Wisconsin: What Happens When Movements Turn Into Campaigns

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

How did we get from hundreds of thousands in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin demanding union rights for everybody and fundamental economic justice for all, to a desultory set of Democratic campaigns for the candidates who, as they say, sucked the least, and ended up losing.

Wisconsin: What Happens When Movements Turn Into Campaigns

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Sixteen months ago the eyes of the nation and the world were on Madison, Wisconsin. Crowds in the tens of thousands surrounded, occupied and refused to leave the state capitol building. Local cops ignored orders to disperse them, and when authorities finally evicted protesters from hallways, offices and legislative chambers, their numbers grew, reaching the hundreds of thousands multiple times before the crisis was over. Local schools were shut down because teachers called in sick en masse. For a short while a general strike, localized in Madison, but with wide and visible support around the state and country seemed a real possibility.

Thousands of Americans from surrounding states converged upon Wisconsin to join the throngs around the state capitol. Thousands in those crowds, and countless others watching from far and near began to realize this was a unique political moment. They were at a place well outside the prescribed steps of America's political dance. It was a moment in which the elite politicians, the media pundits, the bosses and the billionaires were not the only or even the decisive shot callers. The next move was truly in the hands of those tens and hundreds of thousands of working people in motion, the people in the streets.

What we saw coming together on Wisconsin street corners and in the wave of state and nationwide public support behind them was an authentic mass movement being born. We know that's what it was because it contained, all at the same time, what we identified back in 2005 as the five necessary characteristics of such things;

  1. Mass movements have political demands anchored in the deeply shared values of their core constituencies.

  2. Mass movements look to themselves and their shared values for legitimacy, not to courts, laws or elected officials.  A mass movement consciously aims to lead politicians, not to be led by them.

  3. Mass movements are civilly disobedient, and continually maintain the credible threat of civil disobedience. They inspire and embolden large numbers of ordinarily nonpolitical souls to engage in personally risky behavior in support of the movement's political demands.

  4. Mass movements are supported by lots of vertical and horizontal communication reinforcing its core values.

  5. Mass movements capture the energy, enthusiasm and risk taking spirit of youth. Nobody ever heard of a mass movement of old or even middle aged people.

Fox News and right wing pundits spread panicky lies. Republicans denounced Democrats and defamed protesters. Some Democrats hesitated before tepidly endorsing the protests. Some smarter Democrats tried to pretend they were among its leaders. But these were bit players, working from the outside. It fell to labor union leaders, whose political strategy for more than a generation has been to uncritically funnel their members volunteer energies and union dues into uncritical support for Democratic politicians whether they come through or not, to bring those hundreds of thousands in uncontrolled, unpredictable political motion back inside the law, back within the two-party elite consensus, back into the well-worn dance steps of the election cycle.

Thus it was union leaders who damped down the calls for, and explicitly repudiated talk of a general strike. To be fair, under present federal and state laws, a union official who even calls for, let alone is part of pulling off a general strike is probably guilty of multiple felonies and conspiracies to commit, perhaps even RICO and terrorist prosecutions if judges and district attorneys are feeling ambitious. Such an official also risks confiscation of union funds and assets, either outright in a hurry or after prolonged expensive litigation. But that's what people involved in movements do --- they take individual and collective risks and they violate laws for the cause, whatever that happens to be.

So there was no general strike. Union leaders ran as fast as they could in the other direction. They summoned their institutional resources, their organizers and media spokespeople, and their funding. They turned a nascent movement into a series of electoral campaigns, first against a handful of state senators in 2011 and then the statewide recall campaign that ended in defeat this week. They turned the movement into a campaign, and then managed to lose the campaign.

Political campaigns are pretty much where movements go to die, get betrayed or are stillborn because turning a movement or near movement into a campaign robs it of the very specific features we've already mentioned, the features which make movements potent and often unpredictable political actors. When movements become campaigns their participants lose their independence and initiative. Instead of being ready and willing to act outside the law, they become its most loyal supporters. And instead of looking to their own shared values, they look to political candidates and elected officials who must remain inside the elite-defined rules of political decorum and law to preserve their candidacies and/or careers.

