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Two years ago, I wrote about a moving Memorial Day encounter I had with a World War II veteran while I was out canvassing to recall GovernEr Scott Walker.  This year, I decided to mark Memorial Day in Madison, Wisconsin by taking a walk along the "Memorial Mile." The Madison Chapter of Veterans for Peace puts this together each year along Atwood Avenue in Olbrich Park and each tombstone along the trek signifies one serviceman or servicewoman who gave their life in either the War in Afghanistan or the War in Iraq since the fall of 2001. I've driven along the route several times but the magnitude of the human cost of our state of endless war over the past 13 years really hit me while quietly traveling the route on foot.

Memorial Mile 2014

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Closing down the building singing truth to power for an hour, after consecutive weekday noon-hour Solidarity Sing Along #624, Tuesday, July 30, 2013, day #4 of the illegal mass arrests of peaceably assembled singers and sign holders. Thirty more brave heroes were arrested today, and after being taken to the Capitol basement in cuffs, were threatened that they wouldn't be processed until they stopped singing, which has become the norm.

So they did the only logical thing: they started singing and didn't stop for an hour and fifteen minutes, even though they were all still handcuffed and their songbooks had been confiscated as "evidence" of their participation in the unlawfully declared "Unlawful" Assembly.

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The moment we've all been waiting for finally hit as Scott Walker's regime codified onto the books the next phase of the Wisconsin Capitol Crackdown on freedoms of speech, assembly and right to petition one's government for a redress of grievances with the release of "emergency" rules amending the state Administrative Code.  These draconian "emergency" measures are being implemented without any public hearing under the justification that the Solidarity Sing Along poses some sort of imminent threat to public health, safety and welfare.

The Solidarity Sing Along, which has been taking place every weekday at the Capitol since March 11th, 2011, began outside at noon today in the dreary and cold drizzle, as it always does when a permitted event is taking place inside.  Around 12:30, we learned that the school orchestra had finished up their performance on the 1st floor of the Rotunda.  We briefly discussed the situation in our typical anarchistic manner and decided to head into the Capitol to finish out the rest of the Sing Along indoors, singing Move on Over as the 30 to 40 singers left our spot in Lady Forward's shadow and marched up the Capitol steps.

Almost as soon as we entered the building, a very large group of schoolchildren being escorted along with Senator Dave Hansen stopped to watch and listen to what this crazy bunch of singers was all about. There were smiles aplenty on the faces of the kids and their teachers and they warmly clapped along with us to, I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister,  a personal favorite of mine which many people enjoy clapping along with during every round of the chorus.  It was hard for any of us not to smile when only an hour earlier my State Assemblywoman, Chris Taylor, had held a press conference where she vehemently and eloquently stood with us and defended the right of all citizens to peaceably assemble and engage in political speech in the public forum of the Capitol rotunda.  

Then a funny thing happened.  The next song that someone spontaneously began to sing was the classic folk song, If I Had a Hammer, a joyous and upbeat four-verse tune that would be familiar to many people who happened upon our gathering.  By now the nearly 100 pairs of inquisitive, youthful eyes were transfixed as they gazed upon us while standing nearby in gaps between the ground floor columns which encircle and support our city center.  A group of a dozen or so kids bound into the center of the Rotunda to take in the beauty of the dome as the music enveloped them, but most stayed on the fringes to observe.  I had hordes of kids standing on either side of me.  By the 3rd verse, I could hear the sound of rhythmic clapping beginning to echo around the Rotunda and from the hallway behind me.  Worth noting is that SSA participants, while free to clap along to their heart's content throughout the hour, don't typically do so to this particular song and I didn't see a single participant clapping.  

It quickly became apparent that the group of smiling schoolchildren cheering us on had become so wrapped up in the musical energy we were projecting, undoubtedly an energy driven in large part by the students' enthusiastic response, that they had spontaneously taken it upon themselves to push us along with their clapping!  One by one, the rabble-rousing singers in attendance began to recognize what was happening and followed the students' lead, responding in kind with youthful vigor and embracing the spirit of the moment while lifting our own spirits to the top of the Capitol dome.  By the final time through the chorus of "It's the hammer of justice, it's the bell of freedom, it's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land," nearly everyone present, singers, teachers and students alike, was clapping on the off beat and beaming with delight.  As the song came to an end with a final soothing and harmonious, "Ooooooo," the kids, their teachers and Sen. Hansen graciously applauded, with many of my friends returning the favor.  

SSA Kids 4-11-13
Photo from the April 11th, 2013 Solidarity Sing Along courtesy of Erica Case

The group was soon rounded up and led away, off to continue their tour of learning and discovery in our grand cathedral of democracy that I love, the People's House.  I belted out the opening lyrics to When We Make Peace to the tune of When the Saints Go Marching In to give the kids something to clap along with as they departed and the Solidarity Sing Along moved seamlessly into the next song, pressing onward with our civic duty as we always do.  Words needed not be spoken amongst those of us left behind in the Rotunda, as it was evidently clear we had just experienced an indescribably beautiful and transcendent moment in a movement with no shortage of such moments.  

After the Sing Along had ended and I was gathering up my jacket, Sen. Hansen happened to be walking by, approached me and sincerely apologized for bringing 100 kids through the Rotunda while we were singing.  I laughed and told him there was no need to apologize, as every citizen has a right to be in the Rotunda...after all, the kids' clapping had gotten us to join in with what THEY were doing and the song had never sounded so good.  That's the beauty of it: everyone is welcome to come into our Capitol rotunda for various means of expression and to make their individual or collective voice heard, regardless of viewpoint.

