Four years ago, I was among tens of thousands of Wisconsinites who made their way to Madison every weekend to march against Scott Walker and his attacks on public education and on unions. We were all ages, ethnicities, political persuasions, chanting: "This is what democracy looks like!" Homemade signs sprouted amidst the snowflakes. My favorite: "He's not a Packer, he's a Steeler." (The Packers had just triumphed over Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.)
Turns out what Scott Walker set out to steal was democracy itself.
First came the attack on collective bargaining for public sector unions, done with a particularly sleazy sleight-of-hand. Walker pointed to cutbacks workers faced in the private sector and declared that public sector workers were the "haves" who needed to be cut down a peg. Never mind that the private corporations he pointed to were rolling in profits. The problem, according to Walker, wasn't bloated corporations and overpaid executives -- it was public school teachers and home health care workers and snow plough drivers. Walker's goal went far beyond asking for more sacrifices from public sector workers; he was out to destroy the power of their unions. A hallmark of democracy is the ability of workers to come together to bargain collectively and have a voice at work.
Next he went after the paid sick days win in Milwaukee. Nearly 70 percent of the voters there said "Yes" in 2008 to a ballot initiative that was then upheld by the courts. But Walker opposed it and used his power to destroy it. At the behest of corporate lobbyists including Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, Walker's allies in the legislature rammed through a bill prohibiting local units of government or voters from deciding to expand protections for their own communities. Walker came to the MMAC office in Milwaukee to sign the bill,declaring that "Patchwork government mandates stifle job creation and economic opportunity." Wisconsin needed a uniform state standard, he said -- never mind that the standard was zero. And never mind the conservative principle of local control.
In addition to limiting what people can vote for, Walker championed efforts to narrow who can vote in the first place. He supported and signed bills restricting access to early voting and requiring photo identification, and urged an end to same-day voter registration.
Walker also stomped on the most personal decision a woman could make, whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Walker supported a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks even in cases of rape or incest. "I mean, I think for most people who are concerned about that, it's in the initial months where they're most concerned about it," he said. Walker also favors allowing a man to sue a woman he impregnates who decides to have an abortion, but denying women the right to sue over unequal pay.
Just as he equivocated during the 2014 gubernatorial election on his support for Roe v. Wade, Walker misled the public about his intentions toward so-called 'right-to-work' legislation. Shortly after winning re-election, his party unleashed such a bill and Walker gleefully signed it, declaring, "This sends a powerful message across the country and across the world."
And just as the rest of the country was celebrating the Supreme Court decision to uphold marriage equality, Scott Walker called for a constitutional amendment to leave the matter in the hands of the states. This "states' rights" argument makes a mockery of democracy, which was meant to use the power of the people to expand rights -- not to restrict them. He also supported undermining the elected school board in Milwaukee and turning public schools over to for-profit charters.
Walker's latest move, spearheading an effort to gut the state's open records law, would make it harder to identify the role of a group like the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in developing legislation and would hamper the ability of the press and public to play a watchdog role -- another hallmark of democracy.
As we shivered during the Wisconsin uprising, many of us cheered at the sign that read, "I thought it would be warmer in Egypt," referring to the uprising there demanding democratic rights. Wisconsinites became more and more aware we were dealing with an enemy of democracy. American voters would be wise to learn from our experience.