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Madison Is Back To Brunch

BLM, Palestine Solidarity, Climate & Student Activism Eclipsed By Status Quo Politics

A Legacy Of Dissent Fades In the Neoliberal “Resistance” – Biden Mist


On our epic journey (in our 5th year now), I like to visit State Capitals and university towns, especially those with a rich political history.

So, while we’re in the Great Lakes region, we were sure to stop by Madison, Wisconsin.

Three years ago, we bypassed Madison for Ann Arbor and University of Michigan, where Students For a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded: (WiKi):

SDS developed from the youth branch of a socialist educational organization known as the League for Industrial Democracy (LID). LID itself descended from an older student organization, the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, founded in 1905 by Upton Sinclair, Walter Lippmann, Clarence Darrow, and Jack London. Early in 1960, to broaden the scope for recruitment beyond labor issues, the Student League for Industrial Democracy were reconstituted as SDS .[1] They held their first meeting in 1960 on the University of Michigan campus at Ann Arbor, where Alan Haber was elected president. The SDS manifesto, known as the Port Huron Statement, was adopted at the organization’s first convention in June 1962,[2] based on an earlier draft by staff member Tom Hayden. Under Walter Reuther‘s leadership, the UAW paid for a range of expenses for the 1962 convention, including use of the UAW summer retreat in Port Huron.[3]

(we learn something every day! I was not aware that there was a direct organizational link between one of my favorite authors, Jack London, and SDS)

The University of Wisconsin at Madison has an equally glorious history of organizing with SDS and student activism and dissent:

The Winter and Spring of 1967 saw an escalation in the militancy of campus protests. Demonstrations against military-contractors and other campus recruiters were widespread, and ranking and the draft issues grew in scale. The school year had started with a large demonstration against Dow Chemical Company recruitment at the University of Wisconsin in Madison on October 17. Peaceful at first, the demonstrations turned to a sit-in that was violently dispersed by the Madison police and riot squad, resulting in many injuries and arrests. A mass rally and a student strike then closed the university for several days. A nation-wide coordinated series of demonstrations against the draft led by members of the Resistance, the War Resisters League, and SDS added fuel to the fire of protest. After conventional civil rights tactics of peaceful pickets seemed to have failed, the Oakland, California, Stop the Draft Week ended in mass hit and run skirmishes with the police. The huge (100,000 people) October 21 March on the Pentagon saw hundreds arrested and injured. Night-time raids on draft offices began to spread.

Take a look at that incredible history of  Protests & Social Action at UW-Madison during the 20th Century from the UW archives, especially this from the decade of the 1960’s.

During the 1960’s, UW students were politically active and protested (hit links for in depth materials):

  • stores in the South to allow African-Americans to sit at lunch counters
  • whether the House Un-American Activities Committee should be retained.
  • U.S. nuclear testing.
  • for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
  • George Wallace
  • held a “Teach-In” about the Vietnam conflict
  • the draft
  • supported Senator Edward Kennedy
  • Dow Chemical, manufacturer of napalm & Agent Orange used in Vietnam (a general strike)
  • against the CIA
  • Martin Luther King assassination
  • the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (68)
  • workers rights and the grape boycott
  • strike with The Black People’s Alliance
  • against cuts in the state welfare budget.

Given that history, we were surprised by the quietude of a lovely Saturday May afternoon.

After walking through the Capital, the UW campus, and downtown, there were virtually no signs of political engagement.

We came across just one small demonstration at the Capitol, in solidarity with Palestine (joined across the globe in hundreds of cities, with one of the larger US protests in San Francisco). The young man on the left is a fine fellow. I only had $7 on me, so he gave me a discount on a copy of John Reed’s “Ten Days That Shook The World”. I returned the favor and gave him a free copy of Jack’s London’s classic “The Iron Heel” (with original cover from the London museum):




Maybe we arrived too early (it was after 3 pm). Local news reported that last Saturday, there was a larger solidarity event, with over 100 folks turned out.

Here’s what the Capitol looked like:


Here’s what the streets looked like:






Here’s what the campus looked like:


Madison has gone back to brunch.

What explains the quietude?

It could be reaction to the police violence and “riots” at BLM protests last summer, where the Mayor imposed a curfew (be sure to scroll down and check out the “scary” photo gallery published by local media.)

Or it could be continuing COVID fears.

Or it could be because the students have gone home for the summer.

Or it could be “except for Palestine” politics.

Or it could be a broader failure of the left and progressives, who increasingly are being co-opted – with the help of AOC, the Squad, and various “Resistance” organizations, sadly even Bernie Sanders and The Sunrise Movement – by the Biden and identity politics “Progressive Neoliberal” Democrats.

Or it could be the failure of the media, who are basically saying that Trump was the source of all evil and now that he’s gone, the Democrats are Socialists and have solved all problems with the COVID recovery and infrastructure initiatives and Speaker Pelosi’s Kente cloth vests.

Or it is could be all of the above.

Either way, it sucks.

The climate emergency accelerates and is not impacted by spin and political games.

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