and statistical dead heats in two others. “The bottom line: This is too close to call,” Bowers wrote.

One reason: Conservative groups have pulled out all the stops to save the seats of the Republican incumbents. Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt told the AFL-CIO Blog that “right-wing money is flooding into the state at an unprecedented rate. Just recently, Americans for Prosperity and the Koch Brothers purchased $150,000 worth of airtime. Yesterday, the Presidential Coalition, an affiliate of the conservative group Citizens United, announced a $270,000 ad buy.”

Some of that money has purchased the dirtiest of dirty tricks, including Americans for Prosperity absentee ballots mailed to Democrats in at least two recall districts that had a mail-in deadline date that was two days after the actual deadline date. One of the legislators who is being recalled, State Sen. Alberta Darling, is facing a formal complaint from the Wisconsin Democratic Party alleging campaign violations connected to million-dollar campaign warchest fueled by a coalition of right-wing organizations.

On the other side is a stunning display of people power. Mother Jones' Andy Kroll reports, “This past weekend, 8,234 people volunteered for the state Democratic Party to support the Democratic challengers in Tuesday's recalls. Volunteers made contact with nearly 785,000 voters last weekend alone, according to the Dems' estimates. All told, the party says total voter contacts have surpassed 2 million.”

What is significant is the dominant message that is being promoted by the recall challengers and by the organizations mobilizing behind them. Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislators who backed his agenda have slashed the safety net and important services for the middle class and the working class in order to pay for tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. An ad supporting the recall of State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf is typical. It says that “Harsdorf voted with Scott Walker to cut $800 million from our kids' schools; she supported his plan to give hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and the super-rich.”

If that message propels two or more of the challengers to victory, that will have enormous implications for the nationwide push-back against conservative “shock doctrine” policies. Up until now, congressional conservatives have chosen to ignore the polls that register majority opposition to their policies of shielding millionaires and billionaires from any contribution to deficit reduction while pushing for cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and dozens of support programs for middle-class and economically struggling people. They are betting that such events as the Standard & Poor's downgrade of the US credit rating can be used to persuade voters that it is the working families and retirees who must “eat their peas” while CEOs get an extra helping of filet mignon. And just in case their messaging alone doesn't work, they are working to block access to the basic tool of democracy, the ballot, to preserve their power.

Today, rank-and-file Wisconsin voters are rising up to say, no, democracy belongs to all of the people, not to the Koch brothers or to Dick Armey or the corporate PACs or the anti-gay, anti-women social conservatives. The extent of their victory is not yet clear. But after a dismal winter of political setbacks and capitulations, today may well be recorded as a turning point in the effort by progressives to “take back the American dream.”