Quiet in Wisconsin
Published on May 29, 2012 by guest author: A Espeseth

It has felt a little quiet in Wisconsin these past few months.

With the recall election pitting the state’s current governor, Scott Walker, against the Democratic candidate, Tom Barrett, occurring in early June, you would think things would be abuzz. Since spring of last year, I had been very active in the effort to push for a recall of Governor Walker and it was an astonishing moment when nearly a million signatures were collected through a public-generated campaign to spark this special election.

But since that moment, I’ve felt I know little about what’s going on. Once the signatures were gathered and it quickly became apparent that a recall election was going to happen, I sat back and took a deep breath. But maybe I’ve sunk too deeply into the couch cushions. Maybe my partners in this effort have, too.

With two young kids and a job, I have my hands full these days. I became more than a little involved in the recall campaign because its importance, in my mind, placed it nearly on par with that of raising children and keeping up with work responsibilities. I felt that the opportunity for equity in life, liberty and happiness was at stake for the majority of Wisconsinites, and that standing by and watching wasn't an option. Many of those I know – even with other critical responsibilities nagging – felt the same way and took some part in – some extra action toward - propelling the effort and keeping energy up.

In the early days of Governor Walker’s administration, upon the first wave of proposed major cuts to and restructuring of education, public unions, public health coverage - to name a few – my social media inbox was awash in posts referencing news of the changes. Daily and hourly I was bombarded with articles, pictures, video clips, first person experiences, and calls to action – most notably the rallies at the state capitol building. And I eagerly consumed them all, passing them on, quickly becoming part of a larger mass movement.

Perhaps it was the shock of the suddenness and unexpected severity with which it all happened that made so many who opposed these proposals take notice and step forward. Definitely it was the awareness that the initial round of changes would be quickly swept through, that the legislative process lacked enough opposing votes to stop it, and that only the voice of constituents might erect a barrier.

And while that initial budget bill was ultimately passed, I believe those social media posts were integral to enlivening Wisconsinites and motivating them to gather in person and occupy the capitol building, further drawing life into the cause.

But a few things have happened since then that make me wonder if this movement still exists if I don’t see it daily. The capitol building has been closed to large gatherings. You can enter, but only after being security checked and only in small numbers. The halls – which had previously reverberated with chants and singing and yelling and screaming – were spookily hushed. Rally cries were still allowed, but without the wall-to-wall crowds, people were timid and uneasy shouting out. It felt like a museum, no longer alive.

Then, once the budget bills were passed and it was clear recalling the Governor would be the long term goal, the major union leaders called for their members to go back to work and focus energies on seeing the process to fruition. The rally crowds all but completely disappeared. Last I was aware, there is a loyal few who dedicate themselves, every day at noon at the capitol, to sing together songs of solidarity.

About that time, I noticed the social media posts slowed. I still get them, but even I don’t pass them along as freely. A few intermittent special rallies have occurred – one celebrating the successful recall signature collection campaign – but most I have not attended. And I find myself wondering why it is so quiet and where has this movement gone?

Are we disengaged or are we waiting patiently? Is the movement burned out, underground, or on solid ground but secure in the belief that Governor Walker will be defeated?

Can this people's movement make the successful transition and leap to the typical political model of money and elections? Have the thousands of angry Wisconsinites officially turned in their protest signs and handed it over to – are they sitting back and relying on – the professional campaigners, not remembering that it was personal and collective action that got us to this point and could still have an equal role in seeing it through?

Do the million signatures - while an astonishing number - still not represent the majority opinion of who will vote at the polls? And if so, can any minds be changed at this point?

Writing this, I’m stirred to extract myself from the couch cushions once again to find the action outside my own head.  Yet I know my curiosity about what will come of this movement may only begin to be answered once the election is over. While there has been a calming to the noise and tumult since a year ago, I suspect it may be a sign of quiet anticipation, a hush as we come closer to witnessing an historic moment, whether it be a reconfirmation of Walker’s place in the Governor’s mansion or an overturning of that seat for a newly elected Democratic leader.

And while I think the actions and beliefs on both sides of the divide are not likely to disappear regardless of the outcome, I hope this election becomes a stepping stone to something even more long lasting than a momentary movement.

A Espeseth lives and works in Wisconsin and spends much of her time thinking about how big political and social trends play out in her daily life.

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