Monday, February 28, 2011

Out and About – February 2011

Man-oh-man, what a month it's been!

On a personal level, I've gone from an Australian summer to a Minnesota winter – always a bit of an adjustment, let me tell you.

That geographical change meant that I went from a (mostly) holiday mode straight back into a full-on work mode. I say "mostly" because, as I note in a couple of previous posts, my recent vacation in Australia didn't mean a complete escape from my vocation! (See here and here.)

Of course, on a much broader and deeper level, this month has been momentous for millions around the world – especially for people in the Middle East, for workers in Wisconsin and beyond, and LGBT people throughout the U.S. I really feel as if humanity is on the cusp of a major paradigm shift in consciousness. I've actually thought this for a while now. Accordingly, I've been praying that each one of us may find the courage to respond, in the context of our own lives, to what I believe is God's call to us to move forward into a new way of being in relationship with one another and with the planet. I see this movement as a shift in consciousness – an intentional decision on our part, individually and collectively, to move away from allowing greed, fear, violence, and mindless consumption to dictate our attitudes and actions, and opening ourselves to letting justice, compassion, trust and sustainability inspire and guide us.

I see this shift as very much a global movement – one through which voices that have long been silenced are being raised up and listened to; one through which people who have been denied access to the table of discussion and decision-making are asserting their right to be acknowledged and included.

My work with groups such as the Twin Cities-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities and my reading of and interaction with progressive Catholics around the world (mainly via the Internet) gives me much hope that this paradigm shift in human consciousness is also taking place within Roman Catholicism. Yes, in the face of entrenched systems of intimidation and oppression, people around the world – and throughout the church – are daring to be the change they long to see. It truly is an exciting time in humanity's development to be living through – and contributing to!

Of course, our hope-filled and active participation in such a journey requires nourishment and encouragement. I get these in many ways – but a major one is definitely the love and support I receive from family, friends, and work colleagues. Not surprisingly, these loved ones feature prominently in this (and every) installment of "Out and About." These posts chronicle my life as an out gay man seeking to be all about the Spirit-inspired work of embodying God’s justice and compassion in the Church and the world. My hope and prayer is that such embodiment serves to inspire others and, in some small way, contributes to that paradigm shift in consciousness that I believe God is calling us to make real in our lives and relationships.

Above: Members of my family in Port Macquarie with my good friends Jeremiah and Kristy – Saturday, February 5, 2011. From left: Sami , Ros, Dad, Tim, Jeremiah, Kristy, and Mum.

Above: Kristy and Jeremiah on the roof of Swallows Ledge – Sunday, February 6, 2011.

Left: With Jeremiah and Kristy.

Above: The swallows of Swallows Ledge. (For another photo of these beautiful creatures, click here.)

Winging my way from one home to another, i.e., from Australia to the U.S.A – Tuesday, February 8, 2011.

Right: A very special "Welcome Home" get-together with Doug.

Above: On the evening of Saturday, February 12, 2011, Doug (left) and I prepared a meal for our friends (from left) Liana, Phil, Noelle and John. As you can see, it was a real hit!

Above: Friends Mary Lynn, Bob and Paula at OutFront Minnesota's Freedom to Marry rally at the Minnesota State Capitol – Thursday, February 10. As co-convener of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN I was one of a number of local faith leaders to speak at this event.

Left: Also speaking out for marriage equality was Benilde-St. Margaret High School student Sean Simonson. You may recall that Sean was in the news last November after his school newsletter commentary, "Life as a Gay Teenager," was censored by school authorities.

Right: About 400 people attended OutFront MN's February 10 Freedom to Marry event at the Capitol. It was a very spirited event, and one which I'll write more about in a future post.

Above: Celebrating St. Valentine's Day with Mr. Brilliant!

Part of our celebration involved having friends over to make and decorate heart-shaped brownies – and share various readings all about love! To see what I mean, click here.

Left: Celebrating with Doug and our friend Brian the February 23 declaration by President Obama that the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) is unconstitutional – and that the U.S. Justice Department will no longer defend it in federal court.

As well as being at the Minnesota Capitol in support of marriage equality, I was also there twice this month in solidarity with public workers in Wisconsin and beyond. As I'm sure you know, Wisconsin public workers, their families and supporters are involved in an ongoing struggle against Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions.

