Wisconsin Democrats aren’t our allies

April 12, 2011

CONSIDER THE last three decades and how much has changed. Although progress has been slow, we can agree that some things have improved, like tolerance and access for the majority of people. One could argue that racism, sexism and homophobia have significantly decreased in the United States.

However, in debating issues like racism, sexism and homophobia, one can't help but realize how these are weapons used by the highest echelons of power in a broader struggle against equality: class struggle.

We must understand that these dividing lines define power relationships based on hatred and false notions of superiority to pit workers against each other; we must understand how these are forms of aggression from the few at the top against the bottom 90 percent. To address racism and sexism, we must understand their economic value.

In that sense, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker extending funding for corrections and holding police officers out of his anti-organized labor "reforms" is similar to Fox News' anti-immigrant, racially divisive or sexist rhetoric--both are meant to destroy any solidarity between people at the bottom. When Ronald Reagan referred to Black women as "welfare queens," he was illustrating the union between intolerance, unequal power relationships and the economic interests which also sought to diminish any favorable view of public services.

The last three decades have also been marked by an arching ideology of "growth for the hell of it." We went from progress in 1973's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion to "wholesale democracy" in 2010 through Citizens United v. FEC, which overturned decades of law and opened the floodgates to corporate spending on elections. In the last 30 years since Ronald Reagan--a global sweep of privatization, austerity and deregulation--the wealth of the world has been consolidated into fewer and fewer hands at the cost of human development and human security.

We've made some gains, sure. The New York Times reports that "the poorest countries in Africa have advanced life expectancy 10 years from conditions in 200,000 B.C." Oh, and the UN says 16,000 children die every day from malnutrition.

All of this can be justified by World Bank statistics proudly demonstrating increases in global product output, for example. Consider this scenario: on the one hand, the global gross domestic product multiplied by 5.08 between 1980 and 2007; on the other hand, between 1979 and 2007 the share of income, after taxes, of the lowest 20 percent in the U.S. dropped by 30 percent. The share of income for the top 1 percent rose by 130 percent.

It's sort of like the federal budget proposal submitted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), in which, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, "The poorest 20 percent would pay 12.3 percent of their income more than what they would pay under the president's proposal, while the richest 1 percent would pay 15 percent of their income less than they would pay under the president's proposal."

SO IT'S okay to reduce the public sector, which provides services like education, and promote the consolidation of wealth at the very top of the pyramid, because it's all in the name of economic growth. But when we talk about promoting economic prosperity, do we forget who we do it for?

Praising his budget proposals on his website, Governor Walker stated, "This will be good for the Badger state's hard-working taxpayers," adding, "Our budget-repair bill is a commitment to the future so our children won't face even more dire consequences than we face today."

If that is our goal, it seems that cutting $900 million from the state's K-12 education budget is a bad first step.

Walker's rhetoric implies that sacrificing children's education is a necessary, and even "modest," measure to protect their future. He seems convinced that cuts to education, health care, women's reproductive care, recycling, municipal subsidies, the Department of Natural Resources, etc., are necessary to promote economic wellbeing.

Why? Because, as the maxim he adheres to dictates, economic activity achieving any demonstrable "growth" is positive. It doesn't matter how wealth is distributed, but that wealth is being transferred.

So, we can be proud of our high GDP in the U.S. One thing not mentioned, of course, is that in the U.S., the wealthiest 1 percent earn an average of $27 million per household, while the average income for the bottom 90 percent is $31,244 per household.

How does this happen? Part of it is a sustained assault on the bottom 90 percent. On that end, the strategy is to prevent their access, keep them unhealthy, uneducated and unorganized. Conversely, we promote the wellbeing of those in the top.

After all, corporations will provide for our uneducated children better than government services can. It should be no surprise--since the maxim dictates that what is good for those at the top will be good for the rest, and whatever impedes the top from accumulating wealth is ultimately bad for society--that the Wisconsin legislature went into a "special session" during January to make sure that "Wisconsin is Open for Business."

IN JANUARY, Stevens Point's two representatives in the state legislature, Sen. Julie Lassa and Assembly Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., voted "aye" on Special Session Bill 3, which gave tax credits and deductions to out-of-state businesses, and Special Session Bill 4, which increased tax credits from the Department of Commerce to businesses by $25 million.

Although in February they would come to find an incredible opportunity to stand with hundreds of thousands of active citizens (and voters) demanding their voices be heard in the Capitol Square, Lassa and Molepske were not keen to leave the state when Special Session Bills 3 and 4 came to the floor. They, too, were sticking to the maxim, supporting Reagan's fallacious theory of "trickle-down" economics. Sure, let's encourage big business to give $5 an hour part-time jobs to Wisconsinites, because that is how we will restore a bright future for our children.

The 14 Wisconsin state senators who left the state to be greeted triumphantly upon their return by the largest social movement in Wisconsin history probably have their minds in the right place. Anyone following this issue should have deep respect for Democrats like Lassa and Molepske, as well as Rep. Peter Barca and Rep. Gordon Hintz.

To be sure, lawmakers across the state have been moved to demonstrate their opposition to Walker's harsh austerity proposals by the hundreds of thousands of people who have flooded the Capitol and demonstrated in their cities. Remember also that an attack on organized labor is an indirect attack on the Democratic Party's base.

Sadly, however, the Democrats in the legislature also believe that a "positive business climate" is a viable path to prosperity for the majority, whereas all statistics point otherwise. That is the problem with a two-party system--the winner-take-all nature of single-member district elections benefits larger parties. Then, as parties try to expand their base, they move closer and closer to each other until their differences are barely noticeable.

In our electoral system, both sides adhere to the doctrinal and unfounded claim that wealth will "trickle-down" to the benefit of all. Some actually believe in trickle down, others are more cynical and know that it is a scheme--a charade to promote a system in which wealth quickly trickles upward. Regardless of the outcome of any election, if our "choice" is between two parties that support Big Business as a way to ensure our well-being, we'll lose every time.

Right now, we have an unprecedented degree of bottom-up unity between different sectors in the "bottom 90 percent." The people built this movement. While it has served to awaken and empower moderate politicians, we must continue to pressure our representatives towards substantial change and reform our electoral system to a proportional vote-distribution representation model, away from "winner-take-all" elections.

The Democrats are going to do only enough to regain their foothold. They'll stand up and chant with us, because the power of the people is visible--but the last thing we need is to hand off the momentum we've created to a political party that is still drinking Milton Friedman's "capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom" Kool-Aid.

It's a lie. We can prove that it's impoverishing the majority and destroying the planet, and it's got to go.

By the way, the Student Government Association's Environmental and Sustainability Issues Committee is bringing Ralph Nader to the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point on April 19.
Michael Wilson, student body president, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

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