As incredible as the past two months have been in Wisconsin, we are now in a lull.
First there were the amazing, spontaneous protests -- tens of thousands of citizens gathering at the Capitol building for a public outpouring the likes of which we'd never seen.
Every week there were new, massive rallies and new, clever homemade signs. This was no organized action. It was a popular uprising, a coming-together of citizens from every corner of the state and every walk of life -- teachers, students, firefighters, snowplow drivers, university professors, lawyers, nurses, doctors, and prison guards.
This great cross-section of the public turned out to oppose the essential rightwing narrative: that we are in a "budget crisis" and public employees must pay their "fair share" by giving up benefits and collective bargaining rights; that the solution to the economic downturn is to give tax breaks to corporations, destroy environmental protections, and gut the infrastructure and public investment that make for a decent, livable society; that public schools have failed, teachers are lazy and overpaid, and we should shift to a privatized system of lean, mean education in which students' fate is decided by lottery, by vouchers, by privately managed experiments, and local schools with public accountability are gone.
"Goodbye Public Schools. Goodbye Middle Class," says one sign in a store window downtown.
It was incredibly moving to see that, even after years and years of rightwing propaganda about the need to lower taxes and weaken unions, regulation, and government generally, those huge crowds of people shared an understanding -- of the value of collective bargaining, the role unions play in maintaining a strong middle class, the value of investing in public services and the public good.
It helped that Governor Scott Walker behaved like a cartoon bad guy. In word and deed he seemed determined to serve the interests of his rich, corporate contributors at the expense of everyone else.
Even when the heads of the state's public employee unions offered to accept all of his cuts to pay and benefits (to the disgust of the rank and file) he stuck to his position that workers should simply not be allowed a place at the table.
Never has one man given such a shot in the arm to progressive values.
Walker spurred a populist revolt.
All that great energy, that reawakening of our shared sense of democracy, buoyed us up.
After the initial outpouring, there were the almost daily jolts of energy as the battles went to the courts: over whether the Walker Administration could get away with locking the public out of our own statehouse, and whether he would succeed in subverting state open-meetings law to ram through his union-busting bill.
But now we get to the hard part.
The momentum to oppose the whole assault on Wisconsin's middle class was built in large part on the decision of fourteen Democratic state senators to flee the state, depriving the Republicans of a quorum they needed to get any fiscal legislation -- including Walker's controversial budget "repair" bill quickly passed.
But then the Governor rammed through the union-busting portion of the bill all by itself. (The fate of that bill remains tied up in court.) The Democrats came back.
Activists focused their energy on the state Supreme Court race and catapulted an unknown liberal lawyer to frontrunner status. It looked like all that energy was going to tip the balance of the Court away from the Republicans. After a long night of neck-and-neck voter returns, and a dramatic reversal in which the Waukesha county clerk permanently sullied public confidence in elections by "finding" the exact number of votes the Republican candidate needed to avoid a state-financed recount, we hit a plateau.
There was no big, symbolic rally after Election Day. The recount will go on, but the outcome is far from promising.
There are still the recall drives, which could unseat three Republican state senators and deprive Walker of a rubber-stamp in the state legislature.
But for the Wisconsin revolution to realize its promise we have to get more than a slight lessening of the massive blows Walker has planned for the state.
Somehow we have to harness this spontaneous energy and channel it into a renewed labor movement, a renewed progressive politics.
This was a leaderless struggle from the beginning. As one AFSCME rank-and-file protester told me in the Capitol building "The Teamsters called to ask, 'How is the mobilization going?' This is not a mobilization. It's a popular uprising!" Union leadership was caught flat-footed. The Democrats in the legislature were blind-sided. Still, they hurried to join the rank and file.
The view from the top is discouraging. Union membership has been in precipitous decline for three decades, and nationally unions have focused on supporting a Democratic Party that doesn't support them on key issues like trade.
We have a President who generated tremendous grassroots enthusiasm, when he ran a seemingly progressive campaign, bragging about reaching an agreement with rightwing Republicans for "the largest annual spending cut in our history."
Obama has negotiated a budget deal that gives hundreds of billions in tax cuts to corporations -- including the Bush tax cuts he ran against -- accompanied by brutal cuts for Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps.
These are exactly the kinds of measures we are fighting in Wisconsin.
Progressive Majority, a group that recruits and trains progressive candidates in states around the nation points out that there are currently 744 pieces of antilabor legislation in state houses around the country.
The battle is on.
Thomas Kochan suggests in a HuffingtonPost blog that labor harness the energy of Wisconsin to re-energize and reorganize:
--unify the various labor groups
--reach out to progressive organizations generally and launch a coordinated campaign
--create a kind of pro-labor membership organization for non-unionized but supportive workers
--focus on the big issues of general concern in a public campaign -- education, family care, sustainability
A first step would be for the national unions to shift some of the hundreds of millions of dollars they have been focusing on supporting the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress to state level battles against anti-union campaigns. If Obama or Joe Biden or other national Dems want labor's support, they should take a break from striking deals with John Boehner and take a trip to Wisconsin to meet with their base.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsin Leads the War on Public Schools."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.