The images above were taken at the Tuesday, February 22 rally. For more pictures and commentary, click here.

Above and left: The rally at the Minnesota Capitol on Saturday, February 26 was just one of hundreds across the U.S. that day, held in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin.

For more images and commentary, click here.

Above: OVation performs at the February 26 fundraiser for the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM).

Right: With Jeff Longnecker, one of the key organizers of the fundraiser for CALGM.

Originally scheduled to take place at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, the fundraiser was moved to United Methodist Prospect Park Church after an orchestrated campaign of half-truths and outright lies smeared both CALGM and the pastor of St. Frances Cabrini, and compelled the chancery to insist the event not be held on "Catholic property." Yes, yet another embarrassing misstep by our local clerical "leadership." (For others, see here, here, here, here, here and here.)

Above: Sheila Nelson, CALGM president; Myrna Ohmann, Catholic Rainbow Parents co-founder; and David McCaffrey, CPCSM co-founder and president, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN co-convener, and 2010 recipient of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's Adsum Award at last year's Synod of the Baptized.

Above left: Sue, Nan, Donna and Jeanne at the February 26 benefit for CALGM.

Above: With Doug at a February 28 Oscar Night Party.

For an insightful review of one of my favorite nominated films of this year, click here.

Right: Finally, this month saw me launch a new online project: A Prince Named Valiant, which I describe as "a celebration of Prince Valiant – the finest work ever produced in the comic art medium"!

I chose to launch A Prince Named Valiant on February 13 as it was on this day 74 years ago that the first installment of Prince Valiant was published in newspapers throughout the United States.

So far my Prince Valiant blog has just four postings. The most current one was actually first published here at The Wild Reed. Of these four, the one I'm most happy about is my interview with my Dad (left). It was his collection of Prince Valiant comic books from the 1950s that sparked my interest in Hal Foster’s masterpiece. It also eventually led me to start collecting the Prince Valiant from the Sun Herald newspaper – a weekly ritual that I maintained for 15 years (1978-1993). Anyway, this particular interview with my Dad can be found here.

Colin Covert on Biutiful: "A Work of Extraordinary Vitality"

Of the nominated films of last night’s Oscars that I’ve seen, by far the one I find most compelling is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful. Regular readers may recall that I previously discussed Iñárritu’s 2006 film Babel.

Biutiful was nominated at the 83rd Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film but lost out to Susanne Bier’s In a Better World. It’s lead actor, Javier Bardem, was nominated for Best Actor (a first for an entirely Spanish language performance) but lost to Colin Firth in The King’s Speech. Bardem, however, received the Best Actor Award at Cannes for his work on Biutiful.

Below (with added images and links) is a very well-written and insightful review of Biutiful by Colin Covert. It was first published in the Twin Cities’ weekly newspaper Actually, it was my reading of this review that compelled me to go see Biutiful at the Lagoon Cinema in Minneapolis – where it's currently still playing. It's a film I highly recommend.


Edge of Night

A dying man seeks to balance the books of
a life that has included much wrongdoing.

By Colin Covert February 3, 2011

Biutiful is devastating. Its co-writer and director, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, never has made comfortable, audience-pleasing entertainments, but his latest makes his unsentimental Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel look like vacation videos.

Best actor Oscar nominee Javier Bardem conveys infinite suffering as Uxbal, a compassionate criminal with ties to Barcelona’s human-trafficking underground. Riddled with cancer and hoping to settle his accounts in the few weeks he has left, he tries to provide for his young son and daughter, and for the latest shipment of Chinese laborers he has smuggled into the city’s black-market labor force.

The film is preoccupied with good and evil, death and life, darkness and light. Its themes are powerfully expressed in its innovative photography. As Uxbal threads his way through the city’s slum-like back streets, Iñarritu’s camera detects images of fierce, striking brilliance in the squalor.

Bardem’s face is painted with an elaborate play of light and shadows, giving him a fantastic, sinister appearance at one moment and a radiant, beatific serenity the next. The ever-shifting light suggests that contrition and good works can at least partially redeem a life badly lived.

