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Feb 11 / Elizabeth DiNovella

What Conservatives Learned from Labor Fights in Wisconsin and Ohio

 

Conservatives are gathering in Washington, D.C., to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference, known by its acronym C-PAC. Dubbed the “Mardi Gras for the Right,” the three-day jamboree commemorates everything conservatives hold dear, and celebrates its affection for unfettered, free-market capitalism. CPAC brings together a broad swath of conservatives, and this year the goal is to create a unified movement to take on President Obama and the Democrats in 2012 election. Thousands of grassroots activists have made the trek to Washington DC, including a large number of students.

There is something for everyone in the conservative movement at CPAC. Panels range from repealing Obama’s health care program, to highlighting the specter of Latin American socialism, along with calls for returning to the gold standard. At one workshop, a panel of lawyers, including a former Federal Elections Commissioner, described to activists how to create new political organizations that can buy ads in the upcoming election while avoiding disclosure of donors.

Tea Party activists brush up against party stalwarts such as John Boerner. Three Republican Presidential hopefuls made appearances, and the absent Ron Paul is represented by his son, Kentucky Senator and Tea Party favorite, Rand Paul.

 

One big topic at CPAC is Wisconsin. In 2010, the Republicans bet big on Wisconsin and won. And its victory is on full display, as Representative Paul Ryan and Governor Scott Walker gave keynote speeches.

One year ago, Walker pushed through anti-union legislation that ended collective bargaining and automatic dues deduction for many public sector workers. Walker’s law led to huge protests in the state capitol, but Republicans across the country see it as a victory.

“There’s a sense that if it succeeds in Wisconsin, then it will spread to other states,” says Steven Malanga, senior editor of City Journal, and a Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow. “It’s not going to spread to California, it’s not going to spread to Illinois, it’s not going to spread to New York, but it will to other states. It will create more of a sense of winners and losers among states and that’s what we’re seeing in this recession, anyway. So that’s really what’s at stake in Wisconsin.”

While Republicans see Wisconsin as a triumph, they look at Ohio as an example of what not to do. Last year, the Republican statehouse voted for legislation that was similar to Wisconsin’s. It removed collective bargaining rights but, unlike the Wisconsin law, Ohio’s legislation included public safety workers.

In November, voters in Ohio handed the Republicans a defeat as they repealed the law, known as SB 5.

Vince Vernuccio, Labor Policy Counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says Wisconsin was more successful than Ohio because Governor Walker exempted Health and Safety workers.

“In Ohio, essentially what you had is firemen and police—in uniform—going door to door, saying this bill will kill babies. Now when you have police and firemen in uniform, saying the apocalypse is going to happen, it’s very hard to message against that,” says Vernuccio. “The problem is we didn’t get our message into Ohio soon enough.”

The second lesson Republicans learned from Ohio is to break the bill in smaller, more digestible pieces. By sparing public safety employees now, other parts of the bill could pass, argues Vernuccio.

“With that exemption, knowing that we could come back to it later, that’s a strategy.”

Participants, including the Manhattan Institutes’s Malanga say another lesson learned in Ohio and Wisconsin is that banning automatic deductions of union dues is good for Republicans.

“Studies of states that don’t allow automatic deductions of union dues have shown that when that kind of a law is enacted, that union activity in politics declines by 50 percent,” says Malanga. “So that gives you some idea of what’s at stake in Wisconsin.”

Malanga, citing statistics from the Center for Responsive Politics, says this union political activity is overwhelming Democratic and funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to federal candidates alone over the past two decades.

But union support for Democrats is nothing new. So why did Republicans pick this fight now?

Kevin Mooney is from the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a rightwing think tank based in Louisiana.

“The key stat goes back to 2009,” he says. “For the first time in American history, more union members work for government than private sector and that has huge public policy ramifications. And this will continue to accelerate.”

Conservatives recently won a victory in Indiana, where Governor Mitch Daniels just signed a “Right to Work” bill into law. This measure prohibits private sector workplaces from requiring workers to pay dues or other fees to join a union. Indiana is the twenty-third state to adopt this type of legislation, but the first state in the Rust Belt. It’s been more than a decade since a state has passed such a law.

Republicans look at Wisconsin and Indiana as models in the bruising labor fights in the Midwest. But they haven’t given up hope on Ohio, says Vernuccio from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“Ohio may have been a little early. It may have been a little too much. But I think going forward we can be successful. Hopefully Governor Kasich is going to break out the successful parts of SB 5 that polled well and we’ll see a moderate version in the future.”

Labor activists and Occupy DC are planning protests at CPAC, and attendees of the conference are abuzz about the possibility of a confrontation. One protest was timed to coincide with Governor Walker’s Friday night speech.

This story appeared in Free Speech Radio News.

Feb 11 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Walker’s Pitch at CPAC

“Some other states used budget gimmicks and tricks to balance their budget. We didn’t have to do that,” said Governor Scott Walker. “Instead we put in place long-term structural reforms that not only helped us balance our state budget, but our local governments, for years to come. As I like to say around the capitol, we thought more about the next generation than about the next election.”

Governor Scott Walker made these remarks during a speech last night at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. Walker was the keynote speaker of the annual Reagan Banquet.

It’s safe to assume that most people at the banquet didn’t read about the $143 million dollar shortfall in the budget, or about the Walker administration using mortgage settlement money to plug gaps in state spending.

Walker was playing to a national audience and not to Wisconsinites. And it’s worthwhile to see how the governor frames Wisconsin’s tumultuous year.

“Collective bargaining is not a right. Collective bargaining in the public sector is an expensive entitlement,” he said. This line got the biggest applause of the night.

Walker said his administration is pro-worker and pro-taxpayer. “What we did once and for all was say the taxpayers should have something to say in this debate, not just a handful of big government union bosses,” he said, referring to Act 10. “We put the power back in the hands of the people.”

Why is Walker being recalled? This is what he had to say:

“Simply put, it’s about the money. The other thing I did that has the big government union bosses upset is something that is fundamentally pro-worker, something that is essentially about freedom. I gave the nearly 300,000 public servants in my state, the good, decent men and women who work in our state and local governments, the right to choose. I said to every one of our public employees, you no longer have to be forced to be in a public employee union. You get to choose whether or not you are going to be in that union. That is a true free choice act.”

Walker used the speech as a fundraising opportunity. And this does not include any donors he met with while he was here in Washington, DC. Did Walker meet with Foster Friess, who gave Walker $250,000 for the recall? Friess is here at the CPAC conference and introduced Rick Santorum, another candidate he lavishly supports.

“To win I’m going to need your help, plain and simple,” Walker said. “I used to be apologetic about asking for help, but I realize it’s not about me. It’s not about my bank account. It’s not about running for some other office. This is fundamentally about freedom and where we go not only as a state in Wisconsin but where we go as America.”

He asked people to donate to his efforts to fight the recall. “In the last report we’ve filed, not long ago, 76 percent of our contributions came from people who gave us $50 or less,” Walker said. “Out of those thousands and thousands of donors, 76 percent gave $50 or less. Now, we’ll take more. But along the way what I think it shows is a true grassroots movement.” Walker did not mention that most of his recent donations—61 percent–came from out of state

Walker decried the “big government union bosses” and said that unions bussed people in from out of state. And then Walker asked for help for his ground game.

“The only way we can counter that is with good old-fashioned grassroots. We need bodies in our state and across the country to come in and say we can match that. We can volunteer to step up, hand out flyer, make phone calls. We can do those things. For all of you who are interested in that, I’m asking you to join our cause at scottwalker.org.”

Walker portrayed himself as a bold and courageous leader. He said he is an optimist and that he believes he will prevail. The governor got a standing ovation after his talk.

