Let’s get real: You can’t talk about 2011 without talking about Wisconsin.
You can’t talk about 2011 without mentioning Governor Scott Walker, the most vilified state executive in recent memory, and his so-called “budget repair bill” that stripped collective bargaining rights from thousands of teachers, nurses, and other public workers.
You can’t talk about 2011 without talking about the enormous crowds that flocked to Madison – first hundreds, then hundreds of thousands; the occupation of the state capitol many months before “Occupy Wall Street” was even conceived; and how the world watched as police officers and firefighters joined in solidarity with their union brothers and sisters, even though Walker’s law exempted them.
You have to mention Ian’s Pizza, blocks from the State Capitol in Madison, which received calls from all over the world to order pies for the protesters. When protesters in Egypt, who had just weeks earlier overthrown their tyrannical leader, called in to order pizzas for the American students standing up to Scott Walker, you knew something big had started. It wasn’t 2010 anymore.
Scott Walker and his friends thought they could pull off the greatest swindle in Wisconsin’s history – campaigning on broad promises of jobs in 2010, but enacting a radical right-wing agenda in 2011. They didn’t anticipate the enormous response of the working people of Wisconsin, who recognized that their own fate was connected with those who taught their kids and plowed their driveways. They didn’t anticipate the power of social media and web video, which documented the uprising minute by minute while the cable news giants stayed silent. They didn’t anticipate the time, money, resources, and commitment that we were willing to give to the effort to erode the Republican majority in the State Senate and put a major roadblock in front of Walker’s agenda. They didn’t anticipate that within six months of rubber stamping the collective bargaining bill, Sens. Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper would lose their jobs in a historic summer recall election.
The uprising in Wisconsin, the first revolt of the Middle Class in decades, set the tone for the rest of the year. Whether it was the fight against Kasich in Ohio, clawing back voting rights in Maine, or taking to the streets in New York City, the voices that echoed in the Rotunda in Madison reverberated across the country. Months before anyone ever said “We are the 99 percent,” the students and teachers and seniors and thousands of others shouted: “This is what democracy looks like.”
We started talking about the “Age of Wisconsin.” We started saying “this wasn’t possible before Wisconsin, but it is now. Wisconsin shows we can do it.”
As volunteers trudge across every inch of the state, preparing to oust the governor who picked the first fight, we can see that Wisconsin is still showing us what is possible.