Tradition dictates that this is the period when we reflect on the year that was and the year that is to come. When considering the fortunes of grass roots activism in Wisconsin, one can come to no other conclusion than 2005 was a banner year for the movement in the Milwaukee area and beyond.
While there were certainly numerous headline gathering “perfect storms,” it is primarily the amalgamated blizzard of behind-the-scenes actions and subtext that tells the real story — 2006 could be even a bigger year as the movement expands even more beyond southeastern Wisconsin.
Even through the focused lens of Citizens for Responsible Government, 2005 was a year of tremendous grass roots accomplishment. Involvement in the defeat of PabstCity, recall of the mayor of Pewaukee, defeat of the Waukesha School Referendum and resignation of a school board member, and even the Madison recall that fell short were all signature events that gave credibility to the power of grassroots activism.
Less publicized but equally indicative of growing strength was CRG involvement in recalls, actions, and the signing of affiliates in places like Hartford, Hudson, Jefferson, Kewaskum, Menomonee Falls, Polk, Prescott, Sheboygan Falls, Walworth and Wausau. In 2006, look for places like Germantown, Greendale, Mount Pleasant, Plymouth and many more to make grass roots news. Look for a key issue to be waste and corruption on school boards. Then, there is also the small matter of a gubernatorial election!
CRG was certainly not alone in promoting fiscally conservative grassroots action in 2005. The Wisconsin Conservative Digest began hosting “Future Wisconsin,” a yearly event to assemble conservative thought statewide (the second edition is slated for March 11, 2006).
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) recently established a full-time office in Wisconsin and has hosted several events (they‚re bringing nationally known conservative speaker Herman Cain to Wisconsin in March). FreedomWorks, another national group to open a full-time office in Wisconsin, has been addressing Social Security and tort reform. Like AFP, the group plans to make TABOR a key issue in 2006.
Talk-radio has been augmented with the emergence of established Internet bloggers with insightful minds and exceptional writing skills such as Boots and Sabers, McBride’s Media Matters, and many others. Groups like the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute continue to provide in-depth fiscal analysis. The defeat of automatic gas-tax indexing provided a textbook example of how these groups can work together to expose the subterfuge of party politics. Look for a more formal alliance in 2006.
The most satisfying aspect of grass roots activism in 2005, and one that augurs well for the future, is that it was not generated by a monolithic ideology but by the combined efforts of new and existing organizations that have not always seen eye to eye.
The PabstCity action provided a high-profile template of how disparate groups such as historic preservationists, taxpayers and businesses can band together in common cause. It was Citizens Allied for Sane Highways, an association with left-leaning leadership, which exposed the outrageous $685,000 Web site and other DOT tax waste.
Organizations like Common Cause in Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, groups with fairly liberal underpinnings, provide non-partisan information vital to all grass roots causes. Even the state Department of Justice contributed by hosting a series of free public seminars on open records law across the state.
The final and most provocative prediction to be made is that there will be a meeting of the minds involving grass roots groups that were previously thought to be diametrically opposed to one another. They will determine that we are all in this together and that fiscal-conservatism and social-liberalism can coexist.
Both sides will appreciate the need for fiscal accountability, social compassion and how they work hand-in-hand. They will come to the same grim realization that it is the waste and corruption of party politics that robs us all. Given the emotions of the 2006 election year, that great day will not likely be seen until 2007.
But on that day, there will be many smiling faces enjoying the thick Wisconsin “grass” made strong by those “roots” and more than a few worried politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Chris Kliesmet is spokesperson for Citizens for Responsible Government and executive administrator for CRG Network its statewide organizing unit.