Feb 10 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Going Nuclear in Wisconsin

What have conservatives learned from the labor fights in Wisconsin and Ohio? That’s a topic here at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

 

I went to a panel called “The Return of Big Labor: What can we learn from Wisconsin and Ohio?” Nobody from Wisconsin was on the panel. And no one from Ohio, either.

 

In 2010, the Republicans in Ohio took over both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion, just like they did Wisconsin. And the Republicans in both states passed anti-union legislation.

 

However, in November, Ohio voters repealed the law, known as SB 5.

 

“The difference between Ohio and Wisconsin is that Governor Walker exempted health and safety [workers] for the most part,” said Vince Vernuccio, Labor Policy Counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

 

Going after police officers and fire fighters turned out to be a nightmare.

 

“In Ohio, essentially what you had is firemen and police—in uniform—going door to door, saying this bill will kill babies. Now when you have police and firemen in uniform, saying the apocalypse is going to happen, it’s very hard to message against that,” Vernuccio said. “The problem is we didn’t get our message into Ohio soon enough.”

 

Scott Walker has been saying the same thing, that he didn’t get his message out sooner. So that’s one lesson.

 

Lesson number two: Break the bill into smaller, more digestible pieces.

 

By sparing public safety employees now, other parts of the bill could pass, argued Vernuccio. “With that exemption, knowing that we could come back to it later, that’s a strategy.”

 

Lesson number three: Banning automatic deductions of union dues is good for Republicans.

 

“Studies of states that don’t allow automatic deductions of union dues have shown that when that kind of a law is enacted, that union activity in politics declines by 50%,” said Steven Malanga, Senior Editor of City Journal, and a Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow. “So that gives you some idea of what’s at stake in Wisconsin.”

 

This union political activity is overwhelming Democratic. “In past twenty years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, unions have given $400 million to federal candidates alone,” said Malanga. “Only 3% went to Republicans.”

 

Malanga said that Walker’s reforms are working and saving taxpayers money. He brought up Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett’s use of Act 10 to balance the budget.

 

“So we’re talking about a larger issue, what I’m calling fundamental or structural reform,” said Malanga. “And it gives public sector workers a choice. That’s one of the reasons we see people go nuclear, if you will, in Wisconsin.”

 

Malanga said that what happened in Madison will mushroom. “There’s a sense that if it succeeds in Wisconsin, then it will spread to other states,” he said. “It’s not going to spread to California, it’s not going to spread to Illinois, it’s not going to spread to New York, but it will to other states. It will create more of a sense of winners and losers among states and that’s what we’re seeing in this recession, anyway. So that’s really what’s at stake in Wisconsin.”

 

So why did Republicans pick this fight now?

 

Kevin Mooney from the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a rightwing think tank based in Louisiana, explained: “The key stat goes back to 2009. For the first time in American history, more union members work for government than private sector and that has huge public policy ramifications. And this will continue to accelerate.”

 

Mooney, though saw the positive: “The political upshot: new opportunity for free market activists.”

 

During the questions and answer portion, one student asked what Ohio should do to enact long-term reform, given it is such a pro-union state.

 

Vernuccio from the Competitive Enterprise Institute said that Ohio needed to pass some version of SB 5. Wisconsin and Indiana are going to thrive, he said, with their reforms. “You are going to see those states sky-rocket, and Ohio is going to stagnate.” This decline will make people want to leave Ohio.

 

He offered a short-term solution instead: “Build a wall, a Berlin-style wall, to keep people in.”

Feb 8 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Wisconsin Stars at CPAC

This week, conservatives will be gathering in Washington, D.C., to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Dubbed “Mardi Gras for the Right” by one rightwing reporter, the three-day festival “celebrates everything conservatives hold dear, including free-market capitalism.”

Conservatives hold Wisconsin dear, as two Republican Badgers are giving keynote speeches. Representative Paul Ryan from Janesville takes the stage Thursday night, while Governor Scott Walker addresses the crowd on Friday night.

