Three weeks ago, a burning ember of the inspiration for revolution that was seeded in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, and is now erupting in numerous countries through North Africa and the Gulf, landed in Wisconsin, reawakening large-scale protests in a manner not seen for decades. Since then, up to 100,000 Americans have occupied the capitol building in Madison, and have filled the public spaces around it. These protestors are engaged in an ideological battle with the new wave of Republicans, elected in the mid-term elections, who thought that their ability to mesmerize large numbers of their fellow Americans into voting for them meant that there would be no opposition to their typically malignant policy of further enriching the wealthy, while treating workers like an inconvenience, to be squeezed, demoralized, belittled and, where possible, thrown onto the scrapheap of unemployment.
As I explained last week, when I wrote about what I called “The New American Revolution,” the workers of Wisconsin, and their supporters, have picked up, perhaps even subconsciously, the message from Tunisia and Egypt that tyrants can be deposed when the people rise up in sufficient numbers, and, despite little mainstream media interest, are providing countrywide inspiration across the US for others facing their own version of Wisconsin’s nemesis — governor Scott Walker, elected in November.
Described in the Guardian by US author and screenwriter Clancy Segal (the child of union organizers) as “a dim bulb but ultra-reactionary and with obvious political ambitions,” Walker is heading “a sustained, coordinated campaign by recently elected and highly pugnacious Republican governors to cripple what’s left of the American labor movement” by stripping public sector unions of most of their collective bargaining rights, as well as imposing steep reductions on workers’ pension and health care benefits.
All, however, is not going according to plan. As I also explained last week, “Walker’s hypocrisy is clear from the $140 million in new corporate tax breaks that he has handed out, equivalent to the budget shortfall that he expects workers to make up for with the loss of their benefits and, in some cases, their jobs.”
In addition, the governor’s bill is stalled in the Wisconsin Senate, because the entire Democratic delegation — totaling 14 lawmakers — fled the state two weeks ago to avoid a quorum vote and has refused to return unless Walker agrees to negotiate on collective bargaining rights. However, as Reuters reported on Friday, “Behind-the-scenes negotiations have failed to produce a compromise,” even though “just one Democrat is needed for a quorum,” and Dave Hansen, one of the 14 Democrat lawmakers, issued a statement saying, “It has become increasingly apparent that Governor Walker is not interested in compromise, but instead appears intent on prolonging the impasse.”
As Reuters also reported, “With no action expected on the bill, Walker said he will be forced to send out formal layoff notices to 1,500 state employees, saving some $30 million,” even though this will only enrage protestors still further.
To the protestors’ delight, governor Walker’s misreading of the public mood also extends to voters, who have shifted their allegiances since the protest began, with nearly 60 percent of voters regarding him unfavorably compared to the majority support he commanded just four months ago, and this should provide a warning to the droves of similar lawmakers around the country who have been hoping to savage workers with the same disregard as in Wisconsin.
On Saturday, filmmaker and activist Michael Moore (who is from the neighboring state of Michigan) visited Madison to deliver an impassioned message of support for the protestors, which I’m cross-posting below, along with a video of his rousing speech. A longtime advocate of labor rights, Moore also honed his criticsm of the thieves of Wall Street in his excellent film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” and he delivered a powerful message, telling the protestors that “America is not broke,” that “Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it,” and encouraging the protestors not to give up, because “You have aroused the sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America.”
America is not broke.
Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you’ll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.
Today just 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.
Let me say that again. 400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer “bailout” of 2008, now have more loot, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can’t bring yourself to call that a financial coup d’état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.
And I can see why. For us to admit that we have let a small group of men abscond with and hoard the bulk of the wealth that runs our economy, would mean that we’d have to accept the humiliating acknowledgment that we have indeed surrendered our precious Democracy to the moneyed elite. Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.
I have nothing more than a high school degree. But back when I was in school, every student had to take one semester of economics in order to graduate. And here’s what I learned: Money doesn’t grow on trees. It grows when we make things. It grows when we have good jobs with good wages that we use to buy the things we need and thus create more jobs. It grows when we provide an outstanding educational system that then grows a new generation of inventers, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and thinkers who come up with the next great idea for the planet. And that new idea creates new jobs and that creates revenue for the state.
But if those who have the most money don’t pay their fair share of taxes, the state can’t function. The schools can’t produce the best and the brightest who will go on to create those jobs. If the wealthy get to keep most of their money, we have seen what they will do with it: recklessly gamble it on crazy Wall Street schemes and crash our economy. The crash they created cost us millions of jobs. That too caused a reduction in revenue. And the population ended up suffering because they reduced their taxes, reduced our jobs and took wealth out of the system, removing it from circulation.
The nation is not broke, my friends. Wisconsin is not broke. It’s part of the Big Lie. It’s one of the three biggest lies of the decade: America/Wisconsin is broke, Iraq has WMD, the Packers can’t win the Super Bowl without Brett Favre.
