A holiday weekend in rural Wisconsin demonstrated the real grassroots effort leading the campaign to recall Scott Walker. While Milwaukee and Madison may have a dense concentration of activity (and much of the media attention); rural areas like Jackson County (Western Wisconsin) are quietly exceeding expectations in gathering recall signatures. Based on the previous Gubernatorial Election vote, Jackson County’s 25% goal was around 1,700 signatures. They likely reached that total over Thanksgiving weekend. County Democratic Party Chair Gaylord Oppegard set the goal at 3,000 signatures prior to petitions being circulated, and they may well reach that goal using an all volunteer coalition of petition circulators and coordinators.
The result of this true grassroots effort will make the difference between just making the required number of signatures, and gathering an overwhelming number of signatures statewide. It may also seal the fate of Scott Walker, considering how close his election was in 2010. The reason for success in the rural areas – everyone has a story. And the stories are not from or about self-interest, like keeping more of your money in property taxes. The stories are about the effect of Scott Walker’s policies on the well-being of the community, and the people just trying to make a living in rural Wisconsin.
There is the woman in Jackson County who wanted to start a small catering business (an entrepreneur). As a start-up business, she could not afford to hire employees, and her husband helped her part-time. Her husband works at the prison in Jackson County, and after the passage of Act 10, lost the ability to work a flexible schedule. In addition, he has lost over $400 per pay period in salary due to increased contributions – a nearly 25% pay cut. Now, they struggle to make ends meet; as she cannot keep her catering business going without his help, and his decreased income barely pays the bills. Not to mention the stress of working as a prison guard without active on-the-job representation or protection.
Another woman has an autistic child, who due to the budget cuts in public education and special needs services, has a child who is now being placed in mainstream classrooms. The lack of special needs education and services previously available has her pre-teen child extremely discouraged and stressed – to the point that she attempted suicide recently. She called Scott Walker an “uncaring, evil man.” From her point of view, that is a justifiable characterization.
People drove up to sign petitions who had actually voted for Walker in the 2010 election; but seeing the effects of his policies on their neighbors, the loss of jobs, and the power he now holds, felt compelled to sign the petition. One woman, signing with her adult daughter, stated “…this isn’t what I voted for.”
These stories are being repeated all over the county, and indeed, the state. They are being told by a community of people who understand, whether Republican or Democrat, that as a society we have an obligation not only to the people we see every day - but to the strangers who may be the weakest and neediest among us. The word-of-mouth stories from neighbor to neighbor are becoming the most powerful message in the recall battle. No amount of money can overcome a factual accounting of the negative impact Scott Walker is having when conveyed by a familiar and trusted friend.
All over Wisconsin, people are considering the recall of Scott Walker the last, best resort for saving and restoring their communities. Whether it is the effects of Act 10, cuts to Education, cuts to Badgercare casting thousands out of the plan; Wisconsinites are grasping the detrimental effects of Walker’s policies on their communities. Walker and the GOP have grossly underestimated the pushback – and their panicked response is evidence of this miscalculation.
Pro-Walker activists have stooped to felonious activities in destroying recall petitions; as well as creating websites promoting the gathering and destruction of petitions. While in Jackson County, this writer heard firsthand accounts (one from a 70 year-old retired schoolteacher) of being sworn at and threatened. Most recently, the mantra from the Walker supporters has been to characterize the recall effort as being driven by out-of-state interests.
The irony of this GOP talking point, of course, is where the majority of Walker support comes from. The Center for Media and Democracy recently reported the source of $2 million dollars in television ads is out-of-state Koch Foundation-funded Americans for Prosperity. A recent email sent to supporters of “The Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama” solicits funds to support Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The email contains a list of the most recent $200 contributions to “defeat the recall”, and there is only ONE from Wisconsin: