Shortly after the Tea Party rocked the political landscape with huge congressional and state-wide wins in 2010, a backlash to the backlash began. The main spark was a series of anti-worker laws that were speeding through statehouses, and the focus was in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker shocked his state with extreme efforts to undo a century of workers rights.
Protestors didn't just gather for a day - they took over the statehouse. There continue to be daily demonstrations; rallies in sympathy spread around the country; record numbers turned out in the freezing cold in Madison, and inspired actions elsewhere. Occupy Wall Street learned from and replicated some of the tactics from Wisconsin, while feeding off the progressive energy that movement unleashed. In many ways, for progressives who were despondent and working Americans who were being shoved aside, Wisconsin offered new life.
In less than two weeks, we'll hit a new mark in the Wisconsin saga where we see just how much the backlash has lashed.
Since the protests began, Republican State Senators have been successful recalled, though Democrats fell short of winning back a legislative house, a goal on this year's agenda. The bigger fish is the Governor himself. The recall election is set. The energy and anger are there, the organizing is strong, but recalling a governor is hard work.
It's made harder when that governor has become a symbol for the right wing's efforts to remake our country, and conservative donors and PACs and allies come to his aid. It's made harder by the same lax finance laws that are flooding the presidential race with SuperPAC-backed ads, and which are fast making Wisconsin's recall a historically expensive contest. And it's made harder when national Democratic organizations are sitting on the sidelines, as progressive groups are accusing the DNC of in recent weeks.
Nobody said it would be easy, and the organizations that have pushed this effort for the past 15 months have done a remarkable job. Regardless of the June 5th outcome, they have created an impressive operation that will continue to push back against conservative policies and play a role in the November election. They have effectively prevented Walker from pursuing harsher policies.
But it's never fun - or fully honest - to say "regardless of the outcome." Elections are about outcomes, and if Walker holds onto his post, it will be a sign that there's still work to do. However, as 2008 should have taught us, there's always more work to do. You can elect someone you put your hopes in, but you still have to hold elected officials accountable, create public pressure, and run a year-round campaign. Conservatives will be doing it; progressives need to as well.
A Walker victory may only recharge the organizers to keep up the pressure in November when less SuperPAC money will come to the aid of right-wing legislatures. In an election like that, people-power really can outmatch dollars.
And a Walker loss would send an even clearer message that the Tea Party doesn't own the concept of "backlash," that how you govern has consequences, and that conservatives - of all parties - need to watch out.