In March of 2011, new legislation was brought to the congressional table in Madison, WI; it sought to diminish collective bargaining rights for the public sector, attempting to fix a budget deficit created by the collapsing economy. Historically, Wisconsin has been a state that prides itself on such worker’s rights, and the weeks following Governor Scott Walker’s proposal reflected the immense rage such legislation created among Midwest workers. Demonstrations began as mass and unprecedented sick-outs by teachers and students all over the state, closing schools for days while the capitol became a gathering place of angry cheese-heads. Fueled by the recent Super Bowl victory, Wisconsinites from all over the state called out of their respective work places as celebrities such as the Green Bay Packers and Roseanne encouraged them to push forward. The media reported several taxis blocking downtown Madison traffic, while doctors wrote fake notes for demonstrators to remain away from their jobs and teachers began holding teach-ins rather than going to class. Democrats in office became a spectacle of resistance as they fled the area, hiding in hotel rooms to halt voting on the bill. With every passing day, the number of protesters grew larger and larger until the capitol was in a state of continuous occupation. Pizza was bought for demonstrators from around the world in solidarity.
Demonstrations took a peculiar turn when police officers and prison guards joined the crowd of protesters, dampening the potential conflict between participants and the state. This confused those who feel enmity with police, and excited those who do not. Tensions at this point were not all that high, but very strange. The Tea Party came to town one day; much like a middle-school dance, they stayed awkwardly on their side of the protest while democrats stayed on theirs. Or rather, the Tea Party was that kid that brought his cousin to the dance because he doesn’t have any real friends. In Milwaukee, anarchist, communist and student activists attempted to spread the occupation to the University; ultimately, the occupation failed to become a site of conflict. However, the space did find use as a point for local social gatherings, meetings, and was eventually mined for what ever resources were available. Someone prank called Governor Walker and released the tape on youtube; he talks about kissing his portrait of Ronald Reagan and hitting democrats with baseball bats. The climax, it seems, was the night in which the bill was passed by republicans through some tricky maneuvers that didn’t require the opposition to be present. The capitol, in response, was stormed angrily by a mass of people demanding to re-occupy it. Some people broke through police lines, the media said, and got into the building, screaming “GENERAL STRIKE!”. Once inside, chanting ensued and the energetic but redundant tone of the protests up until that point was reproduced. After this, demonstrations generally dwindled and the talk of General Strike that had been so pervasive seems to have withered away into the void of Twitter somewhere.
Elements of these protests that are being critiqued and analyzed in this text will continue to have increasing salience as austerity measures proliferate within a rotten economy. The amount of self-regulation and voluntary policing in the heart of these protests demonstrates a challenging moment in the present situation; the citizen has never looked so much like a police officer. The Left’s ability to manipulate and sterilize the desires of so many people reveals a certain impotence on the part of anarchists as agents within struggle, and the stage for failure against austerity has been successfully built based on this foundation of passive and restrained response. The question that we should be asking ourselves is not what we should have done, what others should have done, but how—when the next one comes—we will be prepared to act decisively and spread the potential of pure conflict.