They violated the state’s open meetings law, breached the right of Wisconsin residents to rally in their own state capitol building, and contravened conventional standards of fairness by voting to deny workers their rights without assembling a quorum of senators.
Free speech and free access to government protect America’s democracy. Walker & Crew disregarded First Amendment rights repeatedly.
Just this week, Walker & Crew locked protesters out of their own capitol building in Madison. They locked the few protesters already in the building out of the meeting rooms where senate and house members voted. They denied access even to progressive Wisconsin Assembly members, one of whom climbed through a colleague’s window to gain access to his workplace.
In the weeks since Wisconsin’s 14 progressive senators fled to Illinois to prevent the chamber from achieving the quorum needed to vote on a measure spending the people’s money, Walker & Crew also shut down access from the capitol to a web site posted by protesters. And they severely restricted protesters’ access to the capitol where a sit-in and sleep-in began in mid-February.
Protesters, who peacefully gathered in Madison in the tens of thousands, began chanting, “Whose house is it?” referring to the capitol. “It’s our house,” they responded.
That’s not the way Walker & Crew saw it. They said voters gave them control of the people’s house in last fall’s elections. That, apparently, means to them that they don’t have to listen to the will of the people anymore. Polls show a large majority – more than 60 percent – of Wisconsinites oppose stripping workers of collective bargaining rights.
Walker & Crew didn’t listen to the people. And they repeatedly attempted to shut the people up. The First Amendment was written and adopted to protect the people from that kind of oppression by political leaders.
In addition to shutting the people up, Walker & Crew attempted to shut them out. On Wednesday, without providing proper notice, the state’s conservative senators conducted a meeting to consider a newly-written measure to strip workers of their collective bargaining rights. Notice is required by states’ open meetings laws, sometimes called sunshine acts. These guarantee citizens access to government meetings and documents. They’re intended to prevent governments from conducting the people’s business in secret. These laws also require notice of meetings so that citizens can exercise their access rights.
Walker & Crew ignored the notice requirements so that they could ram through their legislation terminating workers’ rights before citizens could comment on or protest the new measure. The conservatives deliberately disregarded citizens’ right in a democracy to participate in the political process that directly affects their lives.
In addition, by clandestinely arranging the vote to be conducted without a quorum of senators, Walker & Crew asserted that although state law prohibits spending the people’s money without a quorum, they feel it is fine to strip citizens of their rights without a quorum. This is the stuff of oligarchy.
Throughout the first two years of the Obama administration, conservatives in the U.S. Senate repeatedly used the filibuster maneuver to prevent votes on legislation that would otherwise have been approved by a majority. The progressives in Wisconsin essentially performed a filibuster with their feet – by going to another state to prevent a vote. What Walker & Co. did this week was exploit a loophole to circumvent the filibuster-by-foot. They damaged the democratic process in a way the progressives in the U.S. Senate never even considered when thwarted repeatedly by filibusters.
Walker & Crew got what they wanted. They commandeered from workers the right to collectively bargain for a better life. They did it with nefarious methods that disrespect the Constitution, disrespect democracy and disrespect workers. They did it in a way that heaps dishonor on them.
Leo W. Gerard is the international president of the United Steelworkers union.