SSA 4-11-13 Emergency Rules
Photo of schoolchildren ringing the 1st floor balustrade of the Capitol rotunda as the Solidarity Sing Along celebrates 25 months of singing truth to power on April 11th, 2013.  Photo courtesy of Erica Case

The Sing Along has been met with more counter protesters, head-shaking, thumbs down, middle fingers, sneers and condescending remarks (even a Heil Hitler salute last month) than I could ever possibly count or care to remember.  Those at the SSA typically just smile in response and keep on singing.  The only violence that has ever occurred at a Sing Along was directed towards one of the participants by a counter protester from a Tea Party rally.  We have been painted by DoA Secretary Mike Huebsch, Capitol Police Chief Dave Erwin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and virtually any of Walker's lackeys  instructed to publicly slander us on a given day, as some sort of dangerous, out-of-control, disruptive, intimidating and boorish group of hierarchical and well-organized individuals that go around threatening lawmakers and scaring schoolchildren.  All this in the name of conspiring to commit song.  

So it was fitting that on the day the new rules were signed off on by GovernEr Walker, the next generation of workers, leaders, poets, activists, scientists, singers and dreamers symbolically came to express their support and appreciation for our presence.  All the while, they remained blissfully unaware of the looming existential threats to the Solidarity Sing Along, 1st Amendment and 4th Amendment rights in the Capitol, and of the ominous pall hanging over our heads as Big Brother watched our every move from the eye in the sky and Rotunda perch.

We have never stopped anyone from expressing their own beliefs, including those adamantly and vocally opposed to our cause, and happily welcome anyone who chooses to join us in debate or in exercising his or her 1st Amendment rights through song.  Individually, we keep showing up whenever we are able to or whenever we need a uplifting rejuvenation of our hearts, minds and souls in the face of such overwhelming sadness and frustration induced by Scott Walker's decimation of our beloved Wisconsin.  As a collection of individuals, we bear witness to the insidious activities of the ruling party and simply sing truth to power from the only public forum where, even though they refuse to listen to us, our voices can actually be heard by the tyrannical leaders of Fitzwalkerstan.  

The presence of the Sing Along is a daily reminder to Scott Walker and the unfailingly loyal defenders of his radical right-wing, fascist agenda that their spiteful ignorance and exclusion of an entire segment of their constituents from the democratic process and shameless attempt to use law enforcement to suppress the voices of political opposition, will not soon be forgiven.  Nor will this war that all began when our loyal GovernEr "dropped the bomb" on the unsuspecting middle class and poor citizens of Wisconsin in an attempt to decimate our progressive heritage be conceded without one helluva fight.  As the final stanza states in the Solidarity Sing Along's crowd-favorite version of Will the Circle be Unbroken, with new lyrics by my friend Gloria Hays:

We all sang the songs of childhood
Songs of hope that made us strong
Songs we always sang together
Hear the people sing along
 

Today's events made those lyrics come to life in a way I would never have imagined possible just two short, yet interminably long years ago.  Sing Along we will...one day longer, 25 months stronger.  Solidarity, brothers and sisters.

Sing Along 25 month graphic
Graphic courtesy of regular Solidarity Sing Along participant Ryan Scot Conner

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I originally wrote the portion of this piece that falls below the orange cheese curd on Monday, January 21st after the annual Martin Luther King Day celebration in the Wisconsin State Capitol.  I don't remember why I didn't get around to publishing it at the time but I knew there was a reason I saved it as a draft.  45 years ago yesterday, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee while actively supporting striking AFSCME sanitation workers.  His legacy of advocating, speaking out, sitting in, standing up and getting arrested for civil rights, voting rights, peace, labor rights and social justice wherever inequity and injustice existed, will assuredly live on forever.  

Over Labor Day weekend this past fall, I had the unanticipated, yet much appreciated honor to visit the memorial dedicated to Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.  The two of them are entombed side by side on a mini-island in the middle of a stunning and beautifully laid out reflecting pond.  The pond is fed by the soothing trickle of water running down gradually descending steps at the far end of the memorial.  It was so quietly tucked into the middle of his former neighborhood, mere blocks from the Ebeneezer Baptist Church where MLK rose to prominence with his fiery sermons and tireless organizing, that I didn't even know we had arrived until his tomb was literally right in front of me.  I stood there in stunned silence, taking in the magnitude of how close I was to the final resting place of such an immensely important human being who was able to accomplish so much in only 39 years on this planet.  

I fought back tears while thinking about how much good he could still be doing today and how influential his indomitable will and message have been for me and countless millions of others.  At the same time, I couldn't help but think about the role he might have played in the Wisconsin Uprising, the Wisconsin Movement and the fight back against regressive, right-wing extremism sweeping across our nation.   In the chilly, earliest days of the Uprising in February 2011, Reverend Jesse Jackson, a close friend of Dr. King who was with him in Memphis when he was gunned down, told a nighttime crowd of 50,000 in Madison,"This is a Martin Luther King moment...a Gandhi moment."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 84 years old if he were still alive today.  Such a horrifically tragic loss that can never be quantifiably measured but will always be felt and forever raises the question of what might have been in a life taken far too soon.  But wherever people stand up for human rights, for civil rights, for those less fortunate and for a society that is always progressing and refuses to stand idly by in the face of injustice, the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. lives on.  Every time we sing "We Shall Overcome" at the Solidarity Sing Along, and every time my friend Callen Harty diligently heads into the Capitol Rotunda on a daily basis to sing its verses of protest in solitary solidarity, the memory and embodiment of what Dr. King lived and spoke about are never far away in mind and in soul.  