Both Ryan and Walker have national ambition, even if they demur when the subject comes up. In that ever-so-revealing Koch prank call, Walker crowed about his national media appearances, and the good feedback his was getting from his fellow Republicans, adding, “You start going down the list there’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.”

Wisconsin has emerged as a crucial swing state in the 2012 election, even though the state went for Barack Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004.

In 2010, though, Walker and the GOP took over both legislative chambers and the governor’s mansion.

Obama’s campaign team has drawn up five strategies to win the Presidency in 2012. All five presume Wisconsin will go for Obama.

Wisconsin is purple these days. It’s not a safe bet for either party in 2012.

But in 2010, the GOP bet big on Wisconsin and won. And its victory will be on full display at CPAC this week.

Feb 3 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Occupy the Super Bowl

All eyes will be on Indianapolis this weekend as it hosts Super Bowl XLVI. And while the Green Bay Packers are (shockingly) not in the Super Bowl this year, Indiana does seem a lot like Wisconsin these days.

Both states have Republican majorities in their statehouses and a GOP governor. And both are passing anti-union legislation.

In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and the GOP legislators went after public sector unions and passed laws that limited collective bargaining rights.

In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels and the GOP have set their sights on private sector unions. Daniels just signed a “Right to Work” bill into law. This measure prohibits private sector workplaces from requiring workers to pay dues or other fees to join a union. Indiana is the twenty-third state to adopt this type of legislation, but the first state in the Rust Belt. It’s been more than a decade since a state has passed such a law.

In both Wisconsin and Indiana, people are resisting these assaults. Last year, Badgers protested in massive numbers and occupied the capitol building. This year, Hoosiers protested in big numbers. And now they are talking about occupying the Super Bowl.

Last year, Charles Woodsen, Green Bay Packers cornerback and one of the team’s elected representatives to the NFL’s players union, released a statement supporting Wisconsin’s working families. “Thousands of dedicated Wisconsin public workers provide vital services for Wisconsin citizens. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. These hard working people are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work.”

This year, quarterbacks Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears and Rex Grossman of the Washington Redskins, along with other NFL players, sent letters to Indiana House members, urging them to oppose the right-to-work legislation.

The NFL’s players union released a statement about Indiana’s new law, too. It reads: “NFL players know what it means to fight for workers’ rights, better pensions and health and safety in the workplace. To win, we have to work together and look out for one another. Today, even as the city of Indianapolis is exemplifying that teamwork in preparing to host the Super Bowl, politicians are looking to destroy it trying to ram through so-called ‘right-to-work’ legislation. ‘Right-to-work’ is a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers’ rights. It’s not about jobs or rights, and it’s the wrong priority for Indiana.”

Last week, union members and other activists marched through the Super Bowl Village with signs that said, “Fight the Lie” and “Workers United Will Prevail.”

Local activists have vowed to continue the fight through Game Day, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens in and around Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday. It’s hard to imagine network TV covering a protest, but it may be more eventful that Madonna’s half-time show.

Jan 30 / Elizabeth DiNovella

A Tale of Two Tommys

A confident Tommy Thompson strode into the Milwaukee Press Club’s newsmaker luncheon on January 23. Dressed in a dark suit and red tie, Tommy did his best to charm the room, calling on members of the press he remembered from his fourteen years in office as governor. Time has not mellowed Tommy. He was feisty, but not quite cranky, and he fiddled with his cellphone as it went off three times before he finally shut it off.

Thompson is running in the Republican primary for the open Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Herb Kohl. There are four other men in the Republican primary: Mark Neumann, Jeff Fitzgerald, John Schiess, and state senator Frank Lasee.

Thompson introduced himself to a crowd that already knew him. “I’m Tommy Thompson. I grew up in Elroy, Wisconsin, where I still farm,” Thompson said. “I was governor of the state of Wisconsin, with the state legislature for twenty years, governor for fourteen years and one month.”

He then recited a litany of his accomplishments: “I cut taxes 91 times,” “I made Wisconsin more competitive,” “I traveled all over to attract jobs,” “I started welfare reform,” “even the reintroduction of elk, that was my idea.”

