Nondebatable!

The Wisconsin State Senate today passed a bill requiring that Wisconsin women seeking an abortion undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound procedure, after which the physician must give an account of the number of “unborn children” present, the characteristics, dimensions, and location in the womb. Because, of course, women are too ignorant to know “what they’re carrying in their womb and what they’re doing” unless it’s rammed down their throats. Senator Mary Lazich (R) has proclaimed that “it’s time for women to know the facts.” Because how could we possibly “know the facts” about what’s happening in our own bodies without her and her Republican colleagues forcing them on us?

Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D) pointed out that not a single one of the constituents in her district asked for this bill or expressed support for it. She related the concerns of a couple of her constituents, one of whom pointed out that only 16 percent of rapes are reported, that one in six women in the U.S. will at some point in their life experience rape, and that that comes to more than 400,000 Wisconsin women.

Senator Lazich dismissed Sen. Vinehout’s “theatrics” (before proceeding with her own) by pointing out that the bill exempts rape and incest. Does it also exempt unreported rapes? Because those are the rapes Sen. Vinehout was referring to. In case you forgot, that’s 84 percent of rapes.

Here’s how it went down:
 

For those who don’t have the stomach to watch the video (and believe me, I don’t blame you one bit—watching it over and over again to get all the juicy quotes was truly nauseating), let me describe to you the “very cold, cold procedure and what happened, and the cold environment” in which democracy was dealt yet another death blow in Wisconsin.

Your voice and the voices of many of your legislative representatives were dismissed and discounted. After Senator Lazich’s animated testimony, Democratic senators tried to continue, but they were silenced. Senate President Mike Ellis came completely unhinged and shouted while slamming down his gavel so hard that it broke: “You’re out of order! Sit down! You’re not recognized! The question before the house is nondebatable. Call the roll!”

So that’s how democracy dies in Wisconsin. At least it was with some drama and the perfect symbolism of a broken gavel. And once this bill passes, we will have to live with it “day after day after day after day” for the rest of our lives. The women of Wisconsin will have to “live with this trauma” of having our voices silenced, of having our knowledge and judgment questioned, of having unnecessary medical procedures forced upon us by a legislature that refuses to hear our voices or even consider our concerns. “And it’s time for that to end.”

It’s time for those whom Senator Lazich and Senator Ellis purport to represent to know the facts about how their senators are carrying on in the state capitol in their name and what they’re doing when they reelect these legislative bullies over and over again. “If you have a loved one that’s thinking about” voting Republican, “for crying out loud, you want them to have full information. … You want them to know what’s going on” in that legislative body and “what they’re doing and that they’re not going to be able to change that for the rest of their life. They make that decision. It’s over. It’s over in a few minutes, and then later on they can live with the fact that” with that one decision in the voting booth, they supported the death of democracy in Wisconsin.

Paying the Price for Free Speech

I have half-joked for decades that one of the items on my bucket list is to be arrested for civil disobedience. The civil rights movement and the anti-war protests happened while I was safely ensconced in junior high and high school. I got to college in time to see one lone streaker torpedo across campus. There I was, already a dyed-in-the-wool folkie, just in time to wave the glory days of folk music good-bye. I felt cheated.

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders . . . and millions have been killed because of this obedience. . . . Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves . . . [and] the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. —Howard Zinn

Hah! Little did I know that my timing was not so bad after all. Here I am—yes, a little worn around the edges—smack-dab in the middle of the Wisconsin Uprising, singing my heart out with the Solidarity Sing Along as many times a week as I can. There are some days I can feel the resonance so strongly that I begin to suspect that this is the moment I was born for and have been preparing for since those disappointingly quiet days in college.

The Solidarity Sing Along began the day after an illegal vote was taken in the Wisconsin State Senate to pass a bill destroying the rights of working people. Participants in the spontaneous event understood that their voices were no longer being heard or acknowledged through the formal political structures of the state. They were determined to not be silenced, however, and have continued to voice their opinions on the political issues of the day every single weekday for nearly eighteen months. —Rebecca Kemble, The Progressive Magazine

And now there’s serious trouble afoot. The new chief of the Capitol Police, David Erwin, is cracking down on free speech in the Capitol. Twelve practitioners of free speech have been arrested arrests have been made so far for holding signs without a permit.

