This will not be my best-researched post, and I’ll apologize in advance for typos. I’m sitting here at my keyboard the night before Wisconsin’s recall election, distracted and nervous, knowing that the effort that has shaped my life for the past 16 months will be over tomorrow and there’s no telling what will follow.
I cannot shake this feeling that I do not want tomorrow to come. It’s not that I fear that I’ll lose the new friends I made during our recall struggle, or that I will forget the new skills I learned. My uneasiness has more to do with the fact that after tomorrow, we’ll be in a different civic game, very likely a chaotic one.
The worst-case scenario is successful election fraud. Human beings who have accumulated great power and wealth do not give it up without a fight—a dirty fight. Authoritarian and Manichean ideas of integrity run along the lines of “If our leaders want it done, it is the right thing to do,” and “We’re good, so anything we do is good.” In America, as in all nations, the authoritarians and Manicheans can be found on the political right, so they are backing Walker.
Wisconsin’s election systems are no better than those of any other state, so there is currently no way effectively to ensure eligible voters will be able to cast their ballots and that those ballots will be accurately counted. The right has the motive, the morals, and the money to prevent an honest election. Recall-petition signers are reporting robocalls telling them if they signed the recall petition, their vote is already counted and they can stay home tomorrow. Wisconsin’s far-right attorney general is sending monitors to the polls in the most Democratic areas based on no evidence whatsoever of voter fraud but rather on his significant interest in intimidating voters in those areas. Other reports have right-wing out-of-state groups hiring poll-watchers, which cannot possibly be good for fair and clean elections. Fortunately, (thank you Eric Holder!) the US Justice Department will also be sending election observers, but a stolen election is a very real possibility.
The other bad-case scenario, of course, is that Walker will be legitimately re-elected. I, for one, am not terrified of that possibility. I know the Republicans and the national pundits will triumphantly claim that Walker’s re-election proves that Americans are, in fact, eager to see our government reduced to the size of a hood ornament on a Koch brother’s limousine. But I know that’s not true.
On the ground here in Wisconsin, it is so very evident that this has been a campaign of people versus a campaign of money. I was there for the explosion in February 2011, when people like me came running, unbidden, to Madison’s capitol square in outrage at the sudden Republican efforts to short-circuit our legitimate law-making process. I’ve been in the throng of volunteers picking up packets of door-to-door canvassing addresses each morning, packets that were compiled last week by hundreds of other volunteers.Walker canvassers, in contrast, are more likely to be hired staff, and I would not be surprised if they are using packets compiled someplace in Texas by undocumented workers.
My phone rings several times a day with someone urging me to vote. The pro-democracy calls come from human volunteers who are dialing real phones with flesh-and-blood fingers, people with whom I can have a real conversation, who can answer my questions. The pro-corporatocracy calls are recorded messages from California and Colorado. The weirdest was Pat Boone calling from “United in Purpose” from Woodside, California, some outfit run by a guy named William Dallas. Pat asked God to bless me for my vote, so I got at least that out of listening to the recording all the way to the end.
Overall, the information flowing to voters is overwhelmingly coming from right-wing sources. Enough Wisconsin residents might believe the messages they get from political ads, talk radio, and Pat Boone recordings to give tomorrow’s victory to Walker. However, the volcano of citizen involvement and activism that has erupted in Wisconsin cannot flow back underground. This is not the first time robber barons have seized control of our government, and not once so far have Americans tolerated such tyranny for long. If Walker wins tomorrow, it means only that pro-democracy forces have lost a battle. We won’t have the labor unions to help the middle class organize any more, but I cannot believe that this is the generation that will hand American self-government over to global corporations and self-interested billionaires.
If Barrett wins—particularly if Democrats also win back control of the Senate—the government of Wisconsin will be more responsive to its people, for at least the near future.
However, a Barrett victory will not conclude the war for control of American government any more than a Walker victory would. In addition, it might give people in other states a sense of false security that the anti-democratic forces of corporatocracy can be easily beaten. If I had not seen it myself, I could not have imagined the amount of work regular folks have to do to get their voices heard once aggressive corporatists have taken control of all three branches of government.
If Americans are going to regain control of the governments that we, the people, created to ensure our common welfare, we are going to have to overturn Citizens United, put strong campaign-finance and lobbying controls in place, enforce those laws, and re-establish channels of political communication among ourselves that are not mediated by corporate interests. We’re going to have to refocus the entire political debate in this country, and get at least one major political party free from corporate control.
The war to defend democracy will continue either way. Tomorrow’s election in Wisconsin cannot possibly settle it even in this state, never mind for America.
Originally posted on June 5, 2012 1:45AM on my Open Salon blog.