Uxbal’s runaway wife suffers bipolar mood swings; as unstable as she is, there was enough good in her to make him fall in love. The venal Chinese partners in Uxbal’s illegal immigration scheme exploit their workers, but remind him that countless other Chinese would trade places with them to escape even worse conditions at home. Many of Uxbal’s actions may be criminal and repulsive, but as he fights to make the most of his last days our sympathies are repositioned and we root for the pathetic, lonely, victimized figure. His illness is a malaise that infects us all: Every one of us has the capacity for evil.

Uxbal’s efforts to make a few final generous gestures trip against his shortcomings, yet he never abandons hope. Even when he's delusional, insisting “I’m not going to die,” he’s expressing his wish to hang on and help his dependents, not selfishly grasping for immortality. Bardem’s tough yet tender performance, which won the best-actor prize at Cannes, elevates the bleak subject matter to a higher plane.

Though it is a scathing portrait of fundamentally corrupt humanity, Biutiful is neither dreary nor dispiriting; it is a work of extraordinary vitality.

Bardem is beyond praise as a multifaceted man fatigued by life, who has gained a deep inner strength from difficult experiences. As Uxbal comes to terms with his impending death, Biutiful ends on an almost positive note. In the surreal snowbound climax, he experiences a vision of reconciliation with the life he must leave behind. Viewing the film is like listening to a funeral dirge magnificently performed.

– Colin Covert
February 3, 2011

Recommended Off-site Links:
Biutiful: A Review
– Philip French (The Observer, January 30, 2011).
Biutiful: A Review
– Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter, October 14, 2010).
Biutiful: A Review
– Justin Chang (Variety, May 17, 2010).
Iñárritu's Noble Effort
– Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle, January 28, 2011).
The Mob Work Is Tough; Then He Has to Go Home
– A. O. Scott (New York Times, December 28, 2010).
Biutiful: A Review
– Marshall Fine (The Huffington Post, January 5, 2011).
Biutiful Explores Death, Celebrates Life
– Claudia Puig (USA Today, September 10, 2010).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Reflections on Babel and the "Borders Within"
Oscar Observations (2010)
Oscar Observations (2009)
Five Oscar Highlights (2008)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quote of the Day

. . . Who in the [entertainment] industry wouldn’t be proud if Oscar broadcast participants showed solidarity with the working people of Wisconsin? Year in and year out, on the red carpet and onstage at the Kodak theatre, we see red AIDS ribbons on gowns and tuxedo lapels. On Sunday, why not the clenched fist symbol, which supporters of Wisconsin’s municipal employees have adopted in homage to the early 1980’s Polish shipyard workers movement?

Every time people watching the 83d annual Academy Awards laugh at a joke, they’ll remember it was written by a member of the Writers Guild of America... that every tune they enjoy is played by members of the American Federation of Musicians. . . .

– Michael R. Miller
"83rd Academy Awards: A Clenched Fist on Every Lapel"
February 26, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Across America, "the Giant is Awake"

At noon today I participated in a rally in St. Paul that was just one of hundreds across the U.S. held in solidarity with workers in Wisconsin.

As I'm sure you know, Wisconsin public workers, their families and supporters are holding steady at the Wisconsin Capitol in Madison in their fight against Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions.

Of course, that's just the surface issue. For as more than one speaker observed at today's rally in St. Paul, what's also under attack is the middle class – the 98% of Americans who are not the super-rich. Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it this way:

What [Wisconsin Governor Scott] Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.

And it seems more and more Americans are!

In Madison, something like
70,000 people gathered at the State Capitol. The crowd at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul numbered around 2,500.

In acknowledging the number of pro-worker rights rallies being held across the nation today, one speaker in St. Paul noted how all across America "the giant is awake." Indeed!

Following are photos I took at today's rally at the Minnesota State Capitol. They're accompanied by a commentary by Ralph Nader, "'Mad as Hell' in Madison," that was first published at Perhaps after today it should be entitled: "'Mad as Hell' Across the U.S"!

"Mad as Hell" in Madison

By Ralph Nader
February 26, 2011

The large demonstrations at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin are driven by a middle class awakening to the spectre of its destruction by the corporate reactionaries and their toady Governor Scott Walker.