As Dr. King once said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."  Keep on fighting the good fight, brothers and sisters.  Forever Forward.

Callen Harty singing "We Shall Overcome" in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda on March 25, 2013.  Video courtesy of Leslie Amsterdam

MLK Day 2013, Walker Speaking
This picture was taken at the MLK Day celebration moments after Walker took the podium to address the crowd and I along with other citizens throughout the crowd engaged in the now-annual tradition of turning our backs to the GovernEr in protest.  Photo courtesy of Whitney "Thid" Steffen

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I originally published this as a Facebook note on March 19th, 2013.

Ten years ago today, on March 19th, 2003, the neocons in control of the White House and the Pentagon saw the realization of their conspiratorial plot to send our country into war come to fruition as our military forces began the invasion of Iraq. During the build-up to the war, there were many incessantly repeated rationales given for why the United States needed to go to war with Iraq.  The variance of propaganda delivered often depended on the carefully selected messenger, day, audience and the source providing the forum for these war criminals to bang the drums and offer up their virtually unchallenged messaging.

The sheer number and scope of reasons the Bush regime gave publicly for the necessity of War in Iraq are staggering:

Yellow cake uranium that Iraq attempted to purchase on the black market in Niger; Mobile biological weapons labs; U.N. weapons inspectors' findings couldn't be given credence because the Iraqi government had merely hidden their caches; Spreading freedom around the world; Preemptively stopping future threats to, and attacks against, the United States, Israel and Western interests; Starting the domino effect of democracy throughout the Middle East via "regime change"; Liberating the Iraqi people; Being welcomed by the Iraqi people as liberators, not invaders and/or occupiers; Removing from power a brutal, tyrannical dictator in Saddam Hussein; Revenge for an Iraqi governmental plot to assassinate then-President George H.W. Bush over a decade earlier; Access to an abundance of rich, oil resources that would allow the war to pay for itself; A war that would only last a matter of months and a transitional occupation that would only last an additional matter of months; Futility of long-running economic sanctions already imposed on Iraq; The words of supposedly trustworthy CIA sources on the ground; 9/11; Opening up a new front as part of a continuation of the ongoing, global "War on Terror" already being waged in Afghanistan and on the Afghan/Pakistani border; Saddam's and the Ba'ath Party's ties to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network; al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq; most importantly, Iraq's stockpile of nuclear, chemical and biological WMDs.

Many of these arguments and assertions were either flat-out lies by the Bush regime or were based on known falsehoods.  Many of these claims simply disregarded any information provided to the warmongers by their own intelligence experts when that information otherwise disproved their preconceived notions and/or would have weakened the narrative of their justification for war.  Many of these predictions turned out to be horrifically miscalculated and other claims were later wholly discredited.  Many of these claims were nothing more than talking points intended to appeal to the American public's faux sense of patriotism, latent xenophobia and base emotions, most notably fear, in the recently post-9/11 world of the USA PATRIOT Act and terrorism threat levels.  

Most egregiously, the citizens, veterans, journalists and politicans from within the United States and around the world who courageously stood up prior to March 19th, 2003 and spoke out against this war with passion and great skepticism while viewing the events through the prism that comes with an understanding of history, were virtually ignored.  The corporate media outlets of all stripes, from Fox News to the pages of the New York Times, often provided their own mallets to shamelessly bang the drums of war in lockstep right along with the Bushies.  


"Shock and Awe" as broadcast to the world on March 19th, 2003

There were no ties between Iraq and the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2011.  There were no ties between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.  There was no al-Qaeda presence in Iraq.  There was no attempt to purchase "yellow cake" in Niger.  There was no Middle Eastern "domino effect" of democracy created by our invasion.  For the most part, we were not greeted as heroic liberators by the Iraqi people, but we WERE viewed as an invading, occupying force interfering with their sovereignty.  The abundance of Iraqi oil did NOT pay for the war.  The war that was supposed to have been over in a matter of months dragged on for nearly 9 years after Bush's ignominious May 1st, 2003 "Mission Accomplished" speech aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. We did not spread freedom to Iraq, but we did sow chaos by sparking an insurgency AND a sectarian Civil War. The sanctions we had previously imposed had crippled Iraq's economy and created a poverty-laden humanitarian crisis.  Sources like "Curveball" and Ahmad Chalabi, who provided critical information as "proof" of WMDs and ties to al-Qaeda, turned out to be lying pieces of shit.  THERE.WERE.NO.WEAPONS.OF.MASS.DESTRUCTION.

