MADISON, WI -- It has been a wild first day for me reporting in Madison, Wisconsin, where protests have been going non-stop at the state Capitol against Republican Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposal, which would not only require greater employee contributions to state benefits packages but also strip state employees of most of their collective bargaining and union rights.
As I write this, I sit inside the state Assembly chamber, where members of the Democratic minority have been speaking almost non-stop against the bill, with only occasional speeches by Republicans or questions from the GOPers to the Dems. But they aren't the only voices being heard in this chamber -- there is an ever-present sound of demonstrators in the Capitol building, chanting and banging drums against the proposal. Their volume rises and falls, from a subtle background noise to clearly audible objections inside the chamber.
When Walker's address to the state this evening, which was billed by the media as a fireside chat, came on the monitor screens in the Capitol from Wisconsin Eye -- the state equivalent of C-Span --Â I could not hear even one word. He was instead drowned out by the protesters, who reached possibly their loudest volume of the whole day.
In order to understand why this proposal has struck a raw nerve in Wisconsin, to the point of having thousands or even tens of thousands of demonstrators picketing the Capitol day and night, it is important to understand the nature of progressive politics in the state -- something I learned firsthand when I was a resident of the state for six years. The Democratic Party in Wisconsin is, to an extent that is not true in most other states, a genuine labor party -- a party with deep ties to unions, with many politicians who have also been union officials, and whichÂ speaks for organized labor in key debates.
As such, a change to the state's union laws that would threaten the existence of organized labor in Wisconsin, would in turn threaten the existence of something else -- the Democratic Party in Wisconsin as people have known it for over half a century.
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