The campaigns that come out of movements still retain and utilize lots of horizontal communication. But instead of that chatter reinforcing the independence and dynamic energy and the risk-taking spirit of youth, it becomes all about the political processes and compromises needed to win the next election. And when a movement's core values are no longer the gold standard, there are lots of compromises to be made. It can be a pretty quick slide from hard hitting demands like full employment with a living wage, Medicare for all, free quality education as a human right, stopping the bailouts, guaranteeing union rights for everyone and ending the imperial wars to electing the candidate that sucks the least, even only a little less.

When would-be movements sideline the youthful risk-taking initiative and egalitarian core values that might have sustained them to become political campaigns, they generally don't even run good campaigns. The crowds on the sidewalks and parking lots in Madison were conducting anti-racism seminars and study groups. But the electoral campaign the whole thing was turned into, even though they had a whole year to plan, neglected to do the labor-intensive ground game of massive voter registration in poor and minority communities. They spent their relatively scarce dollars on media instead, and pursued the easy consultant-class strategy of pursuing the “frequent voters” alone. They didn't talk about the poor and renters, of which there are many in Milwaukee, Wisconsin's largest city. They only talked about the middle class. They didn't talk much about mass incarceration either, even though Wisconsin and Milwaukee consistently have the highest rates of black imprisonment in the US, higher than Louisiana, Georgia or Mississippi.

They came up with a black candidate for lieutenant governor. But mostly they went from hundreds of thousands of people shivering in the cold, standing outside the people-proof, democracy-proof cages of elite consensus and two-party politics and beginning to feel their own power to decide what to do next to folks campaigning for the candidate and the slate that sucked less.

If the leaders of organized labor were teachable there would be lots of lessons here. But these are folks who've learned nothing and forgotten nothing, and whose job is making sure most of us don't learn much new either. For them, the lesson is that turning aside a general strike situation and making it into a political campaign can drag their careers out a few more years. For the rest of us, the 99%, there are other lessons. What we've seen in Wisconsin is what happens when you stifle a mass movement at birth and turn it into a political campaign.

You always lose the movement. You usually lose the campaign. And you always lose the initiative. Labor leaders handed the ball to elected Democrats, to campaign consultants and media hacks. They took the struggle from the street, where they had the advantage, to the TV and radio airwaves and in social media, where the unlimited spending allowed recent court decisions and corporate control over mass media made all the difference.

In theory, it might be possible to get some other result from turning movements into campaigns. But in the real world, this is the way it's worked out so far.

If turning movements into campaigns is bad business, what about building movements out of campaigns?

Using campaigns to spark movements hasn't worked well either, though it gets talked about a lot. You can sometimes get young people excited for a while in a political campaign too. Millions of youth gave freely of their time to help elect Obama in 2008. But the day after election day they were sent home. No movement there. A generation earlier folks who walked the precincts for Jesse in 84 and 88 promised to build a lasting movement out of their networks. It didn't happen then either, and almost never does.

When we bear in mind again the unique characteristics of a movement it's easy to see why. Political campaigns, even successful ones, don't teach risk-taking. Political campaigns don't prepare you to operate outside the law or how to discredit and de-legitimize unjust law.. Campaigns won't show you how to make the politicians follow you, instead of you following the politicians, the judges, the pundits and that whole elite crowd. Real change comes from movements, not from campaigns. The only thing that makes the politicians follow you is a mass movement, a movement that does everything political campaigns don't.

The only worthwhile political campaigns are ones that utilize public receptivity to discussions around issues to present and make popular accurate analyses of the world the way it is, and compelling visions of the world the way we want it to be. Not the candidate that sucks least. Win or lose, these are the only campaigns that empower people, the only ones worth pouring your energy into, the only ones that build, rather than strangle and discourage mass movements.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor of Black Agenda Report, and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com