For all of the lies, mistakes, cover-ups, corporate giveaways, corruption, miscalculations, blunders, tragedy, terror and death that marred the build-up to, and propagation of, the War in Iraq, none of the major perpetrators that created this war ever faced legal consequences.  Not President George W. Bush, not Vice President Dick Cheney, not Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, not Secretary of State Colin Powell, not National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, not Attorney General John Ashcroft, not Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, not Bush Senior Adviser Karl Rove.  They have since been lambasted in the court of public opinion and the history books will not look kindly upon their actions nor will they look kindly upon Dubya's presidency.  However, the war criminals responsible for flippantly and unconscionably sending our nation's troops into harm's way while plunging the citizens of Iraq into a hellaciously chaotic shitstorm all moved on to very prominent, and often lucrative, new careers.

Here is the devastation wreaked by the illegal Iraq War those "leaders" worked so diligently to engineer:

-4,488 American servicemen and women dead
-More than 30,000 American servicemen and women wounded
-Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed during the course of the invasion, occupation, insurgency and Civil War
-More than 1,500 private, civilian contractors dead and the number continues to rise
-Countless numbers of returning veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and facing systemic governmental and societal problems that have allowed them to fall through the cracks, health-wise, employment-wise and housing-wise
-Trillions of dollars racked up in costs to American taxpayers for an unfunded war, contributing mightily to the massive accumulation of federal debt and emboldening the national right-wing push for draconian austerity measures in response
-Nearly 9 years at war and a maintained presence of thousands of civilian contractors after American troop withdrawals
-Iraq became a prime destination and live-action training ground for international Islamic jihadists who streamed into the country looking to hone their murderous methods directed against Coalition troops, Iraqi security forces and Iraqi citizens
-The formation of an al-Qaeda in Iraq network, where one had not previously existed
-An international community in which the United States alienated allies, greatly increased hostilities directed towards our government and citizens, and further damaged its reputation in a manner that may never be repaired
-After diverting resources and hundreds of thousands of troops away from the War in Afghanistan to fight in Iraq from 2003-2011, the American military finds itself still mired in Afghanistan, nearly 12 years into its occupation and with full withdrawal of troops not even on the horizon.

All of that death and despair mixed with more than a few shades of Vietnam and wrapped into my generation's 21st century version of an unwinnable war.  All of that deceit, incompetence and a plethora of false pretenses to ensure that Bush, Cheney and company could keep the wheels greased for the war profiteers.  All of that physical and mental devastation combined with unreptentant greed to ensure that the Military-Industrial Complex former WWII Supreme Allied Commander and then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about, would keep churning on, always and forever.  

We currently find the United States government embroiled in another devastating military quagmire in Afghanistan, with military personnel in hundreds of countries, military bases in over 60 countries, and shadowy drones patrolling the skies and striking targets in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Iraq.  The same war drum we heard so rhythmically hammered into our brains in the lead-up to the War in Iraq is quietly building for action against Iran, being pushed by many of the same war hawks responsible for promoting "regime change" in Iraq over a decade ago.  

Ten years later, the mental images of watching live-feeds of "Shock and Awe" and of hundreds of thousands of troops and embedded journalists pouring across the Kuwaiti border into Iraq still resonate and bring the same tears of sadness I experienced that day in 2003.  Although I hope we never forget the tragedy that was the War in Iraq, I fear the embedded power of the Military-Industrial Complex will simply turn up the intensity on the drums and drown out the collective memory of such a colossal sell-out of the American public and humanity. May our country's leaders finally learn from history's mistakes this time, so as not to be doomed to repeat them as they have so many times before.  I surely won't be holding my breath.

Poll

Who is most to blame for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003?

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| 46 votes | Vote | Results

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It is absolutely gorgeous outside today and I'm happy to see signs of spring in the air. But I need to remember after a night of drinking to NOT read the Wisconsin State Journal the next morning.

Destruction of wetlands and the devastation of the Penokee Hills for a mining bill ripe with imaginary economic prosperity; Families struggling to figure out how they are going to survive after Scott Walker politically cast away billions of dollars in federal funds intended to expand Medicaid.

Educational and environmental leaders desperately trying to make sense of the elimination of the student-friendly MacKenzie Environmental Education Center in favor of an NRA-approved hunting, fishing, trapping and shooting gallery; Editorial applause for the "resourcefulness" of the new pro-school "choice", pro-school report card Madison Superintendent of Schools, Jennifer Cheatham;

Letters to the editor decrying the hijacking of our state via politically-motivated and engineered redistricting through the process of unabashed gerrymandering; 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing that awoke American citizens to the reality of global terrorism and the potentially devastating consequences of a neo-imperial foreign policy; Chris Rickert writing yet another un-apologetically amateurish and uninformed article, this time implicitly bashing teachers while explicitly mocking their silly fight for workers' protections...under the guise of bashing NOT the "pro-union" school board candidates, but merely the "union-owned" candidates.

All of this was juxtaposed with an opinion piece from the WSJ from 40 years ago tearing apart the shameful treatment our government and citizens directed towards the returning Vietnam War veterans after fighting in a purposeless war that many of them wanted no part of. Oh yea, and the 40-year old editorial dared to call out the regressiveness of the Nixonian budget austerity...in a paper which some 30-plus years later happily endorsed the Walkerian candidacy and resulting austerity that is destroying our state and its progressive history while the rest of the nation slowly recovers from its 21st century depression. But hey, at least we will be the recipients of a tax cut that won't possibly wouldn't even cover your next meal out at a local restaurant. Welcome to Wississippi, version 2013. Fuck...this is going to be a long next two years.

