A sign on the wall in the state Capitol last week declared: “For someone who hates trains, Scott Walker sure likes railroading.”
The governor, who famously turned away $800 million in federal high-speed train funding and then cooked up the notion that Wisconsin has a fiscal “crisis,” seems willing to say or do anything to enact a so-called “budget repair bill.” Unfortunately for him and his allies, Wisconsinites still know how to think for themselves.
Unfortunately, the current state Assembly and Senate majorities lack the independence of their constituents.
The ridiculous charade of the Assembly’s vote on Walker’s bill -- taken in the dark of night after Republican leaders gamed the rules and then sought to deceive Democratic colleagues about the timing of the vote -- provided another reminder that what is happening is not a political fight.
It is a battle pitting Wisconsinites who believe in the rule of law and the value of maintaining open and honest government against a handful of political insiders who would use their temporary power to silence dissent -- in the workplace by taking away collective bargaining rights, at the polling place by enacting restrictions on voter participation, and in the Capitol itself.
What the governor and his allies are attempting is radically at odds with the Constitution that the founders outlined and that Wisconsinites such as Robert M. La Follette and Gaylord Nelson brought to life.
The peril is real. But it is not disempowering -- not to Wisconsinites, who led the charge to end slavery in the Civil War, forged a Progressive movement to break the power of corporate trusts, and led the way in establishing public safety, workplace and collective bargaining rights.
Wisconsinites know that La Follette was right: “Democracy is a life.” It is not sufficient to vote on Election Day and then cede power to the sort of official Thomas Jefferson most feared: “an elected dictator.”
The people of this state are ready to defend its democratic institutions. And we are doing so with unprecedented marches and demonstrations in every corner of the state.
The majority in the Legislature is failing even to consider -- let alone represent -- the will of the people.
So the citizens of Wisconsin have filled the void, as they have so often in the past. They have constituted a people’s legislature. And the whole nation, the whole world, is cheering them on. It is an exhilarating and positive moment in our state -- rooted in our past and extending to our future.
There will be many rallies and events this weekend. All are worthy.
For Wisconsinites who choose to celebrate their progressive roots, start with the People’s Legislature gathering from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. Organized by the Fighting Bob Fest crowd, it will be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 4402 E. Washington Ave., and will involve freewheeling dialogue as well as talks by former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, state Rep. Mark Pocan, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe, representatives of Madison Teachers Inc. and this writer. (Details at www.fightingbob.com.)
Keep exercising your rights to assemble and protest for the redress of grievances. Keep the faith in real democracy. On Wisconsin!
John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times, Wisconsin’s progressive online news source, where his column appears regularly. firstname.lastname@example.org