Don’t Mourn, Organize! The Struggle for Freedom Gets Personal

by on February 21, 2011 · 27 comments

in Civil Rights, Economy, Labor, Popular

As conservatives in eight other states moved to limit collective bargaining this week, union supporters throughout the United States are organizing rallies in support of the Wisconsin protestors.  Rallies are scheduled in 38 states over the next couple of days.

San Diego got off to an early start on Friday, as about 150 people gathered in Mission Valley in the late afternoon despite very short notice and heavy rains.  Although it seems to be that any gathering of more than a dozen Tea Party supporters will draw TV cameras these days, the labor council rally was largely ignored.

Speakers Lorena Gozalez (Central Labor Council), Bill Freeman (SDEA), Richard Barerra (School Board President), Assemblyman Ben Hueso and others voiced their support for the Wisconsin labor movement.  There was general agreement among all the speakers that what is at stake here is much larger than the issues at play in Wisconsin.

I got soaked to the bone getting there as I walked the last mile after just missing the bus on the the rather infrequent Route 18.  I signed a poster to be delivered to the unions in Wisconsin to show solidarity with their cause. Why? Because it’s dawned on me that this battle may be the fight of a lifetime.

If you take a look at what going on nationally, it doesn’t take much to figure out that the right is launching an all-out assault on institutions and ideals that stand in the way of the goals of their corporate overlords. In Washington DC, republicans voted for legislation that would de-fund Planned Parenthood.  The San Diego newspaper today (Monday) featured a prominent op-ed claiming that America is ruled by the AARP (last week it was unions), as a means for urging the further cutbacks to Social Security and Medicaid.

What’s going on in Madison is not just about unions trying to protect their members’ hard-won rights. It is also about teachers who are fed up with attacks on their profession. A large group of National Board Certified teachers — teachers from many states who have passed rigorous examinations by an independent national board — is organizing a march on Washington in July. The events in Madison are sure to multiply their numbers. It should also be noted that states with strong anti-union legislation all find themselves grouped at the bottom of the heap when it comes to any measure of educational achievement.

Today could be the biggest protest day yet. As a furlough day for state workers, union organizers are planning to bring in protesters by bus from across the state. A Rock for Your Rights concert, featuring former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, is expected to start on Capitol Square at 5 p.m.

Meanwhile, Around the Rest of America

The demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin doubled down Saturday, with a noon-time rally featuring various Tea Party speakers bracketed by morning and afternoon rallies sponsored by union groups.

The noontime Tea Party rally was planned by the billionaire Koch brothers- funded Americans for Prosperity, the Sam Adams Alliance-funded American Majority, and several Wisconsin Tea Party groups. Speakers included: Andrew Brietbart (promoter of the Acorn and Planned Parenthood video smear campaigns), Tim Phillips (President of Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity), Jim Hoft (of the “Gateway Pundit” blog, who recently blamed CBS reporter Lara Logan for her sexual assault in Egypt), Joe the Plumber, with a special message read from none other than Sarah Palin (former Alaska Governor who quit halfway through her term).

Although there were widespread fears that there would be violence as the result of the pro and anti Governor Walker forces being in close proximity, a well organized system of monitors seems to have worked well at keeping the hot heads at bay.  Estimates of the crowds surrounding the State Capital exceeded 70,000, with observers agreeing that the Tea Party types were heavily out numbered. Reports indicated that the Pro-Walker forces ranged between two and five thousand people.

It’s imperative to understand the significance of what’s going on here.  The confrontation in Wisconsin is NOT about wages, benefits or pensions.  The State had a budgetary surplus just a few weeks ago until their new Tea Party Governor created a deficit by giving tax breaks to corporations.  Despite that, the State’s public employee unions have all said that they are willing to agree to various austerity measures. But what the Governor and his reactionary allies really want is nothing less than the destruction of the unions, both public and private.  During Gov. Walker’s campaign last fall, he boasted that he would, in fact, decertify the State’s public employee unions. Then he learned, upon taking office, that those powers weren’t his to utilize.  So now he’s proposing legislation that will remove the right of unions to engage in collective bargaining.  And just to make sure the workers get the message, private business will gain the right to fire employees for union organizing.

Should these reactionaries succeed in the anti-union campaigns, the flood gates will be opened for things like repeal of child labor laws (already moving through the Missouri Legislature), civil rights legislation and attacks on virtually every progressive cause out there.  The attack on unions is an important first step because of the role they play in funding for the Democratic Party.  The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood are yet another example of the real agenda of these right wingers.

