Volume 29, Number 4

Democracy is a Full-Time, 24/7 Job

Fred Schepartz

All along, I planned to write about what I assumed would be historic mid-term elections in 2018.

However, I overcame the urge to write the following headline:

Mid-Term Elections Result in Historic Blue Wave, Sweeping Away Tyrants and Dictators Worldwide.

But then I thought better of it. I knew through-the-roof expectations needed to be tempered with realism, and I knew that through-the-roof expectations tend to blunt enthusiasm for truly great achievements.

Let’s be clear, despite Trump claiming victory, despite Republicans calling it a Blue Trickle, the Blue Wave was genuine and historic. We still live in a country and a world of tyrants and dictators, we have divided government, but ultimately, the Blue Wave included numerous significant achievements. A few highlights:

While these are amazing achievements, it must be noted that the Blue Wave could have been much, much greater if not for gerrymandering and voter suppression. In Wisconsin, Dems took one state assembly seat, while losing one state senate seat, despite a majority of voters casting votes for Dems. Wisconsin House Republicans kept all their seats. Dems swept all four statewide elections.

The same trend held true in badly gerrymandered states such as North Carolina and Ohio. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, where gerrymandering districts were ordered to be redrawn, the House representation went from 13 Republicans and five Democrats to nine reps for each party. Dems took 55 percent of the popular vote.

Voter suppression is much more difficult to quantify, and thus is that much more insidious. In Wisconsin, Governor-Elect Tony Evers might have defeated Walker by a much greater margin if not for an onerous voter ID law.

Much more glaring was the governor’s race in Georgia. Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams by a little more than one percent despite doing all in his power as secretary of state to tip the scales in his favor, including kicking more than 300,000 voters off the voter rolls. Abrams has filed lawsuits against Kemp alleging voter suppression. It should be noted that Abrams has butted heads with Kemp numerous times over the years due to her efforts to register new voters and in general fight voter suppression.

As I have said numerous times in this space, the arc of history tilts toward justice. However, positive change tends not to move in a straight line. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. Or one step forward and two steps back, but ultimately and hopefully, the steps forward outnumber the steps backward.

It seems not to be coincidental that as we have moved forward over the last several years, the Republican party has become more and more extreme and more and more narrow. And now under Trump, it seems to be turning into a haven for white supremacists as Trump has switched from dog whistles to blatant calls for violence and hate crimes.

Against this we fight.

The Blue Wave was a significant achievement. Yet, it was blunted by gerrymandering and voter suppression, along with the corrosive role of dark money and corporate money injected into politics. And on top of that, there is the specter of violence and repression against people of color, against Jews, against Muslims, against immigrants. And against whoever might be next.

Wisconsin serves as an important example of how we can move forward to a better and more just society. It is crucial to note that the seeds of Scott Walker’s demise were sown way back in the cold and snow of 2011 during the Wisconsin Uprising. The seeds of Walker’s demise were sewn during the recall elections of 2011 and 2012—despite the fact that Walker prevailed in the recall election.

Ultimately, Walker suffered a tyrant’s fate, falling under his own oppressive weight. And make no mistake, Walker was a tyrant. Despite never drawing more than 53 percent of the vote, he ruled like he had a mandate. After taking power in 2011, with Republicans holding both statehouses, Walker used gerrymandering and voter suppression to keep complete power.

Walker lost because of the way he ruled. To win a third term, a governor of any state needs to widen their base and their coalition. Tommy Thompson was the only Wisconsin governor to be elected to a third term. He did so by winning more than 60 percent of the vote. For Walker, skating by with a majority plus one was simply not sustainable.

But it was not just about statistical numbers.

It was about the sheer numbers of people mobilized to do whatever necessary to secure victory for Tony Evers. And again, I maintain this happened because of the mass mobilizations of 2011 and 2012. Ordinary people got politicized. People who already were politicized were radicalized. In general, people were much better educated about the corrupt power structure that empowered Walker. By the time the election came around, there were huge numbers of citizens trained and well-seasoned and ready for the challenge.

And a big part of that success was due to the fact that a good number of people did not put away their protest signs and clipboards after failures in 2012 and 2014.

This is where I just have to give a shout-out to the Solidarity Sing Along, which has met in or outside the Capitol during every weekday lunch hour since March 11, 2011. The day after Evers won, the mood at the Solidarity Sing Along was utterly euphoric. There’s was lots of hugging, lots of smiles and laughs and even a few tears of joy.

The Sing Along has served all this time as an emblem for resistance, as sung with the words:

Until the day when justice holds sway,
We’re not going away.

The Solidarity Sing Along has been an occasional flashpoint over the years. In the summer and early fall of 2013, Capitol Police launched a campaign of repression by arresting hundreds of singers. The Sing Along turned into a fight for freedom of speech and assembly that was settled favorably in the courts.

Some people have criticized the Sing Along, even people supposedly on our side. One obnoxious Tweet following Evers’ victory chided Singers for just hanging out and singing in the Capitol while others did the real campaign work.

Absurd. Most of the people who attend the Sing Along are activists, many of whom have been working tirelessly since the earliest days of the Uprising. The Solidarity Sing Along has always served as a place to connect and network, to let people know what’s going on.

It also serves a highly important role to uplift morale. One cannot attend the Sing Along without feeling recharged, which is so importantly given that this has been a long and difficult struggle to at least take our first steps forward.

I am very fond of quoting Tom Morello on the important of the protest song:

The protest song is wind under the sails and steel for the spine.

Along these lines, my contribution to the cause was teaming up with WORT Music Director Sybil Augustine (we co-produced Cheddar Revolution: Songs of Uprising) to put out CheddaREvolution: Songs of Resurgence, available for free download at WisconsinProtestSongs.com.

Again, we should feel very proud of what we have all achieved, all over the country. Sure, the Dems didn’t win the Senate, but that probably was not going to happen. Sure, there’s still tyrants and dictators running amok all over the country and the world, but at least here in Wisconsin, there’s one fewer tyrant.

Let us pledge to never forget these lessons learned.

Elections are not the be-all and end-all. A mistake that we make way too often is to come out every two or four years then go into hiding. As my friend and radio personality Sly is fond of saying, “While we’re dreaming, they're scheming.”

We achieved victories this time around because of continual activism. We must never forget that democracy is a full-time, 24/7 job.