The Real News's Paul Jay's Analysis on WI's Failed Walker Recall


See 'Walker Wins in WI' [@ http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=8429 ]. Paul Jay makes some key points in the 2nd half of this interview / report. Some Excerpts: } Paul JAY: Union workers seemed unable to persuade  non-union workers that Walker's policies are not in their interest [IE: they fell for Walker's, the Koch Bro's, ALEC's, etc- Divide & Conquer Strategy of pitting non-union vs unionized workers- Hook, Line & STINKER]. There was also lack of enthusiasm amongst people who had been involved in the protest movement- because everything went into the recall effort... - Mark KARLIN: Activists I talked to, to a person, were concerned. They said that, while the recall may have been an option that had to be used- it drained energy from energizing, mobilizing & Converting non-union workers who are underpaid & exploited, to supporting instead of resenting unions. When movements become involved in politics, they become plugged into political figures. Barrett beat the real progressive candidate from Madison in the Democrat primary. So there was NO real enthusiasm for Barrett among the progressives. - JAY: So the candidate that ran [Barrett] wasn't a candidate of the movement, but  the Democratic Party establishment candidate... - KARLIN: People who supported Obama & saw him as a politician who embodied a movement—hope & change, kick the lobbyists out, ending  torture & the surveillance state, etc— were deeply disappointed, because his policies as president were very different than how people saw him, as the leader of their movement... - JAY:  Obama didn't become a different person; within the movement that supported him, most didn't want to listen to what he was really saying; 'cause he really hasn't done that much different than what he said he was going to do.  But back to the Wisconsin issue, if the movement doesn't have an electoral strategy that leads to candidates that represent the movement, then the movement never has any real power...  - KARLIN:  Take the Freedom Riders - the Kennedys wanted to stop the Freedom Riders because their goal was to desegregate interstate busing in the South. JFK & RFK [& LBJ] didn't want them to do this because most of the South was still Democratic & segregation was supported by those Dixie-crats. - The Civil Rights Movement was a force for social change that politicians caught up with- when LBJ signed the 1964 Civil Rights Law. BUT- Only after 12 - 13 yrs of a vigorous civil rights movement. - JAY: Yeah, it was a compromise [political tactic] to stop the social unrest, & it more or less worked. Once the civil rights law passed, it took the wind right out of the movement. So where's the civil rights movement now? It's not like conditions for most African-Americans are so wonderful now... In many ways conditions have NOT changed a lot for most of them. But where is the movement?... { Note: With the advent of Tricky-Dick & especially RayGun, all of those Civil rights 'victories' that we thought we won in the 1960's underwent an on-going steady insidious full-scale assalt- often aided & abetted by Dims {ala Slick Willie working in tandem w Newt Grinch-witch on so-called Welfare 'Reform' (= DeForm]. - I Also recommend this analysis by Matt Rothchild @ CD [ 'Accountability in Defeat: On a Whuppin in Wisconsin  www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/08-8 ].


Obama & the corp-controlled Dims have a curious track-record of not-supporting Democrats [especially if they're Black &/or progressive] even in winnable races as WI's was. IE: Obama & establishment Dims made Roland Burris agree not to run in 2010 when he was appointed in 2009 to Obama's vacated seat of US Sen from IL [Obama supported a white Dim- NOT as well known in IL as Burris- who lost in 2010]... - Obama & the DNC Dims failure to support Black Democrat candidate for NYC Mayor vs that white filthy-rich 1%er phony independent Bloomberg- who rigged the rules which should have prevented him from running for a 3rd term. Althought Bloomberg out spent him by more the 10Xs, Bill Thompson [the Black Dem] still almost pulled off an upset. Had he been supported by Obama &/or the DNC he'd most likely would have won. Also Obama & the DNC insisted that sitting NY Gov & Black Dem David Paterson step aside for white Dim Andrew Cuomo... - Obama, Slick Willie & the DNC tried to make the Black Dem in FL's 2010 race for Gov'r step aside for long time Repug turned phony independent Charlie Crist, who lost anyway... - In 2011 Obama vigourously endorses & campaigns for Rahmbo for Chicago's mayor vs Black Dem & the only Black Woman ever elected to the US senate- Carol Mosley Braun. which was key to getting Blacks to over-whelmingly support Rahmbo over Braun to become Chicago's first Jewish Mayor. We can only speculate what may have happened if Obama had taken a hands-off approach like he did in the WI & NYC races...

Another place Obama will be skipping this election season

City officials: Detroit will go broke in a week if consent deal lawsuit isn't withdrawn

June 8, 2012 


Detroit will run out of cash a week from today if a lawsuit challenging the validity of the city's consent agreement with the state is not withdrawn, city officials said this morning.

Jack Martin, the city’s new chief financial officer, said the city will be broke by June 15 but should be able to make payroll for its employees. He said the city will be operating in a deficit situation if the state withholds payments on a portion of the $80 million in bond money needed to help keep the city afloat.