The truth is, there’s lots of money to go around. LOTS. It’s just that those in charge have diverted that wealth into a deep well that sits on their well-guarded estates. They know they have committed crimes to make this happen and they know that someday you may want to see some of that money that used to be yours. So they have bought and paid for hundreds of politicians across the country to do their bidding for them. But just in case that doesn’t work, they’ve got their gated communities, and the luxury jet is always fully fueled, the engines running, waiting for that day they hope never comes. To help prevent that day when the people demand their country back, the wealthy have done two very smart things:
1. They control the message. By owning most of the media they have expertly convinced many Americans of few means to buy their version of the American Dream and to vote for their politicians. Their version of the Dream says that you, too, might be rich some day — this is America, where anything can happen if you just apply yourself! They have conveniently provided you with believable examples to show you how a poor boy can become a rich man, how the child of a single mother in Hawaii can become president, how a guy with a high school education can become a successful filmmaker. They will play these stories for you over and over again all day long so that the last thing you will want to do is upset the apple cart, because you — yes, you, too! — might be rich/president/an Oscar-winner some day! The message is clear: keep your head down, your nose to the grindstone, don’t rock the boat and be sure to vote for the party that protects the rich man that you might be some day.
2. They have created a poison pill that they know you will never want to take. It is their version of mutually assured destruction. And when they threatened to release this weapon of mass economic annihilation in September of 2008, we blinked. As the economy and the stock market went into a tailspin, and the banks were caught conducting a worldwide Ponzi scheme, Wall Street issued this threat: Either hand over trillions of dollars from the American taxpayers or we will crash this economy straight into the ground. Fork it over or it’s Goodbye savings accounts. Goodbye pensions. Goodbye United States Treasury. Goodbye jobs and homes and future. It was friggin’ awesome and it scared the shit out of everyone. “Here! Take our money! We don’t care. We’ll even print more for you! Just take it! But, please, leave our lives alone, PLEASE!”
The executives in the board rooms and hedge funds could not contain their laughter, their glee, and within three months they were writing each other huge bonus checks and marveling at how perfectly they had played a nation full of suckers. Millions lost their jobs anyway, and millions lost their homes. But there was no revolt (see #1).
Until now. On, Wisconsin! Never has a Michigander been more happy to share a big, great lake with you! You have aroused the sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America. Right now the earth is shaking and the ground is shifting under the feet of those who are in charge. Your message has inspired people in all 50 states and that message is: WE HAVE HAD IT! We reject anyone who tells us America is broke and broken. It’s just the opposite! We are rich with talent and ideas and hard work and, yes, love. Love and compassion toward those who have, through no fault of their own, ended up as the least among us. But they still crave what we all crave: Our country back! Our democracy back! Our good name back! The United States of America. NOT the Corporate States of America. The United States of America!
So how do we get this? Well, we do it with a little bit of Egypt here, a little bit of Madison there. And let us pause for a moment and remember that it was a poor man with a fruit stand in Tunisia who gave his life so that the world might focus its attention on how a government run by billionaires for billionaires is an affront to freedom and morality and humanity.
Thank you, Wisconsin. You have made people realize this was our last best chance to grab the final thread of what was left of who we are as Americans. For three weeks you have stood in the cold, slept on the floor, skipped out of town to Illinois — whatever it took, you have done it, and one thing is for certain: Madison is only the beginning. The smug rich have overplayed their hand. They couldn’t have just been content with the money they raided from the treasury. They couldn’t be satiated by simply removing millions of jobs and shipping them overseas to exploit the poor elsewhere.
No, they had to have more — something more than all the riches in the world. They had to have our soul. They had to strip us of our dignity. They had to shut us up and shut us down so that we could not even sit at a table with them and bargain about simple things like classroom size or bulletproof vests for everyone on the police force or letting a pilot just get a few extra hours sleep so he or she can do their job — their $19,000 a year job. That’s how much some rookie pilots on commuter airlines make, maybe even the rookie pilots flying people here to Madison. But he’s stopped trying to get better pay. All he asks is that he doesn’t have to sleep in his car between shifts at O’Hare airport. That’s how despicably low we have sunk. The wealthy couldn’t be content with just paying this man $19,000 a year. They wanted to take away his sleep. They wanted to demean and dehumanize him. After all, he’s just another slob.
And that, my friends, is Corporate America’s fatal mistake. But trying to destroy us they have given birth to a movement — a movement that is becoming a massive, nonviolent revolt across the country. We all knew there had to be a breaking point some day, and that point is upon us. Many people in the media don’t understand this. They say they were caught off guard about Egypt, never saw it coming. Now they act surprised and flummoxed about why so many hundreds of thousands have come to Madison over the last three weeks during brutal winter weather. “Why are they all standing out there in the cold? I mean there was that election in November and that was supposed to be that!”
