Being part of a crowd of between 20,000 and 40,000 Wisconsinites at the recall rally at the Capitol on Saturday was a thrill. The energy and optimism were infectious.
As usual, a lot of my kids' teachers and school staff were in the crowd. My second-grader's teacher was there with her baby in a sling and a sign: "Teacher by day, freedom fighter by night."
The flash-mob dancers -- a whole lot of people, mostly women, wearing red, doing a line dance to "Forget You" (renamed "Recall You"), included a bunch of PTA moms I happen to know. Watching them, I was struck by how down-home the recall effort is in Wisconsin.
On Friday, I was on Wisconsin Public Radio with former Lieutenant Governor Margaret Farrow, who tried to portray the people rallying to recall the governor a fringe group of malcontents who vandalized the Capitol last spring and spread ill will, and are receiving their funding and marching orders from out of state.
If you went to the rally on Saturday, it was clear how ridiculous those charges are.
The rally had the same folksy feel as the spring events around the square.
Not only are the teachers and PTA moms and snowplow drivers and firefighters and cops for labor there, but, according to the latest polls the growing majority of citizens who say they will vote to remove the governor from office--58 percent at last count--includes an increasing number of Republicans.
The petition drive, as I wrote last week is an intensely local, grassroots effort--driven by volunteers from neighborhood groups and block associations.
The question is whether these citizens can overcome the power of money and organization on the other side.
Because of a quirk in state law, public officials in Wisconsin who are targeted for recall are exempt from normal campaign finance limits, and can raise unlimited funds.
In addition, groups like Americans for Prosperity, which poured money into the state during the summer recall elections against Republican state senators, are gearing up again to smother the airwaves with pro-Walker propaganda.
Then there are Republican efforts to suppress the vote. Wisconsin's new voter I.D. law will make it harder for students, the elderly, African American and Latino voters, and low-income citizens to cast ballots.
I recently attended a training session where neighborhood activists were urged to use Organize for America voter lists to check and see if apartment residents had proper photo I.D, and if they knew how to register a change of address to be allowed to vote.
The new rules are confusing. Worse, the trainer told the group, there is a depressing effect on voter turnout just from talking about all the hoops voters will have to jump through to get registered and vote.
Clearing up misconceptions, and helping people register and vote without a hitch, is another challenge on top of the recall petition drive itself.
There will not be a set day for a recall election for some time--the Government Accountability Board will have to count all the signatures on recall petitions, and there will likely be legal challenges that delay things further.
So far, there is no candidate running against Scott Walker. (Russ Feingold disappointed people on Saturday morning when he reiterated his intention not to run.)
But at some point--probably in the spring--there will be a candidate and the recall effort will morph into a campaign.
For now, the recall has the festive feeling of a statewide party that most Wisconsin citizens are coming to--friends, neighbors, and relatives of all persuasions. Kind of like Thanksgiving, but more urgent.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Way to Go Ohio!"
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