'Til Wisconsin Gets Better Stairs
Awesome photo and banner courtesy of Lisa Wells

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When Scott Walker releases his 2013-15 biennial budget with a public address tonight at the Wisconsin Capitol, I hope people are paying close attention to the health care portion.  In it, GovernEr Walker will codify his cruel rejection of $4 billion in federal money proffered (not to be confused with "Prossered") to fully expand Medicaid (BadgerCare in Wisconsin) as part of the Affordable Care Act and extend direct health care coverage to approximately 175,000 additional Wisconsinites.  This ignominious decision will cost the state thousands of new jobs that would have accompanied a full Medicaid expansion.  It will lower the maximum income threshold for those who are currently childless adults on BadgerCare, kicking them off BadgerCare and over to the federally implemented, private health care exchanges that Walker so despises where they can hopefully afford coverage.  It will force countless individuals, who would have otherwise been covered, to avoid preventive care and risk their lives if they become sick, while relying on the last-resort Emergency Room care that drives up everyone's health care costs.  

Scary Budget
Photo courtesy of Erica Case

On top of all of that, Scott Walker's ridiculously shortsighted decision to play politics and reject another facet of the Affordable Care Act, after already punting on the opportunity for Wisconsin to create its own exchanges, will cost Wisconsin taxpayers $250 million MORE through 2020 than if he had simply accepted the billions in federal funding.  For the first three years, the feds would have fully covered the expansion and by 2020, the coverage would have dipped to 90%.

However, by rejecting the full expansion, Walker has ensured that not only will Wisconsin leave all of those funds on the table, the feds will continue to match only 60% of our Medicaid costs, as they currently do.  Even John Kasich (OH), Rick Snyder (MI), Jan Brewer (AZ) and now Rick Scott (FL) accepted the steal of the deal that was laid before them by the federal government, and nobody would ever accuse any of those four governors of being even remotely left of the Tea Party.

That was OUR money that will simply move along to other states because of his rejection, in exactly the same manner this had previously happened after GovernEr-elect Walker convinced then-Governor Jim Doyle to needlessly turn down hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money that would have brought high-speed rail and sustainable jobs to Wisconsin in 2010.

So what about those "hardworking taxpayers" Walker endlessly drones on about protecting when he's bashing unions, the poor, the sick, the elderly, the left? I cannot stress this enough: SCOTT WALKER DOES NOT GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THE CITIZENS OF WISCONSIN.  He is willing to demolish the foundations of our state at the drop of a hat if it means scoring political points and to prove his ideological purity and devotion to his corporate puppet masters who paid so handsomely for his two gubernatorial electoral victories.

In the meantime, he continues to travel around the country (and occasionally the state), posturing and pandering to right-wing extremists while moving Wisconsin decades in reverse socially, economically and culturally, all with an eye toward the 2016 presidential campaign.

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Today marked the 500th consecutive weekday, noon hour Solidarity Sing Along at the Wisconsin State Capitol building, as the Sing Along began exactly 100 weeks ago. What started as a small idea in the mind of Steve Burns on March 11th, 2011 following the amoral passage of public sector union-busting Act 10, has taken off and established itself as an ever present, perpetually peaceful, figurative middle finger to the actions of Scott Walker, his rubber stamp legislature and the millionaires and billionaires pulling their strings. The faces and songs may change on a daily basis, but the passion is always simmering and the memories of the Uprising of 2011 and the spirit of those who cannot be there are never far from the minds of those in attendance. I wasn't able to become a regular participant until last February, but I've been thrilled to have had the good fortune to take part and lend my voice to many harmonious gatherings since then as we proudly and defiantly exercise our pesky 1st Amendment rights to assemble, protest our government and petition for a redress of grievances.

February 7th, 2013 500th Weekday Sing Along
Photo courtesy of my friend Lisa Wells, who has dutifully taken tens of thousands of photographs encompassing nearly ever day of the Solidarity Sing Along's existence.

The Sing Along remains the unyielding heartbeat of the Wisconsin Movement and reigns supreme as undoubtedly the longest continuous singing protest in United States history. The Walker regime and his Department of Administration have been trying to get rid of us for the past five months so they can go about their business of ravaging our state in "peace and quiet" without having to ever hear the voices of everyday Wisconsin citizens. Unfortunately for them, we have refused to be intimidated and have stood our ground in the Rotunda in opposition to, but also fueled by, their draconian tactics of suppression.

They've taken notes on our descriptions, they've filmed us from balconies.  They've arrested individuals for holding signs, banners and t-shirts, they've arrested individuals for chalking.  They've arrested individuals for releasing balloons, they've arrested individuals for freely speaking their mind in the public space of the Capitol Rotunda.  They've targeted individuals for exhibiting "leadership" roles, they've cited people merely for observing the Sing Along, essentially charging them with "guilt by association."  They've sent multiple police officers to deliver citations to individuals' homes, again, again and again.  They've even sent officers to deliver citations at an individual's place of work.  They've kept an unconscious, disabled veteran handcuffed after she had the temerity to speak out against Capitol Police Chief David Erwin's outrageous claims that we "terrorize" others in the Capitol, they've harassed an ACLU observer for taking down the badge numbers of Capitol Police officers and later arrested her after digging up an insignificant civil case from her past.  Hell, they even created a McCarthyesque list in order to take attendance and monitor the activities of "usual suspects" who regularly show up to protest through song, going so far as to include the name of my Democratic Assembly Representative, Chris Taylor.  Many of the citations given out to peaceful protesters during the Crackdown have been dismissed, and the Department of Justice has yet to successfully prosecute a single case since they were put in charge of handling civil forfeitures back in August.  After all of that, make no mistake about it: We're still here.

