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Boris Kagarlitsky in Madison

The Bitter Wisconsin Cold Warmed by a Moscow Breeze

by PAUL BUHLE

It’s been a harsh several weeks in Madison, Wisconsin for demonstrators against the governor and legislature, worse for the Progressive Era reforms being swiftly eliminated, one after the other. For those who aren’t following life in the Flyover regions, Right To Work passed the state Senate and is moving on to the Assembly, this coming week. With Republicans in charge, passage is all but certain. Also: temperatures rarely rise to the 20s.

We could reflect upon the great Uprising of 2011, the months of often massive demonstrations against “Act 10,” stripping state workers of their rights. But what I have in my mind is, rather, 1970. The contrasts are jarring.  Back then, students stood at center stage. These days, students—teaching assistants aside—seem largely absent, despite the hardships that the new state measures are certain to place upon them. Yet, buses arrive in Madison from Milwaukee, from Racine, Kenosha and LaCrosse, Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids, bringing hundreds of unionists, active and retirees to demonstrate at the Wisconsin Capitol—something that would never have happened in the antiwar days. A steelworker-orator even proposes a General Strike! Something that not only did not ever happen, but still seems improbable, lamentably.

We march to keep warm, and amidst the rubbing of hand warmers inside gloves, we appreciate the genuine enjoyment in marching, the human solidarity and the funny signs. Many of them are directed against the otherwise laughable, would-be presidential contender/governor Scott Walker. For us, he looks and acts like a Bad Howdy Doody.  Contemplating Walker and the Koch Brothers, a major source of funds, I remember a sign inspired by the old Wisconsin red light trade for summer season Chicago businessmen, “The money is on the dresser, Scotty!”

Marching just behind me, a nurse-unionist offers a Teamster a quip or truism that I never heard. Her union steward had “Prime Beef” tattooed “on her butt.” A pleasant joke to her husband (lover?). A better joke—she said—on her rest home caregiver, when she gets flipped over, in the years to come. This nurse has been there and seen worse.  One of many middle agers, this spunky lady, facing reality with more jokes to come.

Looking for other bright spots, I find one not too deeply buried in my memory:  a campus lecture by a visiting Boris K a little over a week earlier. This is a guy used to politics in the cold!

What brings it to mind is also the odd Russophobic trope that has seemingly invaded television and films, from The Americans (now in its Nth season) to the over-the-top Marvel’s Miss Carter, with its dramatization of Russian mentality and her balletic-like judo assaults on those who threatened America…in 1946!

Back in the present, a full room of perhaps...

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