This is Part 2, following after “Note to Scott Walker: LIBRULS are everywhere. Fighting Bob Fest North, Part 1”
I made haste to hear most of Dave Obey’s speech to a crowd of at least 350. We were in a whitewashed cement floor exhibition hall on folding chairs facing a stage covered in red, white, and blue bunting. A light and steady drip of rain came down outside. The audience wasn’t wearing farm seed caps but their appearance seemed conservative to me – likely because Bob Fest attracts a 40-year-old and up crowd and because we were in rural Wisconsin. Or maybe I think they look conservative because I live on the near east side of Madison where a good number of people have dreadlocks, nose piercings, and blue hair.
An activist I know from Obey’s district once said Obey is a well-loved crochety son of a bitch who knows how to say what his 7th congressional district constituents need to hear back home while he gets things done in Washington. Obey is now 72-years-old, retired, and walks with a cane, but he’s still got it. He broadcast a tight, well-paced speech. His audience leaned forward at his words a little. Their first standing ovation came when Obey said he wore black that day to signify he is in mourning over Scott Walker’s regressive Wisconsin Act 10.
It’s a statement even more weighty if you’ve heard this Johnny Cash song – which an audience of this vintage and rural location couldn’t avoid, having lived under a constant flow of AM and FM country music:
“Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times….”
He called Scott Walker’s behavior mean and thuggish. He called today’s brand of Ayn Rand politicians only the most current form of a wealthy elite that has been striving to rid the United States of rights for the working class since FDR. He jabbed at the hypocricy inherent in “so-called Christians” working to strip away the social contract.
Obey rounded out his speech with the call to action: “We can fight. We can start by standing up for the Dem14” In response, the crowd stood up for Obey, with some hoots and one woman calling out loudly, “Recall!”
And then Dave Obey did talk recalls, calling on the crowd to show they stood by Wisconsin’s Democratic senators by working on recall efforts adding,
“We didn’t start the recall process but we sure as hell can finish it.”
If this were Madison, the lone woman’s outburst would’ve broken into a chant of the word “recall” and the conclusion of Obey’s speech would’ve led to the crowd chanting “thank you”. Here nobody took up the recall chant. But at the speech’s conclusion, one man did begin to chant “Obey!” . Half the crowd picked up the chant and the entire crowd stood for the time it took Obey to leave the stage.
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Dave Obey’s seat is now in the hands of former reality TV star and professional lumberjack, Republican Sean Duffy.
Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne wrote at Obey’s retirement: “Obey was a committed progressive in Wisconsin’s great tradition. He never tried to be fashionable. Practical forms of old-fashioned social justice were just fine by him. He’d argue with Republicans, but also with people on his own side when that was necessary. He always knew his stuff. And he wasn’t afraid.”
And Obey told Dionne: “There’s no way in hell a progressive district like mine is going to a conservative Republican.”
But it did. I remember making fun of Duffy’s lumberjack background during last fall’s election, but people in Wausau corrected me, saying that Duffy was playing up lumberjacking to success in the woodsy north – as we see by his win. Here’s one of Duffy’s lumberjack ads:
Pat Kreitlow is now working to win the seat back for the Dems. He was busy meet ‘n’ greeting at the fest before he dashed off to Merrill for a labor picnic that day.
I milled around to different booths promoting the 10am Monday – Saturday online radio show Steve and I do (I think I just did it again) and inviting people to be on the show. A few themes kept on popping up in conversation: people are overwhelmed with the Republican agenda but heartened to see such a big crowd at the very first official Fighting Bob North; no local television or newspapers had come to the event; the Chippewa and Eau Claire media are glaringly conservative. One woman called the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram “fish wrap”.
I met a team of people working to offer an alternative to the local “fish wrap” with the Chippewa Valley Media Project. They gave out stacks of an honest-to-goodness printed on paper newspaper with a photo of Wisconsin’s legendary “Fighting” Bob LaFollette shaking his fist in the air on the front page.
Next in Part 3, the Chippewa Valley Media Project and in Part 4, hundreds of sand mines threaten water and air in Northwest Wisconsin
Here’s that Johnny Cash tune: