Can Sanders' campaign connect the dots on racial justice and economic inequality?
These races can legitimately give ordinary citizens hope for democracy. But make no mistake what we are up against: The hijacking and looting of our society by wealthy, well organized corporate interests.
Wisconsin's summer recall elections are over, and the tally is: Democrats--2, Republicans--0.
That leaves the state senate divided by just one Republican vote, and increases pressure on state Republicans to break ranks with their divisive leader, Governor Scott Walker.
Clearly, the final results are a brush-back to Republicans who supported Walker's radical agenda, particularly since the recall elections for Republicans took place on their own turf, in pro-Walker, Republican districts.
Had the recall efforts against any of three senate Democrats succeeded, the political message would have been mixed.
But the Republican message in the final races on August 16--that voters should punish Democrats who fled to Illinois to delay passage of Governor Scott Walker's bill to stop public employee collective bargaining--failed.
The message on the other side--that voters should get rid of Republicans who sided with Walker's aggressive agenda--succeeded in two races. The Democrats fell short of their goal to regain three seats, which would have put them in control of the state senate.
But the movement to recall Scott Walker can claim momentum coming out of these races.
That is the main result of the recall elections.
Walker has already managed to push through so much--from disempowering public employee unions to an aggressive redistricting map to voter ID to $1 billion in cuts to the public schools--that neither the thin senate majority the Dems hoped for nor the swing-vote victories they are now counting on--will undo much of the damage.
But the movement to turn things around in Wisconsin has made some tangible progress.
That brick-by-brick, block-by-block effort will continue into the fall, when efforts to recall Walker get under way.
The battle is daunting. Massive amounts of cash are lined up against ordinary citizens.
Spending on the recall efforts this summer reached somewhere between $25 million and $37 million--more than three times what was spent in the competitive state races of 2010, a "stratospheric" figure for just 9 seats, notes the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a watchdog group the tracks money in state politics and works for campaign finance reform.
But in the end, despite massive amounts of cash poured into the state by labor and national progressive groups on one side and the Club for Growth and Tea Party groups on the other, these were local races at the district level.
From the North Woods, where Jim Holperin defended his seat against Tea Party candidate Kim Simac, to industrial Kenosha on the state's southern border, where Bob Wirch easily defeated an opponent backed by Congressman Paul Ryan, voters supported the guy they knew, who came to community events and Eagle Scout ceremonies, who concerned himself with fighting off invasive fish species and with extending unemployment insurance to laid-off factory workers.
These races can legitimately give ordinary citizens hope for democracy.
But make no mistake what we are up against: The hijacking and looting of our society by wealthy, well organized corporate interests.
"Less than 1% of the population pays for all the election campaigning by Wisconsin politicians," the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign notes on its web site. "After buying the elections, that tiny fraction of our society ends up owning our government. The politicians they paid to elect then return the favor with what amounts to wealthfare payments tax breaks, pork barrel spending, patronage jobs, no-bid contracts for state government work and other special benefits. The huge special interest donations that fuel modern political campaigns are, in effect, legal bribes."
The Democracy Campaign is working to combat the power of money in Wisconsin politics with a plan called "Ending Wealthfare As We Know It."
The plan attempts to modernize Wisconsin's public financing scheme, adopted in the late 1970s, which has since been overrun by massive outside interest group spending and the Supreme Court's Citizens' United decision, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections.
The key elements of the plan are a public matching program for small-dollar political donations from candidates' actual constituents, a tax credit for small contributions, significantly tighter limits on campaign giving, and strict disclosure and accountability rules.
The group has a petition so citizens can join its "small dollar democracy" drive.
No matter what spin the big money interests put on the elections in Wisconsin, citizens have no choice but to keep on fighting to defend our stake in a humane and civilized world.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsin Recalls: Democrats in Danger."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter