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05 June 2011

Walkerville: Stop the Attack on Wisconsin Families

Walkerville.  I don't even know where to begin.  WALKERVILLE.

A couple months ago, when the occupation of the Capitol was shut down, some people began sleeping outside instead.  It was February in Wisconsin, and they were either true patriots or idiots, depending on your view.  These hovels were dubbed Walkerville.

It's funny, because it's like Hoovervilles, except for Gov. Scott Walker.  So let's go back in history for a bit, hmm?  According to Wikipedia, "Hooverville was the popular name for shanty towns built by homeless people during the Great Depression," thus named for then-president Hoover who was deemed responsible for allowing the U.S. to slide into a depression.  Interesting tidbit from Wikipedia: the term was coined by Charles Michelson, publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee.  
a Hooverville in Central Park, NYC
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a Hooverville in Red Hook, NY
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To nitpick, the name should be Obamaville (or Bushville, if you prefer).  The state of Wisconsin's economy is directly correlated to the Great Recession.  Some would argue that Walker is using the recession as an excuse to "bust unions", though, so let's let the naming slide.  Besides, naming it Walkerville is an obvious marketing campaign, just like the original.

Walkervilles have come back.  The city okayed permits for a Walkerville occupation along a few blocks of the downtown square.  The occupation starts tonight and last until June 20th.  The purpose?  Well, that's a good question.

To answer, I need to tell a story about my alma mater.  It was a strange little school tucked away in Nashville, TN.  Very conservative.  Most students had little exposure to the harsher aspects of life.  Every year there was a... I don't know the right word.  An event?  A rally?  A demonstration?  Every year, students slept outside for one night on the grass circle in the middle of campus.  It was supposed to draw attention to homelessness.

The students brought in cardboard boxes, duct tape, newspapers, and other appropriate materials.  They crafted little clubhouses, and they decorated them with newspaper curtains.  They giggled as they played, and they slept in cozy sleeping bags, thinking they were experiencing what it's like to be homeless.

In the morning they tossed their "homes" in the trash and went to the cafeteria for breakfast.

I always found this vulgar.  There's simply no other word for it.  Those students did mean well, but their actions were ridiculous.  Worse, their actions were harmful.  The purpose of the sleep-in was to draw attention to homelessness.  Instead, these individuals felt emotionally fulfilled by doing, essentially, nothing to help the homeless.  They simply didn't understand how very real homelessness is, nor did they care to do something constructive to help the homelessness problem.  They preferred to get caught up in a fun game that could make them feel good.  They made a mockery of themselves and their cause.

Those sleeping in the new Walkerville are doing it because Walker is trying to pass laws that negate the public sector unions' power in this state.  (The bill was on the table in February, when the protests first occurred, then it was passed, and then it got tied up in the courts and spat back out at the legislature.  It's scheduled to be passed again sometime this month.)  The state is broke, which the protesters deny, and Walker has been making severe cuts and changes to help the state get back on solid ground.  The protesters disagree with the decisions Walker is making, and when asked for alternative plans, their solution is to tax the rich.

The government workers have had a small percentage change to the amount they contribute to their pensions and healthcare.  They say that's fine.  It's not about the money.  It's about the "right" to collectively bargain, which Walker is trying to cease.

So if it's not about the money... why Walkerville?  I suppose it's a clever way to infer monetary issues without discussing them outright, as well as to associate Governor Walker with the recession.

Here are some pictures from the debut of the new Walkerville.
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Walker wants to muzzle you... but you've been given permission to demonstrate on the street?
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Life is so hard that we have free books!
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Happy family!  A modern day Grapes of Wrath!
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And, my personal favorite...
shirt reads "Stop the attack on Wisconsin families"
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I'll tell you something about Wisconsin Families.  Most of them rely on paychecks from Wisconsin businesses for their food, shelter, fancy tents, and whatnot.  The way to support Wisconsin families is to support Wisconsin businesses.  Take a look at that first picture again.  Yep, these people are camped out in front of Wisconsin businesses.  When they applied for their permit, the businesses were outraged.  The protesters pretty much said "We're gonna do it regardless, so you might as well make it legal."  

Stop the attack on Wisconsin businesses, asshole.

Most importantly, let's consider the signs and symbols they are using to make their case.  They're using tents/"Hooverville" imagery to denote the poor economic situation of... the state?  Them?  I don't know.  They deny that the state is broke, so that can't be it.  They say it's not about the money being taken out of their paychecks, so surely that can't be it...  What is it?

They say they aren't protesting; it's a vigil.  They're keeping watch on the legislature, and they want to make sure that their constant presence is a reminder of that.  Sounds like intimidation to me...
There's danger afoot and these vigil-ers - whether 3 or 3 thousand - are a visible reminder to the statesmen & women to do the right thing, that indeed that they are being watched - from near and afar! The vigil demonstrates the continuing resistance to the governor's attack on working people. 
Their mission, however, is clear: occupation.
"If they push us out of the capitol, then we will find expression on the rest of the capitol grounds. If they push us out of the capitol grounds, then we will find expression in the rest of the streets and shops of downtown. If they push us out of the streets and shops of downtown, we will find expression in the rest of the city of Madison. If they push us out of the city of Madison, it's the state of Wisconsin. If they push us out of Wisconsin, it's the USA!"
Many different things irk me about the entire political climate of the past fews months, and I could cry and whine about how mobs of people are ruining my city; their version of "democracy" includes vandalizing historic public property; the unions no longer serve the valorous duties of the first unions; etc.  I've got a unique Irk to vent for this particular display of hubris.

Wisconsin's poverty rate is 10.5% (2009).  That's nearly 600,000 people who do not have fancy tents.  What about those Wisconsin families?  Just like the yahoos at my college, these "vigil-ers" are parading around, demanding "rights", and playing dress up while there are real people in the state with very real problems.  Are they demanding that Walker earmark funds for people who are actually living in "Hoovervilles"?  No.  They just want their union bosses to maintain their collective bargaining so that public sector employees get the best piece of the pie possible.  

When the public sector gets the best piece of the pie possible, that money comes from somewhere... funds that could be spent elsewhere.  They ape homelessness to intimidate lawmakers into passing their agenda, which results in less funds available to help the homeless.  

Dear Vigil-ers, please stop the attack on Wisconsin families.

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