Dan S. Wang on Sun, 6 May 2012 10:04:33 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Wisconsin Report: hotly contested, no legitimacy at stake

Dear Nettime:

While the rest of the American left was out on May Day celebrating, trying
to make something happen, or block business as usual, Occupy Madison marked
the day by quietly closing down the encampment they¹d held for months. The
fact that this development meant practically nothing to the Wisconsin
movement speaks volumes about the different political space traveled by the
Wisconsin Uprising at this moment, compared to the national Occupy movement.
It is not Occupy that is on the mind of Wisconsinites, but rather the
upcoming Wisconsin recall election targeting governor Scott Walker and
several others.

The election, set for June 5, 2012, only about six weeks from now, was
forced by overwhelming petition. Before then, the Democratic and Republican
candidates will be winnowed down to one nominee from each party by a primary
election set for May 8, this coming Tuesday. May Day it is not. But unlike
the May Day protests, actions, symbolism, and demonstrations?whose sound and
fury, let¹s face it, are pretty easily tuned out by the mainstream (and not
just media, but actual people, by the tens of millions)?the consequences of
this election will be felt concretely by everyone in Wisconsin, activist or
not, and for way longer than the news cycle of a single day. Hundreds of
thousands in Wisconsin?probably even millions?will feel the effects of this
election directly in the measurable forms of a reduced paycheck, a lost job,
a health problem that leads to financial ruin, an unmanageable classroom,
and twenty other big things. Furthermore, the consequences will ripple out
nationally, either to draw a line on austerity attacks or to green light the
regressive austerity agenda.

It has been said by Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, and countless radicals that
if elections mattered, they would be made illegal. Well, through their
various voter suppression efforts, the Wisconsin GOP has been trying to do
exactly that?make voting difficult and legally restricted. This election
matters and they know it. But the movement grassroots has not grasped yet
the meaning of the election. We must discuss this, if the movement is to
have any hope of effectively continuing beyond the advertised finality of
the recall election. This is my attempt to think through how the movement
needs to interpret the election if the Uprising is to remain relevant,
powerful, and strategically ready on the morning of June 6, no matter who
wins or loses. 

Is this election of any significance to people outside of Wisconsin? For the
labor movement a Walker victory would be a national disaster. For the
regressive Republicans, a Walker defeat would be a repudiation with national
resonance. So yes, but differently.

Wisconsin has an open primary, meaning anybody of any party affiliation or
non-affiliation can vote for any of the candidates. Conservatives can vote
for a Democratic candidate and progressives can vote for a Republican. An
open primary removes the exclusivity of an official party-identified
electorate, which is good. At the same time, the open primary assures an
element of cynicism through tactical voting and bad-faith candidacies. 

For example, right now the Republicans are running several candidates in
Democratic primaries without a shred of pretense that they are anything
other than electoral hurdles and tactical disruptions. In the case of some
or maybe even all of the ³fake² Democrats, there is hardly anything
dishonest about them. For example, the Senate Majority Leader of the
Wisconsin state senate is Scott Fitzgerald, and he is facing a recall
election of his own (also June 5). In order to force the Democratic
challenger, Lori Compas, into spending resources on a primary election,
regressive Republican activist Gary Ellerman is running as a Democrat. If it
weren¹t for him, Compas would not have to compete in a primary at all. This
helps Fitzgerald by taking the fight to the Democratic primary election,
which, if enough Republicans vote in it, theoretically could be won by
Ellerman. Then he simply runs a concessionary campaign for the recall
election and hands a victory to his buddy Fitzgerald. So Compas must win the

This tactic was used back in the summer of 2011 against some of the
Democratic state senators facing recall. It has not been actually
successful, not to the point of actually undermining a good-faith candidate.
Not yet. But this time the Republicans are trying harder, and I heard some
rumor about Tea Partiers pledging to vote in the Democratic primaries.

