Assembling the wave of resistance in Wisconsin

Ryan Spoehr & Sarah Blaskey, Clarion staff

It is the end of the big rallies at the capitol. The occupation has long since been dismantled. But that doesn’t mean that the fight is over according to Ben Manski, a faculty member at Madison Area Technical College.

Manski is founder of Wisconsin Wave, an organization that sprung from a grass-roots push for a more democratic Wisconsin.  It includes anyone who wants to get involved with the fight against austerity.

“Initially, we had thought of it as just a campaign,” Ben Manski said. “What has become clear is that there is a need for organization beyond our existing unions, existing organizations, existing community groups and student groups.”

On April 9 and 10, Wisconsin Wave organized a People’s Assembly held at Georgia O’Keeffe Middle School and Madison Area Technical College’s downtown campus.

Other groups, like Wisconsin Resists, were also present at the event.  The idea was to regroup, reorganize, and prepare for a more prolonged struggle against austerity measures facing Wisconsinites today. It was also to provide an opportunity for new and experienced organizers to get together and put together new initiatives and coalitions. Featured speakers included Spencer Black, a former state representative, Sarah Manski, a sociology instructor at Madison College, and several student activists from the University of Wisconsin Madison.

“The purpose of this gathering is to provide the opportunity for organizing to really begin,” Ben Manski said. “That is definitely happening with these panels and workshops.”

The People’s Assembly consisted of major panels, where four to six people spoke on various topics, and workshops, to start popular discussions about different aspects of the struggle. Some topics covered this weekend were the history of austerity, building a popular movement, economic democracy, democratizing higher education, direct action, and immigrant rights.

In the democratizing higher education workshop, a group of several speakers focused on how to make education more representative of the people involved. Topics included the UW Madison split from the UW System, the badger partnership, and increasing tuition costs.

“UW Madison is closely related to the other UW schools and MATC,” said Leland Pan, student at UW Madison. “If Madison splits, that raises a lot of issues on how people transferring from other schools like MATC can get in.”

The event was attended by a wide demographic of people.  Most were from Madison, but some came from Stevens Point, Milwaukee, Chicago and even Mississippi.

The event registered around 300 participants and ran relatively smoothly. However, tension ran high at some of the major panels because of lack of adequate time for discussion after the speakers.  Several times members of the audience expressed concern that the panelists were pointing fingers at them.  When they asked for a chance to comment, they were told to wait until later discussions.

The initial goal was to hold the Madison College events at the Truax campus, but it was not available. However, the downtown campus allowed for connections to be made that may not have happened outside of downtown, according to Ben Manski.

“The most exciting thing for me as far as Madison College is concerned is that there are connections that have been made here between Madison College students and faculty and students and faculty from throughout the UW System,” Ben Manski said. “Also, (there are) connections with teachers and students from the high schools.”

On Sunday, pizza and salad were provided for lunch in between workshops.  People gathered to munch and discuss the events as they saw them.  The room was a buzz with rumors about Walker’s next items on the agenda.  Some people exchanged numbers to get in contact at a later date.

Manski and the Wisconsin Wave are still trying to see where the organization can go.

“On the one hand, there’s a desire on the part of tens of thousands of Wisconsinites that want to set the course of the destiny of Wisconsin,” Ben Manski said. “On the other hand, organizing that many people takes significant resources we don’t yet have.”