A Wisconsin protestor keeps things clean. (photo: d76)

MADISON, WI (FDL) – Journalist Amy Goodman addressed a jam-packed crowd at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, praising the labor protests that are well into their second week at the Capitol. Her main theme focused on “uprisings from the Middle East to the Midwest,” and she made several parallels between the two.

Many people have scoffed at any relationship between the life and death struggles in Egypt and elsewhere, and this peaceful protest in Madison. But Goodman, whose show “Democracy Now” will broadcast from the Capitol Rotunda today, rightly observed that the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia were, at the core, labor uprisings. She recounted the story of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian university student who couldn’t get work as anything but a street vendor, and was then harassed by the government out of that job. His self-immolation, out of class-based, worker-based desperation, sparked the uprising in Tunisia, which spread throughout the Arab world. Goodman was joined by her producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who reported from Cairo during the Egyptian revolution. He focused on what he saw in Egypt, but at the end said “it’s good to be somewhere that feels like home in Tahrir.”

Goodman noted the rich history of Madison and organized labor. AFSCME was founded here in 1932, the same union, she explained, that Martin Luther King went to Memphis to defend right before he was shot. “This is a matter of human rights and social justice,” she said. “It’s a bellweather of this happening all across the country.”

She cautioned the activists in the audience that these struggles often take a long time, and don’t always feature advances at every step. Indeed, Assembly Republicans ended debate in the middle of the night last night and passed the budget repair bill, by a count of 51-17, with four Republican No votes and 25 Democrats not voting (2 Republicans and 1 independent also didn’t record a vote). Protesters and Assembly Democrats howled at this unanticipated result. But with the State Senate Democrats in Illinois, we’re not really any closer to passage than we were before.

So Goodman was right to tell the crowd that progress is difficult. But she added that “when the moment comes, you will change history. It does take time, and most important it takes solidarity. Racial, social and economic justice is something we have to continually fight for.”

As for Gov. Scott Walker, Goodman had these words. “Walker would be wise to negotiate: it’s not a good season to be a tyrant.”

David Dayen

David Dayen