The battle ultimately could lead to an emergency manager if state officials deem the city to be in violation of the consent agreement that gives the state significant control over Detroit’s finances.

Deputy Treasurer Thomas Saxton told the city Thursday that the lawsuit against the consent agreement could force the state to hold back $80 million in revenue sharing that was used, essentially, as collateral for interim refinancing of bonds issued in March so Detroit would not run out of cash.

Detroit has already used $35 million of the $80 million. The money is in an escrow account, but based on Saxton's letter city officials will not be able to draw down any more of the money, Martin said.

“If our city runs out of money, there is no bigger crisis that we would have in our city,” Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said this morning, adding that his frustration level is “off the charts.”

But Council President Charles Pugh said he and several other council members want the city’s top lawyer, Krystal Crittendon, to “stand her ground” on the lawsuit she filed last week challenging the consent agreement as a violation of the city charter.

Pugh said of Martin’s warning that the city will be broke by next week: “We feel like that may be a bit of an exaggeration.”

Crittendon filed a lawsuit last week saying that the consent agreement was “void and unenforceable” because Michigan owes the city $224 million in revenue sharing plus more than $1 million in unpaid water bills, parking tickets and other debts. Under the city charter, Detroit can’t enter into contracts with entities in default to the city, so Crittendon challenged the consent agreement under her authority to investigate violations of the charter.

Pugh said he and the council believe the bond payments can continue, despite Saxton’s letter, because Crittendon’s lawsuit is with the state of Michigan and not the Michigan Finance Authority, the agency that oversees municipal finance issues such as bonds. Pugh said the finance authority is a separate legal entity from the state of Michigan and wouldn’t be stopped from doing business with Detroit despite Crittendon’s lawsuit.

“We can finish this transaction and not run out of money,” Pugh told the Free Press. “We understand the mayor’s passion. We concur this is urgent.

“I understand why he wants to stick to the interpretation that we’re going to run out of money if Krystal Crittendon doesn’t stand down,” Pugh said. “We want her to stand her ground, and we want a judge to decide if indeed the consent agreement is valid or not.”

Pugh said Bing called a special meeting of the City Council this morning to discuss Crittendon’s suit and Saxton’s letter but were unable to do so because officials had not given enough warning about the meeting, as required by the state’s Open Meetings Act. Bing and the council are scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Monday.

Bing said that under the charter, Crittendon has the autonomy to make such legal challenges, and as mayor he lacks any political power to curb her actions. He said the lawsuit has created an even worse financial situation than the city was already in. He said he has asked her to drop the suit but cannot force her to do so.

“It’s unfortunate that as an appointee of the mayor’s office she does not report directly to me with the change of the charter,” Bing said. “She really doesn’t report to anybody.”

Bing said he has met or spoken with Gov. Rick Snyder two to three times this week and “he's supportive, but at the same token, we can’t put (the state) at a disadvantage. We’re going to them for certain things that would support us, and this doesn’t help the situation at all.”

Snyder has said he does not want to appoint an emergency manager, but Saxon’s letter represents a growing impatience among state officials.

“I didn’t want to get into a lawsuit — it makes no sense to me and nobody wins, as far as I’m concerned,” Bing said. “We’ve spent way too much time on this issue that keeps us from doing the things that we need to do to fix the city.”

But Pugh laid part of the blame for Crittendon’s position at Bing’s feet, saying the mayor's office deliberately left the city’s Law Department out of the loop in crafting the consent agreement with Snyder. The city hired outside lawyers to broker the deal and never consulted with the city’s top lawyer about whether any aspects of the agreement might violate the city charter, Pugh said.

“That’s troubling,” Pugh said, “because what that means is that the person whose legal obligation it is to make sure that the city is not in any liability … wasn’t from Day 1 consulted with on the legality of everything. These issues could have been addressed before we approved” the consent agreement.

uh oh... Obama is gettin scared about Michigan

Poll: Barack Obama in dead heat with Mitt Romney in Michigan as popularity slips


I recently got banned from TheRoot.com and now Obama is in Baltimore talking about how he's not responsible for Detroit going bankrupt, and blaming Republicans for all the states & municipalities implementing austerity plans, and union busting.. He talked about how he made the auto industry better by cutting jobs, wages, and benefits. He even talked about a future with strong public schools for everyone...lol..