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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012

Wisconsin Uprising

From Madison and the World

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Scott Walker underestimated the people of Wisconsin. He probably imagined the usual dozen activists, plus a handful of trade unionists already dispirited from a quarter-century of retreat, would gather outside his office with the usual brain dead chant: “Hey-ho, hey-ho, budget cuts have got to go!” Walker was probably as surprised as anyone when tens of thousands of ordinary citizens descended on Madison last winter after realizing that their way of life was being pushed to the brink. Raging ideologues, right-wing social engineers who'd blink at nothing, were trying to transform the world according to their lights. Walker was their mouthpiece and Wisconsin their test case.

One of the most inspiring aspects of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, From Madison to Wall Street (Nation Books) is the reporting from Ground Zero of last year's protests. Author John Nichols, a respected and well-traveled media commentator, was on hand to cover the events for the Capitol Times and The Progressive, and gives a more positive, exuberant and truthful picture of what happened than the view through the slanted lens of the mainstream media. What Nichols saw was a multi-generational crowd of off-duty police and students, firefighters and house makers, teachers and electricians, the beleaguered middle class, standing together for once against those who falsely claim to represent them.


Nichols is given to the rhetorical crescendos that are probably inescapable after a lifetime of covering politics. Can you write about sports without breaking a sweat? But it's easy to overlook the overkill in favor of the cogent analysis. Nichols is good to call out not only the bald-faced lies of Bill O'Reilly and company, but the more subtle distortions of mainstream pundits trapped inside an ideology they cannot even see, their biases cloaked “in claims of impartiality.” Uprising is a strong antidote to local TV newscasters who painted the protesters as an unruly mob rather than citizens united against policies that might leave us in a poorer country than the one we thought was our birthright.
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