Those of us who stand with the thousands of nurses, police, fire fighters, and government workers inside and outside Madison, Wisconsin’s state capitol building in freezing temperatures are fighting for more than balancing a budget and even more than the right to bargain collectively for our own welfare. Indeed, the stakes are much, much higher and go to the core of who we are as a people and country.
What’s going on in Madison is about respecting the Declaration of Independence principles, the right of free speech, association and assembly. What’s going on in Madison is whether the United States will remain a country by and for the people or cede the public square to business and financial oligarchies and the richest twenty percent of our population who hold eighty percent of our national wealth. What’s going on in Madison is about who stands on the side of America’s abused, defrauded, and sacrificing middle class, those who involuntarily bailed out Wall Street bankers and traders only to see them self-award multi-million dollar bonuses on top of mega-million dollar salaries while at least fifteen million of us remain in President Roosevelt’s words, “ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.”
What’s going on in Madison is all about character and principle. While we understand the political argument that busting unions denies “get out the vote” funding during the 2012 election cycle for those who oppose the choice of corporate tax breaks at expense of working families, the right to collective bargaining is no different than a women’s right to choose, the right to bear arms, the right to vote, and other privileges associated with being an American citizen. The national debate has moved from “Don’t Tread on Me” to “Don’t Tread on Us”.
For the first time since the Great Depression generation, the American dream is much more about surviving next week’s bills and dramatically less about equal opportunities to achieve any measure of economic security or progress. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that 43.6 million Americans now survive on food stamps. Food stamp dependency is connected to income inequality and unemployment rates in ways few dare to dispute. Instead of evangelical prosperity, the American dream has become one without generosity and equal treatment under the law redefining tens of millions of our fellow citizens as those who can be deprived of their historical rights such as the right to free speech and assembly through collective bargaining, a right the once progressive state of Wisconsin helped to bring to the nation’s table.
There is no more bandwidth for self-serving leaders masquerading as public stewards who when elected ram their personal ideological rants down the throats of misled and poorly represented voters. Sequential tax cuts for high-end businesses while purportedly balancing the state budget on the backs of working classes, some of whom happen to belong to public sector unions, amounts to “do as I say but not as I do” which is patently un-American. Madison shows in living color that the American belief in national exceptionalism cannot exist without a thriving and growing middle class composed of empowered workers whose predecessors fought for and won the right to collective bargaining against all odds at the price of their own lives and blood.
To avoid the past from becoming prologue, we must stand up to those who would lead us down the path of one more elite, greed-infested bridge too far and lay the groundwork for national class warfare at the risk of everyone’s civic peril. This nation’s historical transition from political theater tea partying in Boston harbor to Sons of Liberty armed resurrection, from Articles of Confederation to a binding Constitution reforged and strengthened by a devastating Civil War, should give pause to those who operate behind ideologically gated communities of the mind and heart.
Today in Madison, Wisconsin, we are witness to a new American ground zero of decency and courage, to whether our country can serve as an example to anyone anywhere or just as another cautionary tale proved recently in Tunis, Cairo, Bahrain, Tripoli and other places that freedom in the streets cannot be repressed by those who misinterpret democracy and act against the people’s interests.