John Nichols' new book, “Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street,” will be published Feb. 14 by Nation Books, an imprint of the Perseus Books Group.
Michael Moore says: “John Nichols recognized right away that the fight in Wisconsin was about a lot more than one state. It was the fight we had all been waiting for, the one where people say, ‘We have had it!’ John didn’t just tell us what was happening in Wisconsin. He told us that what was happening in Wisconsin could happen anywhere.”
Kirkus Reviews hails “Uprising” as: “An engrossing, informative take on the mass demonstrations that broke out in Wisconsin in early 2011. … (T)his book is well researched and full of keen insights about the state of organized labor and the power of protest. … Nichols is a capable and energetic narrator with a reporter’s knack for getting to the heart of the matter. … Richly detailed and inspiring — worth reading for anyone interested in organized labor, civil disobedience or the spirit of Wisconsin.”
Nichols will be traveling to New York, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and other cities in coming weeks to discuss “Uprising.” But Madison comes first. On Thursday, at 5 p.m., the Friends of the UW-Madison Libraries will host a special book launch event at Tripp Commons in the UW Memorial Union.
Following is an excerpt from the forward to “Uprising”:
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“But that desire is still out there. It’s the force behind a huge new movement we don’t even have a name for yet, a movement that’s not a left opposed to a right, but perhaps a below against above, little against big, local and decentralized against consolidated. If we could throw out the old definitions, we could recognize where the new alliances lie; and those alliances — of small farmers, of factory workers, of environmentalists, of the poor, of the indigenous, of the just, of the farseeing — could be extraordinarily powerful against the forces of corporate profit and institutional violence.”
— Rebecca Solnit, “Acts of Hope,” 2004
When the Fox News channel’s Bill O’Reilly reported on a supposed outbreak of “union thug” violence during the mass protests that erupted in Wisconsin in the winter of 2011, Rupert Murdoch’s network coupled its report of alleged thuggery in Madison with images of men pushing and shoving another in front of palm trees.
Palm trees are not native to Wisconsin.
But they are useful for the purposes of this book.
Fox claims to offer a news report that is “fair and balanced.” And if that is the fantasy you prefer, then I am certain that Mr. O’Reilly will be pleased to provide it.
This book, on the other hand, rejects the fantasy.
I am not an unbiased observer, and this is not an unbiased account.
How could I be? I am a Wisconsinite. I was proud of my state before it became the westernmost exemplar of the Arab Spring, before its name became synonymous with the term “uprising,” before plastic cheeseheads became political statements so infused with meaning that in the fall of 2011, “Occupy Wall Street” protesters erupted with cheers at the arrival of allies adorned with the cheddar.
I was born and raised in Wisconsin. So was my mother, and my father. So were my grandparents on both sides. And my great-grandparents. And my great-great-grandparents. My relatives on my mother’s side and my father’s side settled in Wisconsin before statehood. I’ve got a relative, living or dead, in every crossroads town from Green Bay to Grant County, from Mineral Point to Madison, from Owen to Oshkosh.
I was raised in southeastern Wisconsin, just west of Racine and Kenosha, in a place and time when unions were honorable and omnipresent. I met Teddy Kennedy at the United Auto Workers Local 72 hall in Kenosha, read the Racine labor newspaper even before my friend Roger Bybee became the editor, and never entertained the notion that any politician, Republican or Democrat, would dare to try and break a union.
When I finished graduate school, I turned down an offer to work for a nonunion paper in Pennsylvania and hired on as a reporter for the Blade in Toledo, Ohio. The day I arrived, I proudly signed my card as a member of Newspaper Guild, AFL-CIO. I was “union” then, and I’m “union” now.
That’s where I come from, and that’s where this book comes from.
I thought Wisconsin mattered before my old friend Scott Walker — yes, the governor and I were once on good terms — tried to strip away the collective bargaining rights of state, county, and municipal employees and my kid’s first-grade teacher, Susan Stern. I thought it mattered even more after my neighbors David Panofsky and Pat Smith, my high school pal Marcia Vlach, my mom’s friends from Burlington and Union Grove, and a hundred thousand or so other Wisconsinites showed up with their handmade signs at the Capitol and kicked off the most remarkable labor uprising in modern American history.
This book examines that uprising from a number of perspectives, not merely to offer a sense of what happened and what is still happening in Wisconsin but to consider what an uprising and its aftermath may mean for labor, for popular organizing, for media reform, for politics, for democracy. And, perhaps most importantly, how one uprising inspires the next.
The chapters are organized around themes, rather than along a timeline. Some of the same people show up in multiple chapters, a few stories are retold, from slightly different angles to make slightly different points. And some touchstones, the wisdom of Tom Paine and Walt Whitman, the groundbreaking insights of my friend and inspiration Howard Zinn and his true successor, Rebecca Solnit, are omnipresent. So, too, is Naomi Klein, who explained the “shock doctrine” that was so very much on display in Wisconsin’s budget fight. The mashup will come as no surprise to anyone who witnessed the remarkable events that played out in Wisconsin.
Traditional boundaries were crossed, again and again and again. Students became leaders. Legislators became outlaws. Union leaders became media producers. Musicians became organizers. Sheriff’s deputies became protesters. Librarians announced that they were not afraid of the National Guard. And Republican legislators made a mockery of the Constitution they claimed to cherish with something akin to biblical reverence. “Wisconsin” was, and is, a whirlwind. And it has swept far beyond the borders of one state, which is why this book references and celebrates struggles from Cairo to Kalamazoo, from Ohio’s campaign to overturn that state’s anti-labor law to the movement that decided to “Occupy Wall Street.”
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org