For years the middle class has watched the plutocrats stomp on the poor while listening to the two parties regale the great middle class, but never mentioning the tens of millions of poor Americans. And for years, the middle class was shrinking due significantly to corporate globalization shipping good-paying jobs overseas to repressive dictatorships like China. It took Governor Walker’s legislative proposal to do away with most collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions to jolt people to hit the streets.

Republicans take rigged elections awash in corporatist campaign cash seriously. When they win, they aggressively move their corporate agenda, unlike the wishy-washy Democrats who flutter weakly after a victory. Republicans mean business. A ram rod wins against a straw all the time.

Governor Walker won his election, along with other Republicans in Wisconsin, on mass-media driven Tea Party rhetoric. His platform was deceitful enough to get the endorsement of the police, and firefighters unions, which the latter have now indignantly withdrawn.

These unions should have known better. The Walker Republicans were following the Reagan playbook. The air traffic controllers union endorsed Reagan in 1980. The next year he fired 12,000 of them during a labor dispute. (This made flying unnecessarily dangerous.)

Then Reagan pushed for tax cuts—primarily for the wealthy—which led to larger deficits to turn the screws on programs benefiting the people. Reagan, though years earlier opposed to corporate welfare, not only maintained these taxpayer subsidies but created a government deficit, over eight years, that was double that of all the accumulated deficits from George Washington to Jimmy Carter.

Maybe the unions that endorsed Walker will soon realize that not even being a “Reagan Democrat” will save them from being losers under the boot of the corporate supremacists.

The rumble of the people in Madison illustrates the following:

1. There is an ideological plan driving these corporatists. They create “useful crisis” and then hammer the unorganized people to benefit the wealthy classes. Governor Walker last year gave $140 million in tax breaks to corporations. This fiscal year's deficit is $137 million. Note this oft-repeated dynamic. President Obama caved to the Minority party Republicans in Congress last December by going along with the deficit-deepening extension of the huge dollar volume tax cuts for the rich. Now the Republicans want drastic cuts in programs that help the poor.

2. Whatever non-union or private union workers, who are giving ground or losing jobs, think of the sometimes better pay and benefits of unionized public employees, they need to close ranks without giving up their opposition to government waste. For corporate lobbyists and their corporate governments are going after all collective bargaining rights for all workers and they want to further weaken The National Labor Relations Board.

3. Whenever corporations and government want to cut workers’ incomes, the corporate tax abatements, bloated contracts, handouts and bailouts should be pulled into the public debate. What should go first?

4. For the public university students in these rallies, they might ponder their own tuition bills and high interest loans, compared to students in Western Europe, and question why they have to bear the burden of massive corporate welfare payouts — food stamps for the rich. What should go first?

5. The bigger picture should be part of the more localized dispute. Governor Walker also wants weaker safety and environmental regulations, bargain-basement sell-outs of state public power plants and other taxpayer assets.

6. The mega-billionaire Koch brothers are in the news. They are bankrolling politicians and rump advocacy groups and funding media campaigns in Wisconsin and all over the country. Koch Industries designs and builds facilities for the natural gas industry. Neither the company nor the brothers like the publicity they deserve to get every time their role is exposed. Always put the spotlight on the backroom boys.

7. Focusing on the larger struggle between the people and the plutocracy should be part and parcel of every march, demonstration or any other kind of mass mobilization. The signs at the Madison rallies make the point, to wit—“2/3 of Wisconsin Corporations Pay No Taxes,” “Why Should Public Workers Pay For Wall Street’s Mess?”, “Corporate Greed Did the Deed.”

8. Look how little energy it took for these tens of thousands of people to sound the national alarm for hard-pressed Americans. Just showing up is democracy’s barn raiser. This should persuade people that a big start for a better America can begin with a little effort and a well-attended rally. Imagine what even more civic energy could produce!

Showing up lets people feel their potential power to subordinate corporatism to the sovereignty of the people. After all, the Constitution’s preamble begins with “We the People,” not “We the Corporations.” In fact, the founders never put the word “corporation” or “company” in our constitution which was designed for real people.

As for Governor Walker’s projected two-year $3.6 billion deficit, read what Jon Peacock of the respected nonprofit Wisconsin Budget Project writes at about how to handle the state budget without adopting the draconian measures now before the legislature.

