Hundreds of protesters in Madison, WI's capitol rotunda

Photo credit: NY Times

During the last few days, I have been riveted as the people of Wisconsin have been showing up in the thousands to protest Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal:

Behind closed doors, Scott Walker, the Republican who has been governor for about six weeks, calmly described his intent to forge ahead with the plans that had set off the uprising: He wants to require public workers to pay more for their health insurance and pensions, effectively cutting the take-home pay of many by around 7 percent.

He also wants to weaken most public-sector unions by sharply curtailing their collective bargaining rights, limiting talks to the subject of basic wages.

By taking away union workers’ collective bargaining rights, Walker is directly targeting the dignity of workers not only in Wisconsin, but the entire nation. Walker is also proposing to remove the ability to cut the budget of Medicaid – an essential health care program for low-income people – from the Legislature, putting the decision to slash the program’s budget in the hands of the governor’s Department of Health and Human Services. This measure could lead to deep cuts in the health care of some of the most vulnerable people in the state. As state budget crises need to be resolved, conservative governors from states across the country are watching to see if Walker can pull this off.

Governor Walker’s proposal has implications for all people in Wisconsin, but the hardest hit would be the most vulnerable. Labor is a reproductive justice issue: ability to negotiate for adequate wages and quality health care is essential for women and our families. Moreover, putting Medicaid in the hands of the governor essentially leaves one person deciding on the health low-income people, and this is unacceptable. At a time in which people are struggling more than ever due to an economic downturn, the last thing we should do is make it easier to cut safety-net programs.

But the people of Wisconsin are rising up to the challenge. Massive protests have hit the Capitol in Madison, with people occupying the building starting yesterday; huge numbers of teachers called in sick on Tuesday in protest, forcing schools to close; Wisconsin’s football team (and Super Bowl champions!), the Green Bay Packers, put out a statement in support of public sector workers; and today, the Democratic caucus of the Senate refused to show up for the vote – leaving Wisconsin so that the state police had no jurisdiction over them – delaying a vote on the measure, and giving the people more time to organize, due to a lack of quorum.

The energy is palpable, and as a former resident of the state I am both inspired by and proud of the people of Wisconsin this week. If you would like to support the efforts of some of the finest organizers I know, I encourage you to send a check to the Student Labor Action Coalition, who is taking part in the sit-ins and needs to raise funds for legal defense:

SLAC

c/o Eric Hoyt

140 W. Gilman St.

Madison, WI 53703

¡Si se puede!

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