Monday, February 28, 2011

"How Egypt inspired Wisconsin"

Andy Kroll (The War Room-Salon):
Egypt is a presence here in all sorts of obvious ways, as well as ways harder to put your finger on. The walls of the capital, to take one example, offer regular reminders of Egypt's feat. I saw, for instance, multiple copies of that famous photo on Facebook of an Egyptian man, his face half-obscured, holding a sign that reads: "EGYPT Supports Wisconsin Workers: One World, One Pain." The picture is all the more striking for what's going on around the man with the sign: a sea of cheering demonstrators are waving Egyptian flags, hands held aloft. The man, however, faces in the opposite direction, as if showing support for brethren halfway around the world was important enough to break away from the historic celebrations erupting around him.

Similarly, I've seen multiple copies of a statement by Kamal Abbas, the general coordinator for Egypt's Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services, taped to the walls of the state capitol. Not long after Egypt's January Revolution triumphed and Wisconsin's protests began, Abbas announced his group's support for the Wisconsin labor protesters in a page-long declaration that said in part: "We want you to know that we stand on your side. Stand firm and don't waiver. Don't give up on your rights. Victory always belongs to the people who stand firm and demand their just rights."


"The Mubarak of the Midwest"

On the Sunday after I arrived, I was wandering the halls of the Capitol when I met Scott Graham, a third-grade teacher who lives in Lacrosse, Wisconsin. Over the cheers of the crowd, I asked Graham whether he saw a connection between the events in Egypt and those here in Wisconsin. His response caught the mood of the moment. "Watching Egypt's story for a week or two very intently, I was inspired by the Egyptian people, you know, striving for their own self-determination and democracy in their country," Graham told me. "I was very inspired by that. And when I got here I sensed that everyone's in it together. The sense of solidarity is just amazing."

A few days later, I stood outside the capitol building in the frigid cold and talked about Egypt with two local teachers. The most obvious connection between Egypt and Wisconsin was the role and power of young people, said Ann Wachter, a federal employee who joined our conversation when she overheard me mention Egypt. There, it was tech-savvy young people who helped keep the protests alive and the same, she said, applied in Madison. "You go in there everyday and it's the youth that carries it throughout hours that we're working, or we're running our errands, whatever we do. They do whatever they do as young people to keep it alive. After all, I'm at the end of my working career; it's their future."

And of course, let's not forget those almost omnipresent signs that link the young governor of Wisconsin to the aging Hosni Mubarak. They typically label Walker the "Mubarak of the Midwest" or "Mini-Mubarak," or demand the recall of "Scott 'Mubarak.'" In a public talk on Thursday night, journalist Amy Goodman quipped, "Walker would be wise to negotiate. It's not a good season for tyrants." MORE...

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