– Ralph Nader
February 26, 2011

Recommended Off-site Links:
Largest Crowds Since Vietnam War March in Wisconsin – James Kelleher and David Bailey (Reuters, February 26, 2011)
Wisconsin Police Join Protest Inside State Capitol – Jenn Breckenridge (The Understory, February 26, 2011).
In Solidarity: Gay Workers Join Anti-Walker Protests – Lisa Neff and Scott Foval (Wisconsin Gazette, February 25, 2011).
Protesters Across U.S. Decry Wisconsin Anti-Union Efforts
– Patrick Condon and Todd Richmond (Associated Press, February 26, 2011).
Koch Brothers a Force in Anti-Union Efforts
– Andrew Stern (Reuters, February 26, 2011).
Locked Into the Wrong Debate
– Myles Dannhausen Jr. (, February 25, 2011).
U.S. Roman Catholic Bishops Note Moral Element of Union Debate (February 25, 2011).
From Egyptian Workers to American Workers: "We Stand with You as You Stood with Us"
– Kamal Abbas (, February 22, 2011).
The Real Issues: A Wisconsin Update
– George Lakoff (, February 26, 2011).
On Wisconsin and America – Robert Weissman (, February 26, 2011).
Shock Doctrine, U.S.A. – Paul Krugman (New York Times, February 25, 2011).
Minnesota Moves to Make the Rich Pay More Winona Daily News (February 16, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
At the Minnesota Capitol, a Show of Support for Workers' Rights in Wisconsin and Beyond
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

A Moment of Levity

. . . courtesy of
Marauding Gay Hordes Drag Thousands
of Helpless Citizens From Marriages

After Obama Drops Defense of Marriage Act

February 25, 2011

WASHINGTON — Reports continue to pour in from around the nation today of helpless Americans being forcibly taken from their marital unions after President Obama dropped the Defense of Marriage Act earlier this week, leaving the institution completely vulnerable to roving bands of homosexuals.

"It was just awful — they smashed through our living room window, one of them said 'I've had my eye on you, Roger,' and then they dragged my husband off kicking and screaming," said Cleveland-area homemaker Rita Ellington, one of the latest victims whose defenseless marriage was overrun by the hordes of battle-ready gays that had been clambering at the gates of matrimony since the DOMA went into effect in 1996. "Oh dear God, why did they remove the protection provided by this vital piece of legislation? My children! What will I tell my children?"

A video communique was sent to the media late yesterday from what appears to be the as-yet unidentified leader of the gay marauders, who, adorned in terrifying warpaint, announced "Richard Dickson of Ames, Iowa. We're coming for you next. Put on something nice."

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – February 23, 2011
Quote of the Day – February 24, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

"The Land of the Unknown . . ."

Writes Tom Engelhardt . . .

. . . [Y]ou have to strain to fit this Middle Eastern moment into any previous paradigm, even as – from Wisconsin to China – it already threatens to break out of the Arab world and spread like a fever across the planet. Never in memory have so many unjust or simply despicable rulers felt quite so nervous – or possibly quite so helpless (despite being armed to the teeth) – in the presence of unarmed humanity. And there has to be joy and hope in that alone.

Even now, without understanding what it is we face, watching staggering numbers of people, many young and dissatisfied, take to the streets in Morocco, Mauritania, Djibouti, Oman, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, and Libya, not to mention Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt, would be inspirational. Watching them face security forces using batons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and in all too many cases, real bullets (in Libya, even helicopters and planes) and somehow grow stronger is little short of unbelievable. Seeing Arabs demanding something we were convinced was the birthright and property of the West, of the United States in particular, has to send a shiver down anyone’s spine.

The nature of this potentially world-shaking phenomenon remains unknown and probably, at this point, unknowable. Are freedom and democracy about to break out all over? And if so, what will that turn out to mean? If not, what exactly are we seeing? What light bulb was it that so unexpectedly turned on in millions of Twittered and Facebooked brains – and why now? I doubt those who are protesting, and in some cases dying, know themselves. And that’s good news. That the future remains – always – the land of the unknown should offer us hope, not least because that's the bane of ruling elites who want to, but never can, take possession of it.

. . . So much of what Washington . . . imagine[d] in these last years [has] proved laughable, even before this moment swept it away. Just take any old phrase from the Bush years. How about “You’re either with us or against us”? What’s striking is how little it means today. Looking back on Washington’s desperately mistaken assumptions about how our globe works, this might seem like the perfect moment to show some humility in the face of what nobody could have predicted.

