The fifth weekend of the Madison, Wisconsin protests against the budget “repair” bill, and now also the state budget bill, saw a smaller turnout than the 150,000 plus ralliers from last week. Even so, a sizable number in the thousands if not tens of thousands congregated once again at the capitol. As usual, few if any major media outlets are painting a complete picture of this, over month-long, grassroots movement. While the media has mainly spoken of the loss of collective bargaining rights for workers in Governor Walker’s recent bills, the regressive legislation takes away so many more provisions, especially those for the poor, women, and people of color. Moreover, while the mainstream media has maintained the fallacious right-wing narrative of large state deficits needing to be paid by the poor and working class, the people in Wisconsin and beyond have been duly awakened to the true causes of the federal and state fiscal “crises”: corporate welfare, the ultra-rich not paying their fair share of taxes, and billions of dollars spent on unnecessary and illegal wars. These stark media omissions became apparent Saturday as important and interrelated contingents, who have been wholly unrepresented, comprised the focus of the March 19th rallies.
Marking the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the Iraq Veterans Against the War sponsored the first march and rally of the day. At this point, we seem to forget how some of us called foul when we were told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was an imminent threat to the United States. We seem to forget that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and others in the administration lied about the reasons for the war. We seem to forget the illegality of the offensive strike against a nation that did not threaten the U.S. We also seem to forget the millions of people around the world who protested against the war, the trillions of dollars spent on the war, the thousands of U.S. soldiers needlessly slain, and the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens killed. Finally, we forget the veterans who have returned to find themselves physically, psychologically, and socially impaired by their ordeal in Iraq. Contrary to the lip service of the war hawks, veterans have been disgracefully neglected by their government, unable at times to receive decent medical care or suitable, stable employment, and often becoming homeless. Now, with the cuts in the federal and state governmental spending on social services, these same people who went to fight a war that has done nothing but enrich corporate war profiteers, are losing the rights and privileges that should have been awarded to them for their service. And the corporate media fails to notice.
Though teachers, nurses and other public sector employees have been the subject of most news reports, the emergence of farm laborers at last week’s rally demonstrated how far-reaching the effects of Walker’s new budget bills would be on other sectors of society. As usual, the dominant false rhetoric about the budget in the mainstream media only pertained to white and middle class workers. Yet no sector will be more affected than the working poor. And the largest segment of the poor tends to be people of color. This disregarded group held the second march and rally of the day, under the moniker “Cultural Resistance: Exposing the Color Lines.” The loss of wages, Medicaid, Badger Care (the state health program) and numerous other essential social services will particularly affect people of color. More specifically, the new budget contains provisions to repeal food stamp benefits to legal immigrants, to eliminate in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrant students, and to “increase flexibility” to the UW-Madison, meaning greatly increased and unaffordable tuition rates.
Interestingly, the two rallies were intricately connected, as the poor people of color tend to be overrepresented in the military, due to both recruitment targeted at their population and their lack of viable alternatives in terms of employment. When the war broke out, I was an inner-city school teacher in East Los Angeles and I witnessed the tragic events unfold. Relatives and friends of my largely (99%) non-white middle school students were disproportionately represented and killed in Iraq. I also witnessed the vulnerability of impoverished students who had every bit as much talent and capability as their white peers in Beverly Hills, but far, far fewer opportunities. When all of your basic needs are met (and then some), your ability to succeed in school is exponentially increased. However, when you struggle to meet your basic needs, as is the case for too many people of color, your familial and social problems are greatly exacerbated, and your ability to succeed in school is hampered by all of your more pressing responsibilities Thus, students who could otherwise be college-bound are enticed by recruiters to see the military as an immediate solution to these exigencies.
As my current graduate school and TAA colleague, Kaja Rebane, proclaimed in a speech at the rally on Saturday, we should thank Governor Scott Walker. His brazen actions have unveiled the truth behind his lies, and as a result, we have become united. We have connected the dots and placed these myriad issues in their proper global context. We have recognized not only the enormity of the war that has been waged on the bottom 98% of the population by the upper class, but the fact that we all actually have much in common. Now, we should work within our various circles to include one other, help one other, and use our strength in numbers to finally fight back – on behalf of all workers, veterans, immigrants, and taxpaying Americans of all colors.