So here's to the next 100 weeks of peacefully protesting the fascist government of Fitzwalkerstan through songs sung loudly, passionately and sometimes beautifully. Conveniently, 100 weeks from today will mark the inaugural week in 2015 for a NEW GOVERNOR, and a celebration for a return to the proud, democratic state known as Wisconsin, Local 1848. Can't wait. Solidarity.

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This reality has been stewing in my brain for the past several days but I could no longer internalize my outrage and frustration: Out of the 5-man Wisconsin Tea Party Congressional delegation in Washington, NONE of them voted in favor of providing relief funding for the states, municipalities, businesses, families and individuals devastated by Hurricane Sandy? That's right...ZERO. Not Paul Ryan, not Jim Sensenbrenner, not Tom Petri, and most certainly not Sean Duffy, who has absolutely no concept of what the ACTUAL "real world" is like for most people.  You know...a world full of people who don't whine to their constituents at Town Hall meetings about their constant personal "struggle" to get by on a $174,000 annual Congressional salary.

The week before Friday's House of Representatives vote passed by a 354-67 tally, Teabagging Senator Ron Johnson remained steadfast in his douchebaggery by voting to deny federal funding for Sandy's victims, as well.  (Oh, and in case you didn't know or hadn't guessed, all 67 members of the House to vote "No" to funding Hurricane Sandy flood relief were "Republicans.")  Then again, for all of the oxygen he wasted droning on about protecting regular Americans and their freedoms from the horrors of health care, our sociopathic "Shame in the Senate" wouldn't recognize a sense of compassion even if it offered him a shoulder to cry on after one of his colleagues verbally smacked him down for being such an ignorant and arrogant lout.

Congressman Reid Ribble couldn't even be bothered to cast a vote on the woefully insufficient $9.7 billion appropriation merely intended to fill in the gaps for flood insurance claims.  As Raw Story noted:
 

The $9.7 billion package passed Friday is intended to pay for flood insurance claims, but little else. Funding requests from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey alone add up to more than $83 billion.
But I guess I can forgive Ribble for his shameful indifference towards this vote...I mean, it's only people's lives that are at stake here.  Over $50 billion worth of additional relief, already passed by the U.S. Senate, have yet to be brought to the floor by John Boehner and his obstructionist Teahadists in the U.S. House of Representatives.  

New Dorp Beach, Staten Island December 30, 2012
Picture of New Dorp Beach, Staten Island, NY taken on December 30, 2012...exactly 2 months after Sandy first hit. Photo courtesy of Jenna Pope

Within days of Hurricane Katrina coming ashore in Louisiana in 2005, nearly $10 billion in disaster relief had been approved by Congress and approximately $50 billion was approved for disaster relief within ten days of Katrina ravaging the Gulf Coast. The long-awaited vote on relief funding for the victims of Hurricane Sandy didn't even take place in Congress until approximately TEN WEEKS after Sandy first came ashore on the East Coast. Of course, if Wisconsin were in dire need of federal funds for disaster relief following a drought, flood or tornado, you just know that these hypocritical weasels would be banging the podium and demanding money NOW, then bragging about it afterwards, as Paul Ryan did following the floods that ravaged the Midwest in the summer of 2008. (Hat tip to Kossack Jeff Simpson for bringing that to my attention.)

When natural disasters hit the United States, especially a disaster of the magnitude and cost of Superstorm Sandy, it should be a given that our country bands together to help those in harm's way, with their plethora of dire needs, as quickly and as thoroughly as humanly possible.  It is incumbent upon our elected officials to take their duties seriously and put their uncompromising ideologies aside in order to do what needs to be done for the sake of those affected by such tragedies. Sadly, yet predictably, Wisconsin's Congressional Republicans and many of their fellow Tea Partiers in Congress shirked their duties.  As John Nichols pointedly stated for "The Nation":
 

One of his few clearly defined responsibilities, one of the few clearly defined responsibilities of any House member, is “to provide for the general Welfare.” They swear an oath to do so. And, barely hours into the new Congress, Ryan and his compatriots rejected that oath and a fundamental premise of the Constitution it supports.

Remember these unconscionable actions the next time Paul Ryan, Ron Johnson or any of these other heartless bastards pretends they give a shit about everyday Americans, let alone the Wisconsinites they were elected to represent. Badgers they most certainly are NOT!  These cowardly Wisconsin Weasels may "represent" our great state at the federal level of government, but they are not representative of the heart of its citizens.  Shamefully, these individuals, along with Scott Walker, epitomize the present-day Republican "leadership" in Wisconsin and all of the incompetence and intolerance that comes along with their steaming pot o' Tea.  Grand Ol' Party, my ass.
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Over the past several days, Michigan’s union activists and their allies in the fight against austerity have pushed back against expedited “Right-to-Work” legislation with a determination that has been nothing short of inspirational.  As the latest developments in the Capitol building in Lansing made their way to the public via reports, pictures and videos, I have been feeling a wave of déjà vu taking me back to the earliest days of the Wisconsin Uprising in 2011: Thousands of people occupying all levels of the Capitol; Chants of “Kill the bill!!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” echoing throughout the Rotunda;  Citizens being locked out of their publicly funded center of participatory democracy, causing a furor on both sides of the Capitol doors;  The governor’s administration flagrantly violating court orders to re-open the building to the public, in spite of the angry pleas of Democratic representatives; Individuals blocking the legislative chambers in a last ditch attempt to prevent a vote from taking place, only to be hauled away by law enforcement;  Finally, legislative galleries filled with Republican staffers and supporters, shielding lawmakers from their constituents’ opposition, as a union-busting bill is unconscionably rammed through with virtually no public input.  