It would seem like a good moment for Washington – which, since September 12, 2001, has been remarkably clueless about real developments on this planet and repeatedly miscalculated the nature of global power – to step back and recalibrate.

As it happens, there's no evidence it's doing so. In fact, that may be beyond Washington’s present capabilities, no matter how many billions of dollars it pours into “intelligence.” And by “Washington,” I mean not just the Obama administration, or the Pentagon, or our military commanders, or the vast intelligence bureaucracy, but all those pundits and think-tankers who swarm the capital, and the media that reports on them all. It’s as if the cast of characters that makes up “Washington” now lives in some kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking.

As a result, Washington still seems remarkably determined to play out the string on an era that is all too swiftly passing into the history books. . . .

– Tom Engelhardt
"All-American Decline in a New World"
February 24, 2011

Mmm . . . Engelhardt's critique of Washington is applicable to the clerical caste of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it too is living in a "kind of echo chamber in which it can only hear itself talking" and, as a result, is "swiftly passing into the history books."

What momentous times we're living through – in both our world and our church!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – February 2, 2011
At the Minnesota Capitol, a Show of Support for Workers' Rights in Wisconsin and Beyond

Image: Via Hussam Zain.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

The opponents of equality for all Americans lost big on Wednesday with the announcement by President Obama that he has decided that the so-called "Defence of Marriage Act" (DOMA) is unconstitutional – and his administration will no longer defend it in federal court.

Hate groups like the National Organisation for Marriage (NOM), which had spent tens of millions of dollars in just the last three years to take away rights from so many Americans, are panicking. They have been very successful in stopping and removing gay marriage in a majority of the states. But with this announcement, the sky has fallen right on their heads.

. . . This is a huge step for an administration that has previously upheld DOMA as constitutional. It sends a powerful message that discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in this country.

– Fred Karger
"Gay Marriage Decision: A Blow to the Enemies of Equality"
The Guardian
February 24, 2011

Recommended Off-site Links:
Ten Takeaways from Obama's DOMA Reversal – Andrew Cohen (The Atlantic, February 23 2011).
Obama's Got GOP Trapped on Gay Marriage – Matt Cantor (, February 24, 2011).
Gay Marriage Seems to Wane as Conservative Issue – Michael D. Shear and Sheryl Gay Stolberg (New York Times, February 24, 2011).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – February 23, 2011
A Message for NOM and the Catholic Hierarchy)
A Catholic Statement of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality
A Catolic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol
Catholic Theologian: "Heterosexism, Not Homosexuality, is the Problem"
A Christian Case fr Same-Sex Marriage
Steve Chapman: "Time is on the Side of Gay Marriage"

Image: Photographer unknown.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

At the Minnesota Capitol, a Show of Solidarity for Workers' Rights in Wisconsin and Beyond


Workers have a right to organize into unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. And a strong, free labor movement is an invigorating and necessary part of our industrial society. . . . Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these . . . things, but their number is negligible and they are stupid.

– Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower,

My, how things have changed since the Republican Eisenhower spoke these words! Sadly today, those seeking to eliminate labor laws and workers' rights in the U.S. are no longer "a tiny splinter group." Yet resistance to their efforts are growing across the country.

Yesterday afternoon, for instance, I participated in a very spirited rally at the Minnesota State Capitol in solidarity with public workers in Wisconsin who, along with their allies, are opposing Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining and unilaterally cut benefits.

I've been to numerous rallies at the Capitol Rotunda over the years but this one was by far the most well-attended (and thus boisterous!). I've since heard that approximately 1,000 people gathered yesterday to show and voice their support for workers' rights.

Following are photos I took at yesterday's rally accompanied by quotes and links related to the situation in Wisconsin and beyond.

More than 1,000 Minnesota union workers [and their families and allies] raised the roof of the state Capitol, raised their arms and raised their voices Tuesday to chant: "We are one."

In one of the building's larger rallies in recent memory, the workers came to the Capitol to declare their solidarity with unions in Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, unions are battling a proposal to virtually eliminate collective bargaining and cut their pay. The moves brought the Wisconsin Legislature to a standstill, made 14 Democratic Senators leave the state to stall the proposal and tens of thousands to the Madison Capitol to rally day after day.