It’s become almost chic in recent years for people outside the labor movement (even so-called progressives) to fail to recognize the historical significance of what unions have done and continue to do for those of us who don’t happen to be wealthy.  While it is almost too easy to say that they’ve outlasted their usefulness, it’s very clear to me what a world without unions would look like, and it won’t be a very nice place.

The fight in Wisconsin is a fight for human rights, a fight for civil rights, a fight for the environment, a fight for gay rights, a fight for women’s rights, and a fight for family values.  Don’t let the Koch Brothers and their billionaire stooges distract you with false arguments and “concern trolls”.   Do the right thing. Draw a line in the sand and stand with your Union brothers and sisters.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar tj February 21, 2011 at 11:38 am

“Do the right thing. Draw a line in the sand and stand with your Union brothers and sisters.” DP

Rah, rah, rah. And you’ll likely need to drive there – in that foreign brand vehicle you likely bought – ignoring your union manufacturing breathern – for your own greedy self-interest …

Nothing personal – but the selfish “me” mentality can really be a b*t@h – when – “what goes around … comes around.”


avatar doug porter February 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm

i take it that supposed to be some sort of an insult or put down. do you really want to live in a world where the likes of the koch brothers dictate public policy? i say not.


avatar tj February 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm

– “i take it that supposed to be some sort of an insult or put down.” DP

Not at all – sorry if you feel that way. I had just posted here – – so my response to your post might have been more brief then it could have been.

– “do you really want to live in a world where the likes of the koch brothers dictate public policy? i say not.” DP

Kotch brothers, Gyorgy Schwartz (Soros), or whoever – they’re doing it TO us – for their own endlessly greedy gain, in a twisted world where “too much is never enough.”

The country’s people have been devastated by greed & stupidity (exporting our couuntries capital through massive trade imbalance). You cannot realistically expect the people who sent away main streets jobs – will self fund fat government pensions, benefits & salaries?

Now with too many private sector jobs exported – who will pay fat pensions, benefits & salaries to public employees?

The poor can’t, & the rich won’t. So who will – the Japanese who committed the worse act of terrorism ever against us, in 1941 @ Pearl Harbor?

Think the Communist Chinese will pitch in? So who?

Exporting capital has serious ramifications – consider that next time we think “buying American” isn’t in our best self interest.


avatar Bob Dryer February 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Comparing Wisconsin to Egypt? Really!?


avatar doug porter February 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Really. Egypt’s protests were triggered by economic concerns, ie the price of food. As Paul Buchheit, from DePaul University, revealed, “From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation’s total income, while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%.”


avatar rocco February 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I don’t mind making the Egypt to Wisconsin comparison. Egypt struggled to overcome oppression in the hopes of forging a country more like the United States. The governor of Wisconsin would be proud to turn hard working Americans into citizens without rights, much like Egypt was, up until 2 weeks ago.

Typical Republican spinmeisters. Bring our country to near ruin during Bush / Cheney, then blame Democrats, and insist the Dems should be the ones to sacrifice to rectify the GOP sins.

Support union workers. Collective bargaining has resulted in better wages and working conditions for most Americans, unionized or not.


avatar mr fresh February 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm If you haven’t seen this video of the protests set to the music of Arcade Fire, please watch it now


avatar RB February 21, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Don’t incourage the extremes on the right or the left. Don’t let either Koch or Soros buy our elections. Keep to the common sense middle. Of course workers can orgainize as unions and bargain for wages and benefits.
Of course people also have a right to work without joining a union. Of course people need to contribute to their own retirement.


avatar Gary Ghirardi February 22, 2011 at 6:35 am

The middle has led to the situation where 90% have succumbed to the 1%. That argument does not work and never did. The middle should have stood against Jimmy Carter initiating in the NAFTA 30+ years ago and should have been in the streets during the entire Reagan Empire.


avatar RB February 22, 2011 at 7:37 am

NAFTA was pushed through congress by Clinton while congress was still controlled by Democrats. And the public in the middle was not for NAFTA.
Not unlike the current health care bill, the middle was promised that the bill would be fixed after it was passed and still 16 years later, there has been no environmental fix.