OLB-Right to Work is a Lie
Photo courtesy of fellow Kossack Noise of Rain and the Overpass Light Brigade

The events in Madison over a blustery few weeks in early 2011, as hundreds of thousands of citizens found their comfortable walking shoes and took to the streets to fight back against GovernEr Walker’s draconian Budget Repair Bill (the remnants of which eventually became Act 10), were a life-changing experience for many of us here in the Badger state.   Although approximately two years have passed and the memories can often feel like a lifetime ago considering all that the Wisconsin Movement has been through since then, a song, chant, or sign can immediately bring those memories flooding back as if they had just occurred yesterday.  

Seeing the struggles facing Michigan’s workers literally sent shivers down my spine as I thought of all the pain and hardship that is to come, not only in Michigan or Wisconsin, but around the country.  We are in throes of a war against the right-wing extremist, anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-democracy, anti-environmental, anti-regulatory agenda that has been steamrolling through Teabag-dominated statehouses since the 2010 mid-term elections.  This November’s national elections were a victory for Democrats and progressives, as renowned, progressive women such as Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin swept into the U.S. Senate, and Tea Party favorites Todd Akin and Allen West were swept out of Congress.  Oh yea…and the potentially devastating RMoney/Rayn ticket, laden with its yarn spinning, wealthy class tax slashing, 47 percent ignoring, "Obamacare" repealing landmines, was sent to its political grave.  

However, the fight rages on at the statewide level as these radical, American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC)-infused agendas being foisted upon the general populace will continue to be pushed through Republican-dominated state legislatures around the country.  Plutocrat-friendly “Governors” like Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, Nikki Haley, Rick Scott, John Kasich and Mike Pence wait with bated breath to sign bill after bill of mind-numbing social and ethical abominations into law.  

542347_3183734364356_2062104405_n
Photo courtesy of fellow Kossack Noise of Rain and the Overpass Light Brigade

Here in Wisconsin, a state renowned for its high voting turnout and coming off of a 70 percent turnout of all eligible voters in the recent Presidential election, a bill is already in the works to eliminate Election Day voter registration.  You could say there was a noticeable absence of public clamoring for this type of legislative action prior to the bill’s introduction.  But, in typical Scott Walker fashion, the Governer ignored the citizens of Wisconsin and made his case for this newest form of voter suppression to adoring throngs of Conservatives at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California in mid-November.  In response, many county and municipal clerks and poll-workers from around the state expressed vehement opposition to the elimination of this public service, in place since 1976. With the unconstitutional “Voter ID” law, Act 23, currently on suicide watch after being dealt a permanent court injunction against its implementation, Walker and his legislative lap dogs needed to find another way to limit the electorate they so despise.  

Never ones to be dissuaded by vocal opposition, Republican ASSemblyman Joel Kleefisch and Republican Senator Alberta Darling responded to Walker’s attack dog whistle and announced plans to launch their latest shameless attempt to suppress the vote early in the next legislative session.  While same-day registration is conveniently utilized by hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites each general election, it tends to be a favored method amongst strong Democratic-leaning demographics, including students, minorities and low-income voters.  Making matters worse, Wisconsin’s citizens don’t have the ballot referendum veto at their disposal that the voters of Maine used to overturn their own legislative repeal of same-day voter registration in November 2011.  

Mere weeks later, Walker had the audacity to call a same-day registration repeal “ridiculous.”  In the same manner that Gov. Snyder previously spoke of Right-to-Work-for-Less legislation as a "divisive issue" not worth tackling in Michigan, Walker has said that passing legislation eliminating same-day registration is “not a priority” of his.  Nevertheless, like Snyder, Walker has promised to sign this piece of “non-prioritized” legislation into law if (read: when) it hits his desk.  This stance proves even more absurd and hypocritical following last week’s revelation that Walker’s own son took advantage of same-day registration during the August primaries to cast his first ever vote, with the Governer proudly accompanying him to the polls!

The far-right wing’s corporate ideological agenda to demolish workers’ rights to organize, to earn a living wage and to have a say over workplace conditions, is only picking up steam in Wisconsin.  This past spring, a documentary trailer surfaced in which Scott Walker reassured his tax-dodging, billionaire campaign donor, Diane Hendricks, back in January 2011 that “Right-to-Work” legislation would soon be on its way to Wisconsin.  But he also let her know that he had to go after the public workers as the first step in his tactical plot to “Divide and Conquer” the citizens of Wisconsin.