The tricky part comes with the rule that however one chooses to vote in the
primary, a voter only gets one vote. So if conservatives spend their vote on
a bad-faith Democrat, then they leave the Republican side open for
progressive voters to do the same thing to them. Democrats, unsurprisingly,
are not aggressively taking the opportunity to generate havoc for the
Republicans by running bad-faith candidates, somehow being content to leave
the Republican candidate unchallenged while they sort out their own. As
usual we can chalk up the Democrats¹ timidity to a cowardice masquerading as
integrity?a lack of fighting spirit that essentially has become the national
Democratic brand, from Obama on down.

But here again, an opportunity opens up. Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a young activist
with no Democratic Party connection, recognized the gap and filled it by
running in the Republican gubernatorial primary as?and get this?not a ³fake²
Republican, but as a good-faith Lincoln Republican, a "Fighting" Bob
LaFollette Republican, which is a posture that carries inescapably more than
a whiff of irony, if not exactly bad-faith. Kohl-Riggs is recognized by many
in the uprising circles as a regular at Capitol demonstrations and for his
social media activism, so it is clear to all that he is certainly not of the
contemporary Republicans. But he is playing it straight, pounding the
argument that he is, in fact, the true conservative, that Scott Walker is a
traitor to the grand Lincoln tradition of integrity, justice, and
leadership, and that true conservatives will consider voting for him.

That Kohl-Riggs got himself on the primary ballot means that however secure
Walker and the Republicans feel, a signal has been sent. The mantle of the
LaFollette tradition?such a Wisconsin thing?could be picked up yet in the
future by some enterprising and substantive candidate who speaks the
language of Colbert irony, and who potentially could bring a measure of
chaos into the Republican side, and do it without any Democratic Party
involvement whatsoever. Could there really be an insurgent force of ironic
conservatism brewing somewhere that could invade the Wisconsin GOP? Not if
the GOP can help it, of course. See how they¹ve shut down the principled
libertarian candidate, Ron Paul, for years. But if Kohl-Riggs dedicates
himself to his idea, I for one would not discount the possibility of some
youth-driven movement to reclaim conservatism eventually gaining visibility.

Let¹s parse out the present situation.

Scott Walker, the incumbent Republican governor, faces a primary challenge
from Arthur Kohl-Riggs.

Democrats Kathleen Falk, Kathleen Vinehout, Tom Barrett, and Doug LaFollette
are running against each other in the primary. Gladys Huber, a known
Republican, is running as a bad-faith Democratic candidate.

Voters get one vote, and it goes to only one of the above seven
candidates?the vote will be spent on either a Democrat or a Republican, not
both. Say a sizable bloc of progressives decide to vote for Kohl-Riggs.
Maybe a previously non-voting bloc comes out of the woodwork, attracted by
the Kohl-Riggs novelty. Whatever the case, the vote total for Kohl-Riggs is
sure to be small. But in a tight Democratic primary, those votes (or rather,
the consequent non-votes for the Democrats) will make a difference. Where
might those non-votes leave Falk, given that, presumably, many of those
people would have voted for her over Barrett? Then again, a prediction based
on ideological correspondence perhaps would have many of Kohl-Riggs¹
crossover voters going for the outsider-ish progressives,Vinehout or

Similarly, conservatives who might otherwise have voted for Huber just to
mess with the Democrats might feel some pressure to spend their vote on the
Republican side for Walker because of Kohl-Riggs. If he were to attract even
a five-digit vote total, Kohl-Riggs, the future/throwback candidate, might
garner more media attention embarassing to Walker, and therefore (though we
know that Walker himself plays the unflappable zombie to inhuman perfection)
further damage the Republican brand. I can imagine conservative activists
thinking it more important to put on a display of overwhelming support for
Walker than throw vote wrenches into the Democrats¹ race by marking the
arrow for Huber.