If you have to ask permission from the government to protest the government, you don’t really have the right to protest the government!!! The federal and state constitutions are all the permits we need. —sign seen in the capitol this week

So today Friday September 7th at noon we’re singing, again, for free speech, for our friends who have been arrested and fined, for our rights and yours, for the rights of our children. We’re singing because freedom of speech is absolutely fundamental to democracy. Without it we are no more than cogs in the machine—no voice, no power, no access.

An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. —Mahatma Gandhi

Most of us will likely gather inside the rotunda, but a few may also gather outside under the tree on Carroll Street (south of the Lady Forward statue) as we have done on Fridays since June. Please come join us! Bring a friend! We’re asking for as much participation from our friends and fellow citizens as possible. Free speech needs you.

Attorneys affiliated with the Madison National Lawyers Guild stand ready to defend anyone who suffers arrest as the result of over-zealous enforcement of the Capitol access policy. Anyone who does suffer such an arrest should not argue with officers or even converse with them about their protest actions. Instead, protesters should do nothing more than ask officers why they are being arrested, ask what the charges are, immediately demand to speak to an attorney, and, if arraigned, plead not guilty. If possible, the protesters should notify someone who is not being arrested that they are being placed in custody so that this individual can contact the protest coordinator of the Madison National Lawyers Guild at 608-352-0138. The coordinator will then attempt to find legal representation for the person who has been arrested. —Madison chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

As you did in February and March last year, come prepared to resist provocation and intimidation peaceably. It’s critically important to our cause that our conduct be above reproach.

When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you: pull your beard, flick your face to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.” —John Lennon


We’re also hoping for a large turnout on Monday. And we’ll continue every weekday at noon until Wisconsin gets better. (For news on whether we’re singing inside or out, check the Solidarity Sing Along Facebook page). We’re in this for the long haul. We’re not going away.

We are gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives. —Holly Near

Wisconsin Recall: We Are What Democracy Looks Like

With less than a week to go in Wisconsin’s effort to collect signatures for the Walker recall, many of us are understandably turning our thoughts to who will run against him in the upcoming election.

Honestly, the first thought that has come to mind every time I’ve considered the question is Russ Feingold. But Feingold has said repeatedly that he will not run for public office in 2012. And although I know that many politicians say one thing and mean another, I think Russ’s resolve is quite firm in this respect. In a mid-December interview with Charles Benson of TMJ4 in Milwaukee, Feingold said he feels more a part of real change now than he did as a senator.

Here’s exactly what he said: “I feel more a part of real change now than I did even as a senator.” Think about that for a minute. What Feingold is saying is that real change comes not so much from elected officials as from the people. You know–€”us.

I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter who runs against Walker. It does. And we do need to talk about that. But before we get going full tilt on that, we need to remind ourselves of something even more important: where real transformation comes from.

Think about who you were, who we were, before Walker unleashed his draconian agenda on the people of Wisconsin last February.

I didn’t know the names of any state legislators but my own. I hardly ever spared a thought for state politics. Whenever there was an election, I did my best to catch up with the candidates and the issues. But it’s not really possible to do that in just a few days. I was woefully out of touch.

When I first learned about Walker’s devastating “budget repair” bill, I firmly expected that people would be angry and would complain for a while and then continue going about their business as though nothing had happened.

But then a miracle happened.

From seemingly out of nowhere, thousands of us—hundreds of thousands of us–€”gathered on the Capitol Square. Day. After. Day. We brought with us our signs, our outrage, our indignation, our sense of fairness, our determination, our sense of humor, our hats and mittens, and our friends, neighbors, kids, and grandparents. The people of Wisconsin woke up and rose up, and anyone who was there will never be the same again.

We have sloughed off our complacency and have our sights firmly set on transforming our state into the beacon of progressive values it has long been and will be again. No politician, no candidate for governor, can do for Wisconsin what we can. It won’t be enough to elect a progressive governor. It won’t be enough to flip the state senate and the assembly. No matter how hard we have worked collecting signatures, no matter how hard we work on the recall election, it won’t be enough if we don’t continue doing the work of democracy.

better in person

I have confidence in the transformation that has taken place in Wisconsin. Our sleeves are rolled up, and they will stay rolled up. We will remain vigilant on behalf of our neighbors and our children, our parents and grandparents. We will not stop insisting that the progressive values we prize most are not compromised. All this because we have learned a lesson we will never forget:

We are what democracy looks like.