The lobbyist will always win until we have real campaign financial reform.


avatar Gary Ghirardi February 22, 2011 at 10:50 am

The roots of NAFTA reach back to liberal trade agreements between Canada and the United States during the 1970s. A new free trade agreement between the United States and Canada began on January 1, 1989. The two nations extended negotiations to include Mexico in order to form a trilateral agreement that the respective governments believed would improve their economies and strengthen political cooperation among the nations. Talks involving the members of the George Bush administration began in February 1991 and resulted in a draft North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1992. NAFTA set up a schedule for the elimination of tariffs over a fifteen-year period and restructured trade between the United States and Mexico and between Mexico and Canada. All tariffs between the United States and Canada would end by the year 1998; those between the United States and Mexico would be eliminated by 2008.


avatar Frank Gormlie February 22, 2011 at 9:39 am

Actually a lot of us were in the streets during the Reagan era. Fighting nukes, getting arrested, doing civil disobedience, or supporting those who did. And Gary, you were where ….? I guess I chafe when you leave comments like this, Gary, as they really sound ‘holier-than-thou’. You were alive during those days and lived in San Diego. Were you part of the Ballast Point Organizing Committee, or GreenPeace, or ….?


avatar Gary Ghirardi February 22, 2011 at 10:58 am

Frank, you were not the middle. You were the 10% who were in a mind-set for resistance. I was organizing the beginning of the downtown art scene with many others who took advantage of the abandoned condition of this space. You should have realized this history and the many projects that followed that moved from mirroring the bourgeois art culture mimicry of the wealthy towards integrating social movement events and politics into traditional art venues. Gallery 552, Installation Gallery, Ruse, El Sotano, InSite 97 and 2000, El Campo Ruse (where you were our legal council) Voz Alta Project which still continues today in its third generation. I learned in Mexico with El Sotano, that the defnition of culture extrends to all things human, politics, arts, its all society. You should have know this being our lawyer. I believe it was explained to you at the time.


avatar Frank Gormlie February 22, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Bull pucky – but good for you. Were you actually resisting Reagan however?


avatar Gary Ghirardi February 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm

One of the reasons I was attracted to the Downtown community and not “the beach” was it seemed more inclusive. I felt the OB community very mono-dimensional; without much racial diversity and of the group you were part of, The Whole Damn Pie Shop, that I met in, maybe 1984, very condescending towards the artist community. Within the artist community there were those who were political and those who were not. In your group, I gravitated towards Rick and, to a lesser extent, Scott, because they understood the important of the arts inside the formation of a different kind of progressive politic. Rick claimed this influence from his scraping elbows with Marcuse. As the projects and the art community evolved in the center of the city, it became clear that there was a de facto racism among San Diegans, between a substantial Latino cultural community and the mainstream non-Latino one and this quickly became a dividing line. This was the motivation inside the Reagan era to form collaborations like the original Ruse, to traverse the border and to start a dialogue. That experience quickly showed that the interest and dynamicism lay more in the Latino community which understood the politics that constructed this unfair cultural exchange between two sides of one human settlement. In this meeting was formed the Border Art Movement that challenged the cultural assumptions that personified the Reagan Revolution and we who participated in breaking down that border saw this as a long-term way of resisting that cultural facism. This is what the politicos who insisted that the arts were not serious refused to see or acknowledge, that they were not facing their own internal Reagan’s while resisting a physical one. This is not popular stuff in the white mainstream of our generation and is just now starting to unravel but much of that unraveling is the work that many in the arts community identified and worked for beginning in the mid eighties. It created many divisions, like some artists referring to “my other artist friends” as communists. The collaborations that were formed between artists and activists became relevant to the border and the hegemonic cultural struggle between the “white” and “others” as a result; maquiladora solidarity, Peace and Freedom Party, Independent Media Center, et al. This is how ingrained is the empire. You were not there, Downtown, or in Tijuas, or at the Bordo, at the Centro to witness all this Frank so your disrespect is not an adequate dismissal of what you did not experience.


avatar Frank Gormlie February 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Sorry, Gary, you are way off base. You don’t know San Diego’s progressive left history of the mid and late Seventies and early Eighties enough to comment on. You have probably never heard of the Borderland Education Committee or the San Diego Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Committee, or the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee – all groups that dealt with the border and racism and empire -, and now I doubt whether you even read my magazine “The Whole Damn Pie Shop” – whose writers, Scott and Rick, you say you were close to. Because we published many articles dealing with those same issues. As I recall, you were busy at that time, making your art pieces and selling them to large corporations and having some internal contradictions of your own to deal with around gender politics. I’m glad that you have moved on – and we all have our periods of retrogression.


