June 7, 2012

Wisconsin Recall 2012

Photographer Andrew Lichtenstein, Carlos Javier Ortiz

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On Tuesday, June 5, Republican Governor Scott Walker held onto his seat in Wisconsin’s special recall election, beating his Democratic challenger Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee. With 53% of the vote, it was a comfortable victory. Facing Change photographers Andrew Lichtenstein and Carlos Javier Ortiz share their images and observations:

Protesters crowding the Capitol grounds in Madison, February 2011, as the state government argues a bill against the collective bargaining of unions proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker. Photographs by Carlos Javier Ortiz

The End of the Story

This journey started for me last year – February 2011 – when protests erupted against Governor Walker’s suppression of collective bargaining rights for workers. With 100,000 demonstrators at times, it was very uncertain what would ultimately happen.

A lot of the momentum that led to Occupy Wall Street started from this little place, the State Capitol of Madison, Wisconsin, and right before, from the Egyptians in Tahrir Square. So in my eyes this recall election was the ending to the story. We saw democracy at work in some strange way – the people’s voices were heard – and Governor Walker was essentially re-elected.

The Republicans outspent Democrats eight-to-one. Money: that’s the flaw, though. It’s so influential that the little guy can’t operate. But that’s true of any candidate, President Obama or anybody else. I want to be impartial.

 –Carlos Javier Ortiz


Workers at a plastics factory outside of Madison. The Scott Walker recall election was organized against Governor Walker’s term after 18 months for his efforts to end collective bargaining for state employees. Photograph by Andrew Lichtenstein

Reasonably Unreasonable

People from Wisconsin pride themselves on being even mannered, reasonable, and polite. There is a real and insular sense that this state is different from other places in America, that its culture is welcoming and rational. Everyone gets along to go along, and this conformity is admired rather than shunned.

This is part of the reason for such a high level of anger, shock really, that a local politician, Scott Walker, would want to end collective bargaining for state employees. Or that protesters would occupy the Capitol, or demand a recall vote just 18 months into his term as Governor. All of this feels alien, and both sides in the debate constantly point out the influence of sinister forces from out-of-state, whether they be national unions or the Koch brothers. It is as if a happy marriage has suddenly proven to be a sham, with both partners being serial cheaters all along. The social contract that allowed progressive university professors and urban blacks from Milwaukee and conservative dairy farmers to find common ground has broken apart, leaving a polarized and divided state.

Except in this case, the case of the recall election, there is a clear winner. Two visions were clearly laid out for the voters, and the majority of people chose one. There will continue to be people who cannot recognize and accept defeat for the rejection that it is, and they will blame the news media, or the money, or President Obama’s refusal to get involved, or the lies that Scott Walker told. But the truth is harsher than all of these things.

The Democratic Party has become a reacting party, always chasing after the ideas of Republicans, however flawed they might be, as if trying to hold back a dam in which cracks have appeared. In their failure to articulate a vision, a reason to believe, many Americans have retreated to more basic and narrow fundamentals of perceived self-interest and greed. When presented with a choice of paying more taxes for more government services, or fewer taxes for almost no government services, they have voted with their pocket books, even in a socially conscious state like Wisconsin.

–Andrew Lichtenstein

Please also see previous story here: http://facingchange.org/blog/2011/02/21/madison-protests-2011/

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