“But that’s yesterday,” he said, and went on to explain why he’s running now. “I believe very strongly that we have to change the direction of this country,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he stands out in the crowded primary field. “I believe I am the strongest candidate by far on the Republican side, the only candidate that has won five times statewide, four general elections, one primary and the only candidate that was endorsed by Ronald Reagan,” Thompson said. “Everyone talks about Reagan but I was endorsed by him.”

The Tea Party favorite is Neumann, who represented Wisconsin’s First Congressional district from 1995 to 1999. He lost his bid to Scott Walker in the GOP primary for governor in 2010.

Neumann has been busy racking up endorsements from national tea party and other conservative figures, such as Senators Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, and Tom Coburn. The Conservative Women’s Organization and the national Club for Growth support Neumann. (The head of the local Wisconsin Club for Growth is a pal of Thompson’s, so we’ll see if it endorses anyone in the race.)

In fact, the national Club for Growth is gunning after Thompson for not being conservative enough, creating ads questioning Tommy’s conservative bona fides.

Thompson took aim at those critics at his talk. “I started the conservative movement here in Wisconsin,” he told the room full of journalists. “Some of your predecessors wrote that I was too conservative and now you write I’m not conservative enough.”

But with such ideologues, Thompson pointed out, you can’t get anything done.

It all sounds so reasonable, this idea of people from different parties working together. But it doesn’t sound like the Tommy Thompson who gave a speech at the Celebrate Walker rally two days prior.

At a park in Wauwatosa, a quick drive from the pub, Thompson took a different tack.

“We are a red state and we are not going to let them take us back to a blue state,” Thompson said. “We are red. They are blue and when we get done they are going to be black and blue. Black and blue, ladies and gentlemen.”

Thompson has the best chance to win the primary and a good chance to win the seat. But Thompson’s black and blue remarks are a testament to how nasty the political tone has become in Wisconsin.

And it’s only the beginning of the race. The primary isn’t until to August 14.

Jan 26 / Elizabeth DiNovella

From Tahrir to Madison, the Revolution Is Unfinished

Instead of watching Governor Scott Walker give his State of the State address, I turned the channel to HBO where the new documentary “In Tahrir Square: 18 Days of Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution” premiered.

A stellar crew of independent filmmakers produced this amazing film: Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neill, and Jacquie Soohen.

They followed Democracy Now correspondent and independent journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous as he returned home to Cairo to see the revolution unfold. The action centers on the massive peaceful demonstrations that rocked Tahrir Square last January and February, as hundreds of thousands, and then a million people demanded that Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak step down.

The footage is breathtaking. The first shots include archival footage that show the viciousness of the Mubarak regime, allowing us viewers to understand why people wanted change so badly.

 

Then they take us into the labyrinth of poor neighborhoods, so we see how corrupt Mubarak was, too. In coffee shops over tea and water pipes, and in alleys piled high with garbage, person after person voiced their anger at the regime.

Kouddous is our guide and we watch as the crowds grow larger—peacefully—everyday in Tahrir. When Mubarak sends in his hired thugs to wreak havoc, we are in the thick of rock fights and charging camels. We see how the regime fixes creepy green lasers on protesters’ backs to target them at night. Kouddous take us into the apartment to meet the family of someone who lost a family member in the violence. The bravery of the Egyptian people is matched by the bravery of these American and Canadian filmmakers.

The tension builds as, seventeen days into the uprising, Mubarak gives a speech; everyone was expecting him to resign, but he doesn’t. “He’s an artist,” a young English-speaking man tells Kouddous. “How he provokes people.” Afterward, the men in Tahrir stand up with shoes in their hands, the ultimate insult in the Middle East (more powerful than flipping the bird).

The next day, one million people filled Tahrir Square. I remember seeing the photo in The New York Times but the live footage is so visceral.