State Representative Chris Kapenga ($-ALEC), who recently gained notoriety as one of nine Wisconsin legislators supporting hypothetical legislation calling for the arrest of federal officials trying to implement the Affordable Care Act, publicly revealed the Republicans’ legislative end game for unions. Lisa Mux at Blogging Blue noted Kapenga’s remarks at a conservative listening session in May with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI):

According to Waukesha County resident Leanne Wied-Brusky, when a Town Hall attendee who seemed in favor of right-to-work legislation expressed discontent over the delay in implementation, Kapenga responded,  ”We have right-to-work legislation in (three) different offices ready to go. If we had done it earlier, when we wanted, then Prosser would not have been elected. Right now is not the right time. We have to wait until it is politically feasible.”
Taking advantage of new, secretly agreed upon and gerrymandered voting districts, the Republicans re-gained control of the Wisconsin State Senate in the November elections by an 18-15 tally.  By gaining this comfortable, three seat margin, they insulated themselves from a potential dissenting vote cast by Sen. Dale Schultz, the only Republican Senator to vote against Act 10.  With Republicans maintaining a 60-39 advantage in the State Assembly (despite receiving nearly 200,000 less votes than Democrats statewide) and no recall elections on the horizon, it appears that NOW may be the politically feasible time, of which Rep. Kapenga and Governer Walker portended, for the anti-worker extremists to pass a RTW4L law in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has weathered this onslaught of single-party, right-wing authoritarianism over most of the past two years and we know that the renewed struggle for social justice and equality will once again reach a fevered pitch as soon as the newest crop of legislators is sworn into office on January 7th, 2013. The corporate fat cats that are driving ALEC and funding the Tea Party’s national ideological assault are not going to ease up on the gas pedal until they have demolished the pillars of a forward thinking, progressive society.  But a critically-thinking populace, one that cares more about educating and helping fellow citizens than it cares about living for the almighty dollar and relying on the horribly misguided and disproven theory of “trickle-down” economics, can put a stop to that.

Right now, the fight is in your own backyard, Michiganders. Although the journey will assuredly be filled with setbacks and trying times, those who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets of Madison and communities across Wisconsin in our own trying times will stand with you in this battle.  No matter how futile or bleak our efforts may seem at times, we have no other choice but to keep fighting for our rights and for the future of our country.  The line that designates our shared border is merely an afterthought, for your fight is undoubtedly ours, regardless of which state we call home.

Wisconsin Stands With Michigan
Photo courtesy of Noise of Rain and the Overpass Light Brigade

My favorite memory of last year’s initial protests came shortly after I first set foot in Capitol during the Uprising.  Amidst the infectiously rhythmic sound of chanting, clapping, and drumming (and energy so palpable you could feel it permeating throughout the Rotunda), I looked up to the first floor balcony to see a large, yellow, homemade banner gradually unfurling.  As it became fully visible, a thunderous roar built up from within the thousands of voices echoing throughout the Rotunda until the deafening cheers reached their climax.  The message it bore was simple, yet poignant:

DETROIT IS HERE WITH U!!

Detroit is Here With You

Now it is OUR opportunity to return the favor to the workers of your great state and stand with YOU, Michigan.  I may even commit a blasphemous act for any Badger by singing a chorus of the hated “Hail to the Victors” in your honor.  Blue Fist and the Mitten, together again.  Solidarity, brothers and sisters, and forever FORWARD!!

Here's some Solidarity from the Solidarity Sing Along in Madison to the citizens of Michigan, originally recorded in January of this year.

Members of the Solidarity Sing Along are currently in the midst of their own battle for 1st Amendment rights, while gathering to sing out against the Walker regime every weekday at the Wisconsin Capitol (over 500 times in all) since March 11th, 2011.

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Hey RMoney, I grew up on Sesame Street and hung out in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I learned to love the world, its infinite possibilities and the never ending opportunity for discovery and imagination through programs like Nova, 3-2-1 Contact, Wild America and Reading Rainbow. I still have a hard time cracking open a book without humming, seeing butterflies in the sky and recommending said books to others with the disclaimer, "But you don't have to take MY word for it." I developed my love for world history and my future college major while watching programs about World War II with my dad and asking questions about the 50th anniversaries of the attack on Pearl Harbor and D-Day.

My older siblings still periodically bring up the story of when our parents took the 2-year old version of myself to see "Follow That Bird" at Madison's Eastgate Theater and I bawled my eyes out, along with the rest of the little kids in attendance, when Big Bird turned blue. After hearing that Jerry Nelson, the voice of the Count, had recently died, I felt a sense of loss that the next generation of children wouldn't learn that when verbally counting, the number 1 is always immediately followed by the phrase, "ah, ah, ahhhh..." Barney reminded me that some things in this world consist of pure evil and, hell, my good friend Travis even got his nickname, "Tink," from the Teletubbies. You want to defund PBS as part of your "budget balancing" agenda because you don't think it's important enough to keep?? With all due respect to Bob Ross and his happy, little trees, I have a message to deliver that I'm sure ol' Mr. Conductor, George Carlin, would approve of: FUCK YOU, Mitt.

Discuss

Without fail, every time I need a little morale boost to fire me up again about the fight at hand in Wisconsin, the thugs running the show in Fitzwalkerstan decide to go and do something to throw fuel on the fire.  In this case, newly installed Capitol Police Chief, former Marine Drill Sergeant, burgeoning fascist and most recently lead bodyguard of Governer Scott Walker's security team, David Erwin, provided the gas can.

August 28, 2012 Solidarity Sing Along #447-Photo from Rebecca Kemble
August 28th, 2012, 447th Solidarity Sing Along; Photo courtesy of Rebecca Kemble

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