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Intro: "Four months after tens of thousands descended on the Wisconsin state capitol, progressives have a new home in what they're calling Walkerville. The Madison tent city is named in honor - or, more accurately, in defiance - of Gov. Scott Walker, who became an icon for conservatives and lightning rod for liberals after he pushed through a controversial new collective bargaining law earlier this year."

Aongus O'Murchadha (left) and Jim at the Walkerville tent city in Madison, Wisconsin, 06/08/11. (photo: Richard Dool/CNN)
Aongus O'Murchadha (left) and Jim at the Walkerville tent city in Madison, Wisconsin, 06/08/11. (photo: Richard Dool/CNN)



Walkerville Tent City Grows in Madison as Budget Protests Continue

By Jay Kernis, In the Arena Blog/CNN

11 June 11

 

RSN Special Coverage: GOP's War on American Labor

 

our months after tens of thousands descended on the Wisconsin state capitol, progressives have a new home in what they're calling Walkerville. The Madison tent city is named in honor - or, more accurately, in defiance - of Gov. Scott Walker, who became an icon for conservatives and lightning rod for liberals after he pushed through a controversial new collective bargaining law earlier this year.

David Boetcher, one of Walkerville's coordinators, said the aim is to recapture the spirit of Hoovervilles, the shanty towns that popped up and were named to tweak President Herbert Hoover's perceived inaction in the Great Depression's early years. Since Saturday night's kick-off, about 80 tents have sprung up in and around State Street in Madison, with a handful of people sticking it out throughout, but mostly fresh rounds of activists rotating through on a daily basis.

The budget is expected to be debated by the full Legislature soon, and the tent city occupants expect their numbers to swell into the thousands this weekend.

We'll cover many sides of the issues involved. Glenn Grothman, Wisconsin Republican state senator, is scheduled to appear In The Arena on Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at 8 pm ET, along with Kim Sprecher, a teacher and an animal nurse. Plus, Peter Rickman, a leader of the Teaching Assistants Association at the University of Wisconsin. He's also the organizer of Walkerville and the tent city's "mayor."

ONLY ON THE BLOG: Answering today's OFF-SET questions is Aongus O'Murchadha, a grad student in physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He's from Ireland and been living in Wisconsin for six years. We also spoke with Jim (who prefers that we only use his first name.) He's been permanently unemployed for two years, but says he has worked in a variety of service industry jobs and as unskilled labor. Jim's lived in Wisconsin almost his whole life.

How long have you been at the tent city?

Jim: I've been here since Saturday. I'm sleeping here.

Aongus: Every day since it began on Saturday. I haven't been living here, but spending time with people, and helping them out with activities and events that they are doing. There was a large protest on Monday of about 1,000 people. They stopped at a bank to protest its role in the bank bailout and in Walker's election campaign. There also have been a number of town hall-style meetings.

The numbers of people vary throughout the day, as not all the tents can stay up all day. Right now there are 50 to 100 people, but at different times, it can get quite a bit larger, especially in the evenings.

A lot of people pass by and we have conversations with them. We've been planning informational sessions about areas that will be hit hardest with cuts. Every day at the tent city there's a different theme.

Yesterday's theme was health care. Today's theme is higher education.

Why are you there?

Aongus: We are here to protest Scott Walkers' budget and we are here to raise awareness - to bring more people in opposition to it. The budget basically guts every public service in the state of Wisconsin. It even raises taxes on the lowest-earning people in Wisconsin. It cuts the earned income tax credit, while giving tax breaks to campaign donors.

But the governor and other Republicans say the measures are necessary to control skyrocketing public employee benefit costs and close a $137 million budget shortfall.

Aongus: The difficulty is that the budget he puts forward makes no attempts to increase the revenues. It combines deep spending cuts with tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and corporations.

Jim: Of course the governor would say that. If you find yourself in a shortfall, you have two options: tightening the belt or getting more money. What's really frustrating to me is that the governor will not explore any options that increase revenue. Also, the spending cuts are targeted mostly to things that the poor need. When austerity measures pass, unemployment increases, consumer spending decreases. In the medium and long term, you don't get any advantages.

Several people offered alternative budgets and the Governor didn't want to listen. If he was really interested in just fixing the budget, he would get as much advice as he could - and lay all the options out on the table and choose the best one, but instead, he wrote the budget without any input except from his backers and his party members.

But why not just write letters and make phone calls?

Aongus: Right now, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, we are seeing a global wave of austerity measures and Wisconsin is just part of this global event. We are seeing unprecedented levels of spending cuts and unprecedented attacks on the services that people are depending on. Given the severity of these attacks, a petition or a letter just won't cut it.

Jim: I've been at the protests and demonstrations since February. I came initially because the attacks on labor and public sector unions, and as I became involved in those, I learned more about the real agenda of the governor and the state Republicans, and then when the budget was introduced, it included broad, sweeping attacks on social services and awards for a lot of the people who had put the governor and the legislators in power in the first place.

Just how angry are you?

Jim: I try not to be unproductively angry. Of course, I get angry sometimes, but I try to put that into energy into the things I'm opposed to.

And people there refer to the tent city as Walkerville?

Aongus: Yes, it's being called Walkerville, in reference to the Hoovervilles that arose during the Great Depression. The message is that we should expect a lot more tent cities like this if the budget passes and people won't be living in tents by choice.

The largest recall effort against state lawmakers in Wisconsin history is now going on. The New York Times reports that special elections are expected in as many as nine Senate districts. What do you think of the recall effort?

Aongus: I feel that the recall the efforts are quite slow to take effect, and people have been counter-posing legal efforts with mass protests and mass action. Some have been saying that protests take away from the recall, but this kind of attempt to build a grassroots movement opposed to the cuts is what makes political action possible.

Jim: I think that the Republicans have vastly overreached any mandate they might have had. I think you can see that in polls, both here in Wisconsin and nationwide. And to that extent, I think that the recalls send a message, but I think that the recalls do not have the power by themselves to stop austerity measures from passing or to stop malfeasance by major corporations or even to reverse the legislation that has already passed.

The permit for the tent city expires June 20. How long do you plan to stay there?

Aongus: I think we plan to stay until then and if possible, longer.

Jim: I am going to stay until we win this fight - until we make it impossible to pass this budget.

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+12 # Ken Hall 2011-06-12 10:53
Long live Walkerville! I'm there in spirit, and if WI weren't halfway across the nation from where I work and live, I'd be there in the flesh. When a Walkerville coalesces in my local area, as is bound to happen as the iron fist of amoral conservatism/ca pitalism squeezes more and more citizens into desperation, I will support and join it.
 
 
+4 # Capn Canard 2011-06-12 17:16
Walkerville... has a nice ring to it. Population: Unemployed. City Limits: America. This is the wealthy putting the screws to America. All ye who are wealthy watch where ye go...
 
 
+2 # mhoganyjones 2011-06-12 19:12
Who are the new "heroes" that will lead the cowardly charge, sabers drawn, into the midst of down-trodden humanity, hacking and shouting? Who are the new Ikes, Macarthurs, and Pattons, who will maul the protesters like they did to the WWI vets of old? The new marauders who are honing their murder skills playing gamebox as we speak!?
 

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