Monday, February 28, 2011

A Turning Point

Nancy Folbre, writing in the Economix blog at The New York Times, in a post called “Revolt of the Cheeseheads,” is calling the Saturday rally in Madison, Wisconsin, a threshold moment in U.S. history, but for different reasons than the ones I spelled out after following the rallies nationwide on Saturday.

Folbre happened to be in Madison last week and had the opportunity to see the protest signs and posters firsthand. She was surprised, I think, to find that the protest signs summarized the issues at hand better than anything the news stories had been saying up to that point. In other words, it is the protesters who really know what’s going on, while the politicians, press, and pundits have been in a state of denial.

In the last two days we’ve seen news reporters correct some of their earlier misreporting. Some of the credit for that goes to Forbes, where columnist Rick Ungar set the record straight about the Wisconsin pay cut package in “The Wisconsin Lie Exposed – Taxpayers Actually Contribute Nothing To Public Employee Pensions.” That was on Friday, and late on Saturday the news coverage of the labor dispute in Wisconsin started to use the phrase “pay cut.” Corrections of other details are starting to creep into the news reports too. The people who have the clearer understanding of a situation tend to win out in the end, and with Wisconsin’s governor now fleeing the state in a state of confusion, he is giving up any chance he may have had to frame the debate.

If the people out on the street know what’s going on, we had better find out what is going on too. That was that message that has been starting to sink in in Madison, and after the rallies on Saturday, nationwide. To call this a “revolt” at this point is a bit of hyperbole, of course, but the effect of the new worker’s rights movement is just as revolutionary. The Saturday rallies, you may recall, were planned in just five days. In the next five days, more things will change. The people in positions of power are on notice now that if they can’t keep up with the tide of change, they will be left behind, forgotten.