Recall of Wisconsin Senators Bringing Out Big Numbers

Wisconsin Republicans may be feeling cocky after their hasty passage of an anti-worker bill, but they’ll start feeling nervous soon—because of people like Karl Gartung, a driver for UPS cartage services in Milwaukee and a steward in Teamsters Local 344.

Gartung has been out collecting signatures to recall his state senator, part of an effort Democrats say has produced—in a matter of days—one-sixth of the signatures needed to force a recall election of eight Republicans. They say they already have a quarter of what’s needed to put several of the most vulnerable up to a vote.

Gartung says he’s involved because “I have a union contract and I understand that the next step is making Wisconsin right to work. They would focus the unions on survival, not representation.”

I live in Alberta Darling’s district, a gerrymandered, L-shaped district that includes where I live in Milwaukee, but also River Hills where she lives on her one-and-a-half-acre estate. She is chair of the joint finance committee and supported Governor Scott Walker completely in her committee.

My wife and I went to Madison and wanted to get in to see our senator. When we met with her she took pains to point out to us that she was being checked on regularly—and an aide did check in on us. I don’t know what she thought we might do.

I had been to two rallies in Madison and wanted to do something different. I went to a meeting at a public library to get involved in the recall—there were 100 people packed into a room. You just couldn’t believe the energy. There was a total range of people, from students to senior citizens volunteering to staff offices. The whole thing was totally grassroots; it came from nowhere.



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Two from the labor council were the only ones that identified themselves as union, and me in my Teamsters jacket. It was totally broad-based; people are completely disgusted.

There were 120,000 people in Madison that day, so you have to figure there would have been even more at the meeting.

The next Sunday there was training in the afternoon. You had to wait an hour to get into the building; the line was down the block. They trained 600 people over two days.

There were 25-30 volunteer trainers. We’d go in 10 at a time, they’d show us the map, give advice on how not to have invalid signatures. There wasn't any training on what to say when you were asking for signatures. Nobody needed that.

Some went with voting lists walking the neighborhoods, walking door to door. Others went to high visibility areas like shopping malls, grocery stores. The temperature was 20 degrees. The first day they collected 2,500 signatures, the second day they reached 6,000. On the first weekend we got 25 percent of the total number we need—incredible.

I went to a drugstore parking lot. One guy flashed me a finger, but everyone else was like “Hell, yeah!” One lady said, “Can I sign five times?” If they stopped they were ready to sign.

If it wasn’t so dire, we’d be having a great time. Hey, we are having a great time. It’s just the pure joyful anger. There is no ambiguity. The joy is in the fact the people are so united and so together. The anger is absolute.

Jane Slaughter is a former editor of Labor Notes and co-author of Secrets of a Successful Organizer.


ckutalik (not verified) | 03/14/11

"The next Sunday there was training in the afternoon. You had to wait an hour to get into the building; the line was down the block. They trained 600 people over two days."

Incredible, It's hard to believe that the ultra-leftists are treating such a self-evidently bottom-up effort as some kind of defeat for the movement. This really is what democracy looks like: layers of new activist leaders training others to become leaders on a mass scale.