avatar Gary Ghirardi February 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm

!974 in OB predates me Frank, other than making it down to buy vinyl occasionally on Voltaire in High School. You illustrate the reality that this work represents different circles working in different venues and times. I collaborated with The Border Art Workshop / Taller Arte Fronterizo, knew of work on both sides of the border between 1986 till I left in 2004 and there was no mention of these groups you cite. I separated my studio work, to pay the bills, from community activism, to push the envelope of developing community spaces that could engage an audience in new ways that protest could not. In the period between El Campo Ruse and Voz Alta we were able to experience politics conveyed through performance that engaged audiences in a way that protest could not; to impart a world of possibility and not the strains of public marginalization. This was accomplished by artists engaging in political discourse through creative engagement with an audience, in a venue supportive of difference and not trying to change the living dead who just tune out difference when confronted. Certainly there needs to be both confrontation and sub-cultural celebration. Change comes in all forms. I am sorry with so much background in organized resistance many of the political collaborators you speak of did not follow into the experimental venues of 10 and 20 years later. It is a loss for everyone.


avatar Frank Gormlie February 22, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Yeah, but at least we’re trying. You’ve done quite a bit – I wish you were writing for us. ANd BTW, any news on the Venezuela-Kaddafi connection?


avatar Gary Ghirardi February 22, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Venezuela-Kaddafi connection? I will let you know if something interesting comes across our media here.

avatar Gary Ghirardi February 23, 2011 at 4:46 am
avatar annagrace February 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Does Madison matter to the right wing? You bet it does- …”Tea Party Nation and Mark Williams, the disgraced former chairman of Tea Party Express, who was forced to resign after making offensive racial comments, are calling for a more radical approach. In an email alert to supporters sent last night, Tea Party Nation promotes Williams’ “great idea” to impersonate SEIU organizers at upcoming labor rallies in an attempt to embarrass and discredit the union. ” What is the reasoning? “Our goal is to make the gathering look as greedy and goonish as we know that it is, ding their credibility with the media and exploit the lazy reporters who just want dramatic shots and outrageous quotes for headlines. Even if it becomes known that we are plants the quotes and pictures will linger as defacto truth.”
Now we know who the goons and thugs are.


avatar Pat Herron February 21, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Was there ever any doubt?


avatar Pat Herron February 21, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I totally support the hard-working union workers in Wisconsin. I was hoping to attend the rally here in San Diego but was unable to
make it. We must all stand together now. Union or non-union. We are all WORKERS. This is nothing more than an attempt by the
almighty CORPORATIONS to destroy the unions and so to finish destroying the middle class. We CANNOT let this happen.

Wisconsin is not alone. Apparently all the newly elected Repug governors are going to push bills like this. They figure if they can break the unions here they can break them throughout the country.

Also Daily Kos is reporting that this budget bill, besides busting unions also has a part that will privatize Wisconsin PUBLIC utilities.
This means that KOCH Industries (the people that bankrolled Gov. Walker’s campaign) will be able to buy Wisconsin public
utilities for pennies on the dollar in a CLOSED, SECRET bidding process.


avatar The Mustachioed OBecian February 22, 2011 at 9:59 am

Geez, I’m not really sure how any of you sleep at night. Comparing Egypt to Madison is similar to someone a couple months back comparing the systematic rounding up of Jews and slaughtering them during WWII to arresting illegal immigrants. The comparison is nonsense on stilts. To suggest otherwise is fairly offensive to anyone who lives under the yoke of a totalitarian dictatorship, in this instance Egyptians and pretty much every single Middle Eastern country (save one). To not see this nothingburger for what it is pretty remarkable. In Wisconsin, we have a governor, who was duly elected by the people, that has the votes to pass a bill for which he campaigned.

As an aside, if you’re one of the teachers calling in sick to protest at the capital, what do you tell one of your students who calls in sick to protest the exam that you’re giving them because they find the material unfair?


avatar mr fresh February 22, 2011 at 10:55 am

I’m sorry you can’t see the connection. I guess the prospect of an oligarchy wherein ilk like the Koch family rules the land doesn’t seem like a bad idea to you.


avatar The Mustachioed OBecian February 22, 2011 at 12:27 pm

So, when hollywood and big labor funnel millions into democratic coiffeurs, that is part of this same oligarchy that you refer to? Or is it only the Koch brothers that keep everyone up at night?


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