One million people finally convinced the regime that its time was up. We see the elation among people when they learn that Mubarak was stepping down. It is such a sweet victory, and it’s delightful to watch the crowd sing “Farewell, Farewell, Farewell, you thief.”

 

And yet already in that celebration we see the potential cracks in the movement. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood chant, “God by Himself toppled the regime.” Kouddous asks one protester if he had a message for Americans. He says that human rights groups provided help, and “Those who stand for justice and freedom—you are with us today.”

At the end of the movie, Kouddous translates the phrase of the day: “Lift your head high, we’re proud to be Egyptians.”

It was this same sense of dignity that inspired people here in Wisconsin to rise up against their governor, Scott Walker, after he squashed collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Wisconsinites took inspiration from the Tahrir. People made homemade signs that said, “Welcome to Cairo,” “This Is Our Tahrir Square,” “Walker Is the Mubarak of the Midwest,” and “Treat Us Like Egyptians.”

Kouddous came to Madison during the height of the protests. He had just gotten back from Cairo and being in Wisconsin, with is snow and cold, accelerated the culture shock. As we walked around the capitol square, I asked him what he thought about the comparisons Wisconsinites were making to Egypt. Was Tahrir like this? There were huge differences culturally, he said, but some things were similar—the vibrancy, the energy, the creativity.

Of course, there are many differences between Mubarak and Walker, between Egypt and Wisconsin. For one, we elected Walker. No one in Egypt enjoyed that right. While the Walker administration can be tough, there has been no violence in our massive uprising. When police arrest people here in Madison, they get released soon afterward. No woman has to face a “virginity test” while in custody.

Madison Protest

Plus, it’s going to take more than street protests to get Walker out of office. One million protesters unseated a dictator. Will one million signatures unseat a Republican?

Part of the thrill of the HBO documentary is knowing how it concludes; we know Mubarak is going to fall. But we don’t know how the recall election is going to end. Recent polls reveal a high level of support for Walker, especially among independents. Walker beats all of the top Democratic contenders, including David Obey.

While Kouddous was in Madison, he hesitated to call what happened in Egypt a revolution. He preferred “uprising,” since it was unclear if a revolution would succeed. The title of his documentary reflects that uncertainty. Nevertheless, the film is thrilling and shows the power of nonviolence. It’s not to be missed.

 

Jan 17 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Wisconsin Moves Forward with Walker Recall

A few hundred Wisconsinites braved the frigid cold to witness history in the making this afternoon, as more than one million signatures asking for the recall of Governor Scott Walker were dropped off at the Government Accountability Office in downtown Madison.

It took more than an hour to unload the petitions, which were crammed into the rental van. As box after box was brought inside the building, people cheered. The protests were marked by the same creativity that I saw in last year’s historic protests. There were heart balloons and vuvuzelas, homemade signs and a huge Walker puppet. Members of the Forward Marching Band played their instruments on the sidewalk. Everyone was in high spirits. I overheard one woman say she drove down six hours to get here but it was worth it.

It was the opposite of yesterday when everyone in town seemed so mopey after the Packers lost. Today, it felt like victory.

 

In the crowd I caught up with Jan Moore from Sun Prairie. When I spoke to Moore in November, on the eve of recall efforts, he said and his fellow volunteers hoped to collect 6,000 signatures. Today, Moore told me they collected more than 8,000.

How did they do that? It all came down to people power. They had people working three shifts a day, twelve hours a day, seven days a week. They had an office, and they also collected signatures in the town square and near the library.

Ben Jenkel was one of the hardy volunteers who made this recall possible. Jenkel has lived in Sun Prairie for five years, though he grew up further north in the state. Jenkel works in at the NBC affiliate as an editor for the morning show. He works 2 a.m. til 11:30 am and then he heads out to collect signatures from 1-5 p.m.

Jenkel set a personal goal of getting 500 signatures and ended up collecting 485. “My dad gave me stomach flu for Christmas, he says, “I would’ve made my goal if I wasn’t sick that week.”

And how does he feel today?