Such measures, Gov. Mark Dayton assured the cheering St. Paul crowd Tuesday, will not become law in Minnesota.

"Drastic extreme measures will not become law here. They won't become law here because I'm here," Dayton said to chanting, applauding masses, who beat on drums and filled the Capitol's rotunda and upper floors."Working men and women's basic rights to organize . . . will not be taken away here, because I'm here. . . . We will not become Wisconsin."

– Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
"Union Rally in Minnesota: 'We Are All Citizens of Wisconsin'"
Star Tribune
February 23, 2011

The uprising that swept Tunisia, Egypt, and parts of Europe is showing signs of blossoming across the United States.

In Wisconsin, public employees and their supporters are drawing the line at Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining and unilaterally cut benefits. School teachers, university students, firefighters, and others descended on the capital in the tens of thousands, and even the Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers have weighed in against the bill. Protests against similar anti-union measures are ramping up in Ohio.

Meanwhile, another protest movement aimed at protecting the poor and middle class is in the works. Cities around the country are preparing for a February 26 Day of Action, “targeting corporate tax dodgers.”

The strategy picks up on the UK Uncut campaign, begun when a group at a London pub — a firefighter, a nurse, a student, and others — came up with an idea that is part flash mob, part sit-in. In an article published in The Nation, reporter Johann Hari tells the story of the group’s frustration about government cutbacks. If Vodafone, one corporation with a huge back-tax bill, paid up, the cutbacks wouldn’t be needed. The group spread the word over social media, and held loud, impolite demonstrations. The idea quickly went viral, and flash mobs/sit-ins materialized at retail outlets across Britain, shutting many of them down. . . .

– Sarah van Gelder
"Wisconsin: The First Stop in An American Uprising?"
February 18, 2011

. . . [W]hat’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side. . . .

– Paul Krugman
"Wisconsin Power Play"
New York Times
February 20, 2011

The escalating confrontations in Wisconsin and Ohio are ultimately about preventing the United States from becoming a full-on fascist state.

The stakes could not be higher – or more clear.

As defined by its inventor, Benito Mussolini, fascism is "corporate control of the state." . . . [I]t's time to end all illusions and call what we now confront by its true name.

The fights in Wisconsin, Ohio, and in numerous other states are about saving the last shreds of American democracy.

– Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
"Fighting the Five Fascisms in Wisconsin and Ohio"
The Free Press
February 21, 2011

The demonstrators in Madison, Wis., are fighting to preserve American hopes for opportunity and security that conservative Republicans are trying to destroy.

Republican efforts in Washington, D.C., and Madison go hand in hand. The union members in Madison are fighting an effort by the Republican governor and Legislature to take away public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights. Elimination of such rights in public- and private-sector unions would leave workers without protection, leading to a widening of the gulf between the rich and the poor or those of moderate income. In Washington, right-wing Republicans in power in the House of Representatives are demanding cuts in education and other programs that help working people’s chances of bridging that gap.

Let’s hope the efforts of the Madison demonstrators will stir the liberal grass roots to fight the GOP with the energy the protesters are displaying at the Wisconsin Statehouse. Not enough people see the connection between Madison, Washington and the oppression of working people. . . .

– Bill Boyarsky
"The Madison-Washington Connection"
February 22, 2011

The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class — pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class.

By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish.

Republicans would rather no one notice their campaign to shrink the pie even further with additional tax cuts for the rich — making the Bush tax cuts permanent, further reducing the estate tax, and allowing the wealthy to shift ever more of their income into capital gains taxed at 15 percent. . . .

Class Warfare in Wisconsin:
10 Things You Should Know

By Josh Healey
February 17, 2011

1. The deficit is a made-up crisis.

Like most states, Wisconsin is struggling in the recession, but the state government isn’t actually broke. The state legislature’s fiscal bureau estimated the state would end the year with a $121 million balance. Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — but it is not because of an increase in worker wages or benefits. According to the Capital Times, it is because “Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for corporate and special-interest groups in January.” Nice. A man-made “crisis” as an excuse to push neo-liberal cutbacks: Shock Doctrine, anyone?

