Lessons from Wisconsin

You’ve heard that the Republican Senate in Wisconsin abruptly approved a controversial measure aimed at restricting collective bargaining for public workers.  The move took nearly everyone by surprise except those who voted. It also set off a new round of protests.

Still, there are lessons to be learned on both sides. Perhaps these are best explored by reviewing some of the questionable behaviors of the past month:

1. Fourteen senators leaving the state as a means of postponing a vote on the fate of collective bargaining. I understand why they left. They were trying to buy time, hoping to create opportunities both for amicable discussion and for negotiating more reasonable terms before taking a vote. I even sympathize; I’m just not sure it was right. Being elected to state office would imply that one is meant to conduct state business inside state borders and not jump ship — even when the majority party doesn’t seem to be playing fair.

2. The Republican senators taking a vote on the bargaining matter without giving the required 24-hour notice. Seems a tad sneaky.

3. Governor Scott Walker saying his sole reason for targeting the unions was to balance the state budget. Then, after public-sector workers readily agreed to give concessions to help ease the deficit, Walker continued pushing to slash bargaining rights, a strategy that conveyed that the deficit was never his chief concern.  The Republican agenda was. The deficit was merely a guise.

4. Walker ignoring historically large turnouts by state workers for days on end as well as polls of Wisconsin voters, which repeatedly tilted in favor of the union protestors. If you’re elected to lead the people of Wisconsin, why would you not back things up a step or two and sit down to discuss a middle- ground solution? Why would you not take the concessions offered by the workers and move forward with more fiscal responsibility and support from the entire state?

5. The blogger who, posing as billionaire David Koch, taped a phone conversation with Walker. Sure, the tape revealed some unflattering tactics on Walker’s part.  Big surprise! But why, in this age when journalism is being accused of underhanded and irresponsible tactics on a regular basis, didn’t anyone in the media question such tactics? On rare occasions, it’s been necessary for a journalist to go under cover.  This wasn’t one of them.

There was also inspiration to be drawn from the events of the past couple of weeks: For one thing, regular people proved that their voices matter.  The protesters in Wisconsin have given the nation something to think about.  They’ve raised questions, not just about the fate of unions, but about the fate of the middle class and the growing gap in this country between the very rich and the very poor.  They’ve helped us to understand that protests can be waged in a civil manner. (And, I hope they will continue to be). I also hope that citizens speak with another force in the near future — their votes.