“It’s so exciting.” Jenkel said. “We started this in February, marching in the cold. Now we are back, marching in the cold.”

Madison Protest

Moore and Jenkel joked about all the names they had been called while they were collecting signatures. People would drive by and taunt them, saying things such as “Get a job!” and “Pay your fair share!”

There have been reports from all over the state about people flipping recall vounteers the bird, and Sun Prairie was no exception.

“I got flipped off more times than if I lived a thousand lifetimes,” said Jenkel. “But we also got thumbs up, too.”

“And hot chocolate,” chimed in Moore.

And where was Governor Walker today? He was in New York City, at a fundraiser hosted by Hank Greenberg, founder of financial services group AIG. The man who decried out of state influence is himself out of the state, raising money.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin is throwing a party tonight in Madison to celebrate today’s milestone.

Jan Moore is definitely going to celebrate. “It’s a great day for democracy,” he said.

 

Jan 13 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Wisconsin Rising Needs Support

When independent filmmaker Sam Mayfield came to Wisconsin to cover the historic protests happening here last winter, she thought she was going to stay for just a few days.

She ended up staying for seven months.

“I saw what I believed to be a significant piece of history unfolding in front of me,” Mayfield tells me by phone from Vermont. “I decided to continue to document it, and to make the movie.”

The movie, Wisconsin Rising, tells the story about “what happens when people act collectively,” she says.

 

“Corporations have as much say in the political structure as the people,” she says, alluding to the big business backing of Governor Scott Walker. “We have to look at that and question whether democracy actually exists.”

Mayfield arrived in March and could always be found where the action was. She went everywhere with her camera—climbing through windows, going to press conferences, even getting arrested (charges were dropped).

She spoke to regular folks at the protests and to the stars of the movement. She also interviewed my colleagues Ruth Conniff and Matt Rothschild.

I got to know Mayfield well during her sconnie sojourn. I just saw the trailer and I cannot wait to see the film.

 

But Mayfield needs financial support to finish the project. She has a Kickstarter campaign and is asking people to chip in. “We are halfway toward our goal,” she says. She has another week to raise another $20,000.

This project is worth supporting. We need credible storytellers. We saw what happens when Fox News tells the story—we get footage of palm trees in February in Wisconsin.

Mayfield says she will be coming back for the recall election, but stresses her film is about more than Walker. “This story is about all of us,” she says.

As a going away present, I gave Mayfield a Packers sweatshirt. I felt that she needed to know what it’s like to win in Wisconsin and not just get our butts kicked.

Is she still wearing it? “I haven’t taken it off.”

Click here to go to the Wisconsin Rising Kickstarter page.

 

Dec 21 / Elizabeth DiNovella

5 Favorite Books of 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey (Reagan Arthur Books/ Little, Brown and Company)

America’s top comedian has written a hilarious and witty memoir. If you haven’t read this yet, what are you waiting for?

Back in the 1990s, Tina Fey was living in Chicago after college. Like many comedians who end up at Saturday Night Live, Fey did a stint at Second City, the Midwest mecca of improv and comedy writing. She says Second City was the only workplace where she experienced “institutionalized gender nonsense.” She recalls a director could cut a sketch by simply saying, “The audience doesn’t want to see a scene between two women.”

This did not compute for Fey, or for her then and future colleague Amy Poehler. Flash forward a dozen years. Fey and Poehler opened Saturday Night Live on September 13, 2008, with their first-rate portrayals of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton. Ten million people tuned in. “So I guess that director at the Second City who said the audience ‘didn’t want to see a sketch with two women’ can go shit in his hat.”

 

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolutionby Sara Marcus (Harper Perennial)

Girls to the Front may not be as funny as Fey’s book, but it’s just as perceptive. Sara Marcus delves into the “riot grrrl” world of the early 1990s. Riot grrrl was a grassroots feminist movement, with a do-it-yourself ethos. Third-wave feminists combined punk rock with consciousness-raising support groups. It was idealistic, fun, in-your-face feminism.