As in an epic sporting contest in which the bad breaks, bad calls, and bad
bounces on both sides cancel each other out, perhaps the tactical manuveurs
will ricochet through all corners of the contest, leaving no perceptible
effect. Or, maybe it is all even until the very end, leaving a final
surprise to stand as the defining controversy that shifts a race this way or
that. Of course, unlike in sports, political candidates feel no special
obligation to respect the rules. They bend or challenge them all along the
way. And that, of course, only guarantees the expansion of cynical
tendencies?ie, that platoons of lawyers searching for technicalities end up
deciding the contest for the parties while ordinary voters throw up their
hands and wonder, why did we even bother doing this.

My armchair dissection may not clarify the elections themselves, and likely
further confuses one¹s predictions. But the very futility of sorting through
the permutations and possible outcomes of tactical versus naïve voting makes
apparent the larger but hardly abstract problem of legitimacy as it relates
to elections in general, and to this election in particular. Because of the
unavoidable cynicism and calculation inherent in voting, there can
be no moral legitimacy gained or lost in an election victory, period. The
Wisconsin movement must be very clear about this. No matter who wins or
loses, we will not accept the victory as the final stamp of legitimacy?any
outcome is in essence illegitimate on the level of values. An election is a
non-violent contest for control over the state¹s levers of coercion?and that
is all it is. This is a crucial statement to broadcast because should he
win, whether it be fairly or by theft, Scott Walker will wear the victory on
his sleeve, using its aura of legitimacy as a bludgeon. Make no mistake,
Walker and his GOP cabal have a second, more horrible act of legislative
aggression at the ready, to be unveiled just as soon as he beats back the
recall. To the good people of Wisconsin: be prepared to fight a governor
unafraid to rule by emergency executive decree?and everyday forward, he will
remind everyone that this is what the voters decided. Such will be the
emboldened Scott Walker we will face after his victory. 

Thus, it goes without saying that we must defeat Walker in June. This is no
small task given that Walker will have amassed a war chest that guarantees
dominance of television and radio advertising, and has the support of any
number of third party groups, flush with cash and a willingness to lie. 

But should this much-desired defeat come to pass, whoever the Democrat is
will have earned no legitimacy on a values level. The movement grassroots
must view and treat the new governor as distrustfully as any other
ambitious, ego-driven careerist politician all too capable of selling out
the public interest once in office (which is, of course, a specialty of the
Democrats). The values of the movement will only be expressed by the elected
leadership if the movement remains large, vital, visible, and beyond the
reach of both union and Democratic Party control?or, in other words,
dangerous, hydra-headed, and untamed. How to be that movement and yet engage
in the most difficult and momentous electoral contest most Wisconsinites
will have ever seen is the paradox within which the Uprising now exists. Let
us embrace it. 

My last thought concerns the mentality and commitment of a winning movement.
The last and perhaps most meaningful victory gained in the Wisconsin
movement was the successful blockage of new mining up north?a key item on
GOP¹s corporate agenda. The victory was gained at the Capitol through a
state senate vote, but was won over a translocal theater of activism and
coalition-building, binding together numerous groups and constituencies
across different parts of the state.
Of complementary significance was the willingness and even resignation among
coalition members regarding the likelihood of having to fight an eventual
ground war up north, pitting our bodies against their machines. Without this
coalition, led by the native peoples of the Bad River Band Chippewa, the
victory could not have been won. Without the latent militancy, spiritual
dedication, and specter of nihilism belonging to a people who recognize a
battle for survival when they see it, the victory could not have been won.
Without the ability to simultaneously: lobby legislators
politely and agitate on the streets angrily; collect independent,
scientifically-sound research and launch barbs of wit and ridicule at GOP
targets; pack the assembly hearings in person and disseminate information
through social media, the victory could not have been won.

The lesson is clear. Prepare for the worst. Work for the best. Make our
appeals to the hearts and minds of the unconvinced while standing firm at a
threshold of ultimate defense. And deal with whatever comes.

No, Brian, no neutrality here.

Dan w. 


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