Belmont Club

'Egypt in America'

The Christian Science Monitor describes why Wisconsin’s showdown between Governor Walker and the public sector unions may have an impact on America.

  1. The area surrounding Wisconsin has turned “red.” “No region of the country was more comprehensively recast by the 2010 elections than the seven states of the upper Midwest that arc from Minnesota to Ohio. Where before Democrats had held the upper hand, Republicans now have a virtual stranglehold on politics, controlling both houses of the legislature and the governors’ chairs in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.”
  2. If Walker wins, the other public sector unions in the area will be in trouble. “Walker was the first of the Midwest’s four new Republican governors to push for weakening collective bargaining. But Ohio and Michigan already have bills targeting unions in the works, too.”
  3. The fight is over strategic terrain. “If you’re going to take away bargaining rights, you leave them with what?”

To those may be added a fourth factor. Politicians in Washington have made the issue national.  NPR reports that “responding to the efforts of Democrats in the nation’s capital and elsewhere, including President Obama, to rally around their embattled fellow Wisconsin Democrats, House Speaker John Boehner called on the president Friday to stay out of the Badger State.”

Boehner accused Obama and his political organization, Organizing For America, of trying to undermine efforts of Republican governors to cut their budgets by “inciting” protests around the nation.

That idea had already been mooted by Frances Fox Piven, who wrote in The Nation that the only way rollbacks to historic gains could be prevented was to emulate the example of rioters in Greece:

Local protests have to accumulate and spread—and become more disruptive—to create serious pressures on national politicians. An effective movement of the unemployed will have to look something like the strikes and riots that have spread across Greece in response to the austerity measures forced on the Greek government by the European Union, or like the student protests that recently spread with lightning speed across England in response to the prospect of greatly increased school fees.

But the Christian Science Monitor had another country in mind. It went so far as to suggest that Wisconsin could provide an “Egypt-like moment,” in which an apparently localized incident serves as a fuse to touch off an ever-widening series of political detonations. What makes such a moment possible, according to Norman Ornstein at the AEI, is that Wisconsin is drawing forces in from both sides like a magnet. The CSM writes:

Egypt in America?

In a time when large and tense demonstrations have become increasingly rare in America, the Wisconsin protests could provide an Egypt-like moment, says Norman Ornstein, a fellow at the nonpartisan American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

“If there’s a big tea party demonstration in Madison, we may see a direct clash, just as we had in the streets of Cairo,” he says.

One protester’s sign at the capitol said, “Impeach Scott Mubarak” – a direct reference to protests that led Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign last week.

As it gains momentum, the union protest movement is likely to draw in young social-justice activists, Obama supporters, and even religious groups who fight for the dispossessed, says Bruno.

On the other hand, some conservatives believe Walker’s refusal to budge on the collective bargaining issue has opened the way for counterprotests to support the cuts.

Egypt in America? Well, Jesse Jackson agrees. Just like Cairo; a contest between the culture of surplus and the culture of suffering; between the economic north and the economic south.  Hear him in his own words.

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Piven may get her wish for “local protests accumulate and spread.” The trouble is that they may also draw in counter-protesters from the other side, a development which she somehow left out of the reckoning.  Some readers will recall that the Battle of Jutland was initiated by the nearly simultaneous sighting of the neutral Danish steamer NJ Fjord by scouting forces of the German High Seas Fleet and the British Grand Fleet, both out of sight of each other. But as the scouts of each side drew near the NJ Fjord, their mutual presence became disclosed. And then, like a light line pulling in successively heavier cables, the gray warships pulled in after them the dreadnoughts of the fleet. Jutland was begun.

At 14:20 on 31 May, despite heavy haze and scuds of fog giving poor visibility, scouts from Beatty’s force reported enemy ships to the southeast; the British light units, investigating a neutral Danish steamer (N J Fjord), which was stopped between the two fleets, had found two German destroyers engaged in the same mission (B109 and B110). The first shots of the battle were fired at 14:28 when HMS Galatea and Phaeton of the British 1st Light Cruiser Squadron opened on the German destroyers, which withdrew toward their own approaching light cruisers. At 14:36, the Germans scored the first hit of the battle when SMS Elbing, of Rear-Admiral Friedrich Bödicker’s Scouting Group II, hit her British counterpart Galatea at extreme range.

As the battle grew into monstrous intensity the cruisers passed a sailing ship, unable to make much way in the light winds. “5.10. Destroyer Hardy screening Shannon proceeded to investigate a Norwegian Barque, she was ordered by signal to keep on her course (1710). Time did not permit of investigation. 5.20. Passed Norwegian Barque Candace about five cables on starboard beam steering N.N.W. ” The Candace, “a silent ship with a pyramid of white canvas, serene, peaceful and quiet, … a large barque lying almost becalmed, but moving gently through the water, rippling with the light breeze, her canvas only half filled,” was the unwilling witness to a clash of dreadnoughts which happened that day because the stars were right.

But Wisconsin is neither in Egypt nor the North Sea, and since history never repeats itself, but merely rhymes, what happens next is anybody’s guess.

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What does that translate to? “If you’re going to take away bargaining rights, you leave them with what?”

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