2. Even if there was a deficit, blame Wall Street — not the workers.

The economy isn’t crumbling because state workers in Madison have decent pensions. It’s because Wall Street bankers stole our money, Bush and now Obama have us in two trillion-dollar wars, and states like Wisconsin keep spending more on prisons than schools. What do the rich pay? According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, corporate tax income has fallen by half since 1981 and over two-thirds of Wisconsin corporations pay zero taxes.

3. The Green Bay Packers are with the people.

They won the Super Bowl. They’re owned by the people of Green Bay, not some schmuck billionaire. And now the Pack is standing in solidarity with their union brothers and sisters. If only Brady Poppinga would tackle Scott Walker like that. If the green and gold are down, you already know what side to roll with. (I heard Walker is a Vikings fan, anyway.)

4. This is not “just another Madison protest.”

Madison is famous for its progressive tradition, but this is more than just another march down State Street. This struggle is engaging people across the state — not just Madison and Milwaukee, but LaCrosse, Eau Claire, and outside Gov. Walker’s home in Wauwatosa. This struggle is multi-racial, multi-generational, and multi-issue. Working- and middle-class white folks (the majority population) might finally realize that long-term unity is stronger than short-term tax relief. Looking for the progressive antidote to the Tea Party? They’re brewing something in the Badger State.

5. Public worker unions were founded in Wisconsin.

The first union for public employees was actually started in Madison in 1932, to ensure living wages for the workers and end political patronage for government jobs. The biggest public union, AFSCME, was born right where the protests are happening today in Madison. Wisconsin has always had a dual legacy — home to the last Socialist mayor in the country (Frank Zeidler of Milwaukee) and the ultimate anti-Communist himself, Joe McCarthy; more recently, both progressive Sen. Russ Feingold and immigrant-basher Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner — but the Dairyland’s populist ethos can be traced back to the Progressive Era and its public unions.

6. Hurting public workers will not help you get a better job.

Many conservatives, and even some liberals, argue that we need to “bring public workers’ benefits down to the level of private workers.” First off, it’s not true that public workers are better off — they usually get lower wages in exchange for better benefits. More important, though, is the idea that we should raise all boats, rather than continue this race to the bottom. Russ Feingold said yesterday that “Republicans are trying to pit private workers against their public counterparts.” No more divide and conquer. Yes, people with a private-sector job (or, people who like 50% of black men in Milwaukee don’t have a job at all) have a right to be angry: but that anger should be reserved for the companies who are downsizing and outsourcing those jobs, not for middle school teachers and the lunch lady.

7. This is about more than unions.

This is about public education, affirmative action, immigrant rights, stopping foreclosures, and basic human rights. This is about how much the Radical Right thinks they can get away with. This is about drawing a line in the sand — if first they come for the unions, who will they come for next?

8. The country is watching Wisconsin.

What happens this week in Madison has national ramifications. Right now, everyone’s eyes are on Wisconsin. The governor of Ohio and Tennessee are threatening to adopt similar legislation — and Obama has his own conservative budget proposal at the federal level. If they can force it through relatively liberal Wisconsin, your state could be next.

9. Wisconsin was watching Egypt.

News travels fast, and uprisings inspire each other across continents. The protesters out on the Madison streets watched the millions of Egyptians who successfully, nonviolently took down their dictator. Many of them are now carrying signs like the one below calling Scott Walker “the Mubarak of the Midwest.” And while the American media loves the union workers that toppled a dictator in Egypt, CNN has little sympathy for the workers that will be silenced right here in the heartland.

10. Whose Capitol? OUR Capitol!

This is our moment. Our state. Our growing movement to change the course of the country. The legislature could vote as soon as today on Walker’s bill — unless the real Badgers stand up to stop him.

The protests are escalating every day, inside and outside the Capitol. To all my Madison folks, stay strong and know that we’re with you. To the rest of the country, spread the word, donate to the legal defense funds, and make sure your own states don’t go down this same road.

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Recommended Links:
Uprisings: From the Middle East to the Midwest – Amy Goodman (, February 22, 2011).
On Wisconsin! – Jay Walljasper (On the Commons, February 21, 2011).
The 100 Best Protest Signs at the Wisconsin Capitol – Matt Stopera (, February 20, 2011).