“There’s something happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you …?”
America ain’t broke! The only thing that’s broke is the moral compass of the rulers. And we aim to fix that compass and steer the ship ourselves from now on. Never forget, as long as that Constitution of ours still stands, it’s one person, one vote, and it’s the thing the rich hate most about America — because even though they seem to hold all the money and all the cards, they begrudgingly know this one unshakeable basic fact: There are more of us than there are of them!
Madison, do not retreat. We are with you. We will win together.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I posted that yesterday. Powerful, effective, speech.
And I’ll share this, with your article, now.
Ron Deau wrote:
“If American workers are being denied their right to organize when I’m in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States.”
Ah yes, those old campaign promises — another epitaph for “hope and change”!
Shahrazad Rose wrote:
We make the changes by our hands , We should believe your promises no more.
William Cooke wrote:
Mr. Moore has made lots of money. Why isn’t he out there writing checks?
Michele Veile wrote:
Because dropping the odd bit of money is a band-aid solution to a system that’s been hijacked by big business.
Why are people so inclined to shoot the messenger?
(I’m sure he does contribute quite a lot, but he’s not the type to flaunt that sort of thing)
Meenakshi Sharma wrote:
Andy I saw a part of the video a friend posted on my wall..thanks for the post..
Tony Smith wrote:
Think Globally, Act Locally – We may not have the power to change the world, but it is in all of us to improve how we relate to it. When you spend money you are transferring the power of that money to someone else, stop funding those that use your money to fund purposes you disagree with.
Shahrazad Rose wrote:
I agree with Mr Tony
Michele Veile wrote:
William – I used to be overly critical of Moore as well, but for all the wrong reasons. It took his confrontation with Sanjay Gupta on CNN about a couple of bald faced lies + http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2010/11/24/the_health_insurance_industrys_vendetta_against_michael_moore to realize it.
The far right has smeared him with nothing more than ad hominem — I don’t even watch TV, or Fox, or anything like that, yet I wrote him off & stopped considering his ideas. A little poison goes a long way.
William Cooke wrote:
Tony. I don’t want to spend my money on funding an oppressive government. But if I don’t they’ll arrest me and if any of the union thugs get on the jury they’ll convict in a second.
You should remember that Big Business isn’t running Gitmo, it isn’t invading countries. If you want to oppose tyranny you must oppose government.
Michele Veile wrote:
Big business funds the governments of those invading countries. Lobbies have been a problem for years, especially in the US, where political candidates rely on private donations to fund their campaigns
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Mr Obama’s shoe speech is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA9KC8SMu3o
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Well, Some of the US military’s former chores in Iraq have been taken over by private firms. If an occupation is part of an invasion, then big business *is* “invading” at least one foreign country right now. As for Guantanamo, I wonder who does the catering.
Michele Veile wrote:
That said, I have no idea how one goes about trying to reform something that’s been so corrupted.
You may be interested in this, I dunno –
Tony Smith wrote:
William – You have the option to not vote for those you do not like, or even to stand opposing them, but this is no good if you are also giving your money to those that support your opponents.
Imran Chaudhry wrote:
Brilliant , enjoyed watching that , thanks Andy
Carol Anne Grayson wrote:
Ciudadano Kane Kane wrote:
Thanks very much!, really good!, shared!
Newsom Cheryl wrote:
Fran Foley Lawrence wrote:
Sharon Askew wrote:
Now there is one very excitable Michael Moore! Ha ha excellent!!
Anita Gwynn wrote:
Do you think he will come here and repeat it. 26th March would be good.
Terry Couchman wrote:
Wonderful outcome – people are beginning to see the unity of their struggle of good people against those who disrespect any one of us.
@ Tony Smith – I agree with you wholeheartedly Tony. “Think Globally, Act Locally”.
It is my experience that we can have effects locally which sends ripples all the way to the top, especially if we are inspired to act in the interests of all our brothers and sisters, everywhere.
There is more that binds in our common struggles than can ever divide us in our differences. Only evil men seek to have us divided by the fear of our differences.
One of my favorite Quotes – and so very true if we only believe it:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead – Anthropologist and original Feminist.
Thanks, everyone. Great responses. Sorry I wasn’t here. I was out on another long all-dayer, visiting Nottingham University on my tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo, showing it to a very committed Amnesty student group, who were, I believe, fired up by my indignation about Obama’s failure to close Guantanamo — and that was before I heard the news about his executive order authorizing indefinite detention without charge or trial for 47 of the 172 men still held (and a review process that only recalls Bush’s review processes) and confirming that a whole new set of trials — or, more probably, plea deals — by Military Commission will also be proceeding.
Hateful. And weak. Article to follow soon.
David G. McGrady wrote:
And every word was true. Great speech. Ten times better than any politician could do, because it came from the heart, not some professional speech writers imagination based on talking points.
Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: