Wisconsin, School Privatization, and the Broken Record Strategy…

In my opinion, a critical starting point for any leftists in the U.S. who want to come up with a long-term change strategy is to take a long, hard look at the Right and why they win so often. I’ve been saying this for years, and when I first started saying it a lot of my friends didn’t take me very seriously, but they sure do now. Nowadays, I think it’s taken as a given that we have lessons to learn from the Right. And I think far more people on the left now are much better about recognizing the Right’s genuine mass-movement elements.

So, one strategy that I think the Right is quite good at is the broken record approach. They will take up a radical position, and with a long-term view they will just repeat it and repeat it and try it and try it and just drive through whatever scorn and doubt and whatever else until, maybe 10, 20, 30 years later they’ve basically created a hegemonic shift. Previously outlandish ideas become “common sense.” This is also something that social movements try to do, but the Right, especially with how well funded they are and how pro-capitalist they are, can afford to do it in a much, much more consistent and stable fashion. In public at least, you just don’t see them wavering the way the left does…or at least the way liberals do. they just keep repeating themselves ad nauseum.

So enter Wisconsin, and the long time national war against organized labor, and particularly public employees unions. What we saw there was a radical governor who staked a radical and unnecessary position and stuck to his talking points all the way through, even in the face of massive, historic protest. In the process, he’s become a right-wing hero. Thankfully, he’s also galvanized a huge new coalition of folks to oppose him and any similar attempts in other states, and this is critical…but we’ll get back to that later. The thing is, whether Scott Walker would have won or not, they are still going to keep trying this. Even if he’s recalled, they’ll keep trying. That’s what makes the Right so good at winning! They want to destroy public unions, and they will just keep throwing attempt after attempt out there until they win. They are willing even to wait a few years if the electoral climate shifts, but even 5-10 years from now they would try again with new offensives.

The Right doesn’t quit. They will just keep pushing and repeating and repeating their simplistic and terrible ideas over and over until they win them. And then when they have won, because their ideas are all about privatization and deregulation, it’s just a snowball effect of power that keeps their gains from being reversed. Like a harpoon, once they get it in, it’s hell to get back out.

So Wisconsin, and the current all-out assault on public unions is also related to another Right wing broken record: privatized education. The war against public schools and public school teachers is a deep part of this, and they aren’t about to give up. The schools represent both a vast market opportunity and a great culture-shaping opportunity, and they will use charter schools, merit pay, accountability tests, and lots and lots of talk about equity and racial justice to win what they want. They have already been highly successful in getting liberals on board with almost all of their educational ideas, and so really the only holdouts are the unions. If the unions go, I believe so do our schools. And I have plenty of problems with the teacher’s unions (especially from a youth rights perspective), but they are the last line of defense and the Right knows it.

I cannot begin to describe how terrible I think privatized education will be in this country as it spreads. They talk so much about accountability, but we already know that capitalism is brilliant at externalizing accountability. Once the corporations get in (and they already have through the charter movement), there will be no stopping them. The broken record strategy will also synergize wonderfully with mass school curriculum development.

And when I talk about the Right here, I don’t necessarily mean the cultural right–the evangelicals and tea-partiers–I mean the capitalist Right, who include the majority of Democrats as well. If they win these union battles, and then the subsequent privatization battles, there is even more at stake for future generations of political consciousness. And then, of course, with net neutrality undone as well, things get even uglier.

So back to my original point. The Right is good at using a broken record strategy. We have to recognize this and plan for it…not act surprised every time they try their some old stuff.

However, we don’t have the resources or unity to match them in that strategy, so what do we do? Like so many other issues, I think our best answer is the building of small, locally aware and present local grassroots power. We don’t win with a matching volume megaphone. Theirs is always bigger and has longer battery life. We win with familiar whispers; the whispers of neighbors and friends who aren’t buying it anymore. That was a big piece of the growing protest in Wisconsin, and it’ll need to be developed further across this country. Good old fashioned community building, and door to door community education. I’m trying to run the angles in my head and from my reading, but I just don’t see any other way that we win.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi