It Started in Wisconsin
Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest
Publication Date: January 9, 2012
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In the spring of 2011, Wisconsinites took to the streets in what became the largest and liveliest labor demonstrations in modern American history. Protesters in the Middle East sent greetings—and pizzas—to the thousands occupying the Capitol building in Madison, and 150,000 demonstrators converged on the city.
In a year that has seen a revival of protest in America, here is a riveting account of the first great wave of grassroots resistance to the corporate restructuring of the Great Recession.
It Started in Wisconsin includes eyewitness reports by striking teachers, students, and others (such as Wisconsin-born musician Tom Morello), as well as essays explaining Wisconsin’s progressive legacy by acclaimed historians. The book lays bare the national corporate campaign that crafted Wisconsin’s anti-union legislation and similar laws across the country, and it conveys the infectious esprit de corps that pervaded the protests with original pictures and comics.
Mari Jo Buhle is Emeritus Professor of History and American Civilzation at Brown University. Her books include Women and American Socialism and, co-edited with Paul Buhle, the Encyclopedia of the American Left. She lives in Madison.
Paul Buhle,formerly a senior lecturer at Brown University, produces radical comics. He founded the SDS Journal Radical America and the archive Oral History of the American Left and, with Mari Jo Buhle, is coeditor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left. He lives in Madison.
John Nichols is the Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, a contributing writer for the Progressive and In These Times, and the associate editor of Madison, Wisconsin’s Capital Times. He’s the author of several books, including The Death and Life of American Journalism, The Genius of Impeachment and The “S” Word.
Michael Moore, a filmmaker, author and progressive-radical commentator on politics, has written and occasionally starred in documentary films. He directed and produced Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, and Capitalism: A Love Story.
Patrick Barrett is Administrative Director of the A. E. Havens Center for the Study of Social Structure and Social Change and an instructor in the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.
Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project and works on the CMD websites PRWatch.org, Sourcewatch.org and BanksterUSA.org.
Roger Bybee edited the weekly Racine Labor, 1979–93, and served as Communications Director of three statewide pro-labor organizations. He is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.
Ruth Conniff is the Political Editor of the Progressive. In 2011, the editors of Madison Magazine named Conniff’s coverage of the crisis in Wisconsin the “Best in Madison.”
Gary Dumm, a comic artist and long-time collaborator with the late Harvey Pekar, drew large portions of Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, and has contributed widely to other comic art anthologies.
Simon Hardy is a spokesperson for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) in the UK, a student at Westminster University and a member of the group Workers’ Power.
Frank Emspak, emeritus faculty, UW School for Workers, is currently the producer of Workers Independent News (WIN), headquartered in Madison.
Ashok Kumar is a former Dane County Supervisor (District 5) and was the Education Officer of the London School of Economics Students’ Union during the height of the UK student unrest in 2010.
Tom Morello, the lead guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, now records under the name Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman. His most recent album is World Wide Rebel Songs.
David Poklinkowski is a member of the Executive Board of the South Central Federation of Labor, has been President and Business Manager of IBEW Local 2304 in Madison since 1985, and has been Secretary of the Utility Workers Coalition—a coalition of utility unions from across the Midwest—since 1992.
Matthew Rothschild has worked at The Progressive since 1983 and has been the editor since 1984. He is the author of You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression and the editor of Democracy in Print: The Best of The Progressive Magazine, 1909–2009.
Sharon Rudahl, an art editor of the Madison alternative weekly Takeover, has contributed widely to comic art anthologies, and wrote and drew A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman.
Charity A. Schmidt is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. She is an active member of the Teaching Assistants’ Association (TAA) and continues to organize with various community groups in the ongoing Wisconsin struggle.
Kim Scipes is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana, and Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the National Writers Union. His latest book is AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage?
Nick Thorkelson, the first Underground Comix artist in Madison, drew The Underhanded History of the USA and illustrated The Earth Belongs to the People.
“[A] collection of stories from those that participated in one of the most inspiring movements to erupt in the US heartland in decades. Those stories provide the observer from afar with a fairly universal and nuanced look at the daily lives of those involved in organizing, occupying, reporting and otherwise participating in those weeks of popular democracy. Interspersed between the tales of the workers, students, farmers and other protesters are a number of photographs and comics. The inclusion of these graphics truly enhances the overall effect ... .worthwhile and provocative.”—Ron Jacobs, Counterpunch
“These essays delve into the historical, political, and ideological underpinnings of the 2011 events. [L]ater chapters are meatier, with events set against the backdrop of early-20th-century Wisconsin progressive politics when Governor Robert ‘Fighting Bob’ LaFollette began the crusade against the dominance of corporate America (at that time, railroads) over government. The book exposes how that same dominance continues today. [W]ill help readers, regardless of their own stance, to understand much of what’s at stake in the country’s current labor and political battles.”—Carol J. Elsen, Library Journal
“Midwest pride of place animates much of the writing, along with awareness of Wisconsin’s progressive history, the global context for the Madison protests and a genuine outrage that transcends the particular grievances of public sector union members. If anything, Walker has reawakened a dormant spirit of solidarity. The harvest of the extremism he sowed may be his own undoing.”—David Luhrssen, Express Milwaukee
“Convey[s] some deeper understanding and offer[s] important lessons valuable for struggles to come ... will stand as a future reference point for those wishing to get some later handle on what happened in the ‘Badger State.’ Importantly, several of the key essays provide a deeper backdrop for an understanding of what happened. The massive show of solidarity with those directly affected by the ‘budget repair bill’ did not come just from police and firefighters exempted from the assault, or from private sector trade union hands. It came from a broader public not directly tied to organized labor. [C]ontains several important perspectives on the state of Wisconsin labor, key for understanding the uprising.”—Allen Ruff, Against the Current