While I have often used the word “joy” to describe how it felt to be part of the big rallies in Madison last year, there were frustrations. For me, one of the biggest frustrations was the inaccuracy in the reporting of events. I only spent one night in the capitol, but I spent a lot of days there. After a day of protesting, I would go home and watch the news and wonder how they could get so much wrong. I’m not talking about subjective things, I mean basic facts like someone’s name or job title.
I remember being downtown at a rally in the middle of the week. The teachers had returned to work after a few days of calling in sick, but there were still about ten thousand people at the noon rally. One of the major television networks had finally decided to send a crew in to do a story after days of protests and job actions. I watched their news broadcast that evening. The reporter described the controversy as a fight between Scott Walker and the teachers unions over pension and health care costs (no mention of other public employees or of collective bargaining rights), then stated that “ten thousand teachers” had attended a protest rally that day, even though the teachers were back on the job and the protesters that day were everybody but teachers.
John Nichols of The Nation magazine and the Capital Times became the only reporter we could trust to tell us what was going on. He got it right every time, and he gets it right again in his new book, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.
In his foreword, he ridicules Fox News for their use of “Fair and Balanced” and describes that sentiment as a fantasy. He then admits that he, John Nichols, is not an unbiased observer, he is a Wisconsinite. So, while fair and balanced Fox News showed images of the rare tundra palm trees, the “biased” John Nichols nailed every detail while educating us about Fighting Bob La Follette, Gaylord Nelson, and dairy cooperatives. In his new book, Nichols continues the lessons and connects the Wisconsin uprising with the leaders of the American Revolution, the framers of the Constitution, and the Occupy movement.
My receipt from the University Book Store confirms that I purchased a copy of “Uprising” at 12:18 pm Sunday.
It’s 8:51 pm as I write this. In those eight and a half hours I did some grocery shopping, picked up my daughter from her driving school lesson, cooked dinner, and watched some golf on television.
In between all that I read “Uprising”, which I can describe as page after page of “yes!” for anyone who has been a part of the struggle over the past year. This book is so accurate it’s scary. It’s almost spooky. It makes me wonder if John Nichols has devised a way to personalize the narrative for every person who participated in the uprising.
I’m one of those people, so it would be silly of me to “review” this book in the traditional sense. I’m still in the middle of all the craziness that is FitzWalkerstan. It’s still raw. I can’t even watch videos of the rallies from last February without crying. So, instead of trying to pretend that I could objectively evaluate this book for some unidentified reader who has never heard of Wisconsin or its uprising, let me list the reasons why I cannot review this book.
First, I admit I’m addicted to John Nichols. I’ve lost count of how many times over the past year I’ve nodded my head when I heard John Nichols explain why things were happening in Wisconsin. I have listened to him almost every morning on WTDY radio for the past year, and almost as often I have watched him on The Ed Show on MSNBC at night. I even subscribed to The Nation. Man, those puzzles on the back page are really hard.
I knew I’d have an even harder time trying to write a review of this book after I read page 1. Nichols begins the book with a quote from Walt Whitman, then an excerpt from a letter written by an Egyptian activist, then this:
I THOUGHT CAIRO WOULD BE WARMER —- protest sign, Madison, Wisconsin, February 2011
The exact date that sign was written and first seen on the capitol square was February 17th. It was a reference to Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s accurate but sarcastically delivered comment that Madison was beginning to look more like Cairo. How do I know all this? Because it was my sign. I saved it, and I just pulled it out of the stack of protest signs in my garage. Here’s a picture:
And here’s a portion of what I wrote on Daily Kos about that day at the protests:
I watched the ticker on the local news this morning and was delighted to see that my children’s school was closed. My son hitched a ride with a friend, protest signs in tow, and met up with some classmates on ground zero – the capitol rotunda.
My daughter and I quickly made some more signs and the two of us joined the pilgrimage to Madison shortly after. Perhaps you saw my sign when I held it up behind a Fox “News” anchor as he interviewed someone. It said “We’re Ba-ack!” on one side and “I Thought Cairo Would Be Warmer” on the other. I swear the cameraman grinned.
Finally, in a chapter about the “Next Media” that helped organize events and then covered them in a way that traditional media wouldn’t, Nichols says Wisconsin-based blogs recognized what many mainstream media outlets did not – specifically that the protesters were not just union members, but a diverse group of Wisconsinites who recognized the value of organized labor and collective bargaining for everyone.
Then he mentions Blue Cheddar as an example of one of those blogs.
I’m afraid to look at the notes in the back for fear he’ll have my dog listed as a source.
The man is so accurate on the names, times, quotes, and events that you just can’t argue with him when he says James Madison would be proud of the Wisconsin protesters. Of course he’d be proud. You think James Madison is going to doubt John Nichols?
You want a review? This is the other bomb. There’s your review.
I believe, Mr. Nichols. I believe in the ghost of Fighting Bob. I believe in democracy. I believe in Wisconsin. But how did you know which copy of your book I would pick off the shelf?