Driven by music and ’zines, culture and politics were at the forefront of this underground yet influential movement. Tobi Vail of the band Bikini Kill summed it up: “Our vision was of creating a feminist youth culture that was participatory and would change society. We wanted all girls in all towns to start bands.”

Black Flags and Windmills by scott crow (PM Press)

Crow is a long-term activist who shares the lessons he’s learned in organizing.

He and a few others founded the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There’s a lot of trauma in NOLA, and that comes through in the book.

But you also get the sense that writing this book was healing for Crow

“I don’t tell a personal narrative to build myself up but to show that we can all do this,” he told me during a phone interview a few weeks ago. “I’m not trying to set myself up as a hero. I’m setting ourselves up to be heroes for each other.”

Crow has been subjected to close scrutiny by the FBI. He requested his FBI file and received back 440 heavily-redacted pages. In 2006, he found out he was listed as a “domestic terrorist” due to his activism. He has been arrested in demonstrations but never charged with anything more than trespassing.

Crow says the surveillance and ongoing criminalization of dissent is “an absolute farce. People like me are paper tigers. If you are going to have a war on terrorism, you need terrorists. Who are easy to find? Social activists.”

He knows that the FBI uses surveillance as a way to intimidate activists. “What everyone fears about surveillance, it’s happened to me, and I’m OK,” he says. “It hasn’t been pleasant. But I’m OK.”

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Falloutby Laura Redniss (It Books/HarperCollins)

It’s not just the astonishing story of the Curies that makes this book so extraordinary. The book itself is a work of art. Redniss uses both words and illustrations to tell her tale. The technique she employs—cynotype printing—creates imagery in faded blues. The colors resemble, as Marie Curie wrote, the “faint, fairy blue” emitted by radium.

Redniss works from original sources and quotes heavily from the Curies throughout the book. The author manages to interlock their stories of discovery with Hiroshima, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Nevada nuclear test sites.

Marie, who kept a little jar of radium by her pillow, was the first woman in France to receive a doctorate. That same year, the Curies received the Nobel Prize together. But she couldn’t travel to Stockholm. Pierre did not attend either. Both had become easily fatigued. “Radioactivity had made the Curies immortal,” writes Redniss. “Now it was killing them.”

Their private life was fascinating. Pierre dabbled in Spiritualism and went to séances. Marie did major research while also cooking meals for her husband and nursing a child. There is tragedy, heartbreak, scandalous affairs, and even a duel in these pages. Radioactive is wholly original, just like the Curies.

Grapefruit by Yoko Ono (Simon & Schuster)

Yoko Ono is another original. I saw her work at the Venice Biennale in 2009, where she was given a lifetime achievement award for being a pioneer in performance and conceptual art. Her exhibit blew me away.

So I was very excited to find out that her book Grapefruit is back in print. It’s a slim, sly volume full of “instructions for art and life.”

Each page contains a suggestion for an art piece. She covers music, painting, film, and more. One can see the idea of Yoko and John Lennon’s Bed-in for Peace in these pages. But what really comes shining through is her sense of humor.

5 other notable picks:

The John Carlos Story by Dave Zirin (Haymarket)

If you like sports, don’t miss Zirin’s latest book on 1968 Olympian and lifelong activist, John Carlos.

Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster)

I am a huge fan of Orlean’s New Yorker pieces. Rin Tin Tin’s owner believed his dog was immortal. Don’t we all? It was especially poignant to read this while my beloved white German Shepherd was dying.

Roger Ebert: Life Itself by Roger Ebert (Grand Central Publishing)

The film critic’s memoir gets a thumbs up. “We must try to contribute joy to the world,” Ebert writes. “I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

Blue Nights by Joan Didion (Knopf)

Who does grief better than Didion?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns)by Mindy Kaling (Crown)

The staff writer and actor on the hit comedy The Office had me at this line: “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?” Another smart, funny memoir/essay collection by another smart, funny woman.