The Transformative Power of Protest

This weekend HuffPost ran a piece by Steven van Zandt called “There Is Only One Issue in America,” that one issue being the financing of public elections. I can think of many important issues other than that one, and I am naturally skeptical of solutions that seem to come with “it’s so simple” stamped on them. Still, this one issue is unquestionably a biggie.

But here is what really raised my hackles:

Yes, we can demonstrate. We can march. We can write and sign petitions to our Representatives. We can occupy.

And we should because it’s healthy to vent, and we don’t feel so all alone. But the truth is, other than the value of venting, we’re wasting our time. It is naïve to expect political results from any of these activities.

The results of political demonstrations and marches are seldom immediately apparent. But they are legion. They are not merely “venting.” They are not just an opportunity to not “feel so all alone.” They are an opportunity to be not “so all alone.” What did the demonstrations in Madison last February and March accomplish? What has the Occupy movement accomplished?

They have galvanized people. They have forged connections and built a community of resistance. They have transformed us into a formidable force to be reckoned with that won’t back down and won’t settle for the status quo.

Of course, demonstrations and protests on their own aren’t enough. But they do indeed lead to some very desirable outcomes. They build awareness and stir us from our complacency. They change the direction and tone of public discourse. They cause us to identify and align ourselves with our communities in a new way. They provide us with the opportunity to teach our children what democracy looks like, to teach them who we are, while at the same time affirming that for ourselves. For some of us, representing in actions like these has been an all-out life-changing experience. We are new people, with new connections and new vision, new knowledge and understanding, new determination, and a new appreciation for the power that We The People actually do wield but far too often relinquish.

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In Wisconsin, the recall efforts of this summer and the current Walker recall efforts would not have happened without the demonstrations of February and March. Those who are working so hard right now to collect signatures wouldn’t have as much energy or focus had they not participated in last winter’s demonstrations. The visceral experience of not being alone in our outrage convinced many of us of how much we could accomplish together and how truly excellent our compadres are. The protests were a breath of fresh air to those who are being disenfranchised, ignored, and abandoned by the ruling elite. They were like a giant hug for every public school teacher in the state. They were an acknowledgment to the world that we are here, we are strong, and we are fighting back—together.

I’m sorry you missed out on all the fun, Steven. The demonstrations here in Madison and in Zucotti Park have been far from a waste of time. They haven’t had the direct effect on those in power that we envision—yet. But they most definitely have had a powerful effect on everyone who participated in them. We will never be the same again. The power brokers won’t let go of their stranglehold quickly or easily. But they are worried. About us. About what we’re going to do next. Because they know they cannot withstand the tsunami that is the unrelenting power of the people.

VICTORY! Legislature’s Website Modified!

This is a quick follow up to a story I posted yesterday. The Wisconsin legislature had recently changed their website to show the wrong representatives on their “Who Represents Me?” feature.

A query would display results as if new redistricting laws had already taken effect, describing a constituent’s future representatives as “current” representatives and labeling the current representatives as “previous.”

Many citizens, especially those involved in recalling Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, were convinced that the change was made to intentionally confuse potential recall petition signers.

Thanks to one day of numerous complaints from citizens and a bit of media attention, the legislature changed the search results display. Using my address as a sample, here is what it looked like yesterday morning…

…and here’s what it looked like late yesterday:

I was so amused by the responses I got from the Government Accountability Board (GAB) yesterday that I posted their emails on Daily Kos, if you need a laugh.

While the new display is still not ideal, it is at least technically accurate. One thing that is not spelled out is that for purposes of recalls, the district lines from 2002 apply. The GAB is firm on that point (although the Republican legislative leaders are trying to get a court to change that, naturally.)

Wisconsin Police Sleep in Solidarity with Protesters in the Capitol Tonight

THE WISCONSIN PROFESSIONAL POLICE ASSOCIATION FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

February 25, 2011 Contact: James L. Palmer, II, 608-273-3840

HEAD OF POLICE UNION ASKS GOVERNOR TO KEEP CAPITOL OPEN AND ANNOUNCES LAW ENFORCEMENT SLEEPOVER MADISON—

Following action by lawmakers to approve a rule change that clears the way for closing down the State Capitol and ejecting the people protesting Governor Walker’s bill to curtail union activity, the head of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association called on the governor today to keep the capitol building open and allow the peaceful protesters to remain. Continue reading