Tag Archives: Union

The First Day at Gettysburg: 150 Years Ago Today

This is a re-post of the first of a series of articles I wrote about the trip my wife and I made to Gettysburg in 2010. On this, the 150th anniversary of the first day of that great and decisive Civil War battle, I thought it would be a fine idea to put this old post back into service. Part travelogue, part history lesson, it’s a good way to walk the hallowed battlefield and enjoy the charms of the town if you can’t actually be in Gettysburg for this weekend’s sesquicentennial events.

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On Sunday June 27th, my wife Victoria and I gave our last performance of “The Vic & Paul Show” in it’s three-week run at PUSH Lounge in Woodland Hills. It was a satisfying end to a wonderful run — made all the more special by so many great friends, Northwestern pals, and people we dearly love but haven’t seen in ages who showed up to share the experience with us. It had been more than twenty years since we’d done a comedy show together – and exactly twenty years since we’d said “I do” in a Greek Orthodox service on a blistering hot day in Chicago.

With our 20th wedding anniversary on June 30th, the show was essentially a celebration of our two decades of married bliss – and as we struck the stage at PUSH for the last time, our thoughts turned to our upcoming anniversary trip: a return to the great Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg.

We were we going to Gettysburg for our 20th anniversary because that’s where we spent our first honeymoon in 1990. Back then I was in the early throes of a mad crush on Civil War history that was inspired by the Oscar-winning 1989 movie Glory and had continued unabated since. As we planned our nuptials, I gave my darling bride a choice of honeymoon excursions

1. A tour of National League ballparks

2. A tour of Civil War battlefields

That I could even propose two such options to my bride-to-be was proof that I was already the luckiest man in the world – but when she chose the battlefield tour, I was certain that our union (just like the Union that Lincoln’s armies defended on that hallowed ground) would long endure.

Our first stop in 1990 was Gettysburg, and while we did not plan it that way, we arrived on July 1st – the 127th anniversary of the first day of that epic 3-day battle. It was kismet. We were where we were meant to be. Thus, it felt right that on such a momentous marital (and martial) anniversary, we should go back to the small Pennsylvania crossroads town where Robert E. Lee’s 1863 invasion of the North came to a bold and bloody end. Romantic, yes?

We flew into Philadelphia on June 30th, the eve of the battle, and drove west to Gettysburg. We wanted to make sure that we got to our Bed & Breakfast while these was still light on the battlefield. It was a 3-hour drive and we were hungry, so we stopped for a late lunch. But no service plaza grub would suit this history-loving couple – and with the help of her iPhone, Victoria located the perfect spot for a picturesque and historic nosh just a few miles off the turnpike. So, we turned off at the Morgantown exit, headed for the Inn at Saint Peters Village.

Saint Peters Village was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. It’s a small, late 19th century industrial “company village” on the banks of French Creek in Chester County, PA.

For about half a mile, vintage buildings line the main drag that winds up a steep, rocky ravine, with the creek running through giant boulders below. Artists and craftsmen have set up shop in the clapboard 19th century storefronts, and the biggest and most architecturally impressive of these is The Inn at Saint Peter’s Village, where we enjoyed lunch on a large wooden deck overlooking French Creek. It was beautiful. So far, so good.

Interestingly, National League baseball managed to re-enter our honeymoon thoughts when our waitress casually mentioned that Mike Piazza’s dad “owned the whole town.” It turns out that arguably the greatest hitting catcher in Major League history (427 Home runs, career .308 batting average) grew up in nearby Phoenixville with his parents, Vince and Veronica. It was nice slice of local history to go with my pizza.

Hey, pizza and Piazza!

It was nearing 6:00 PM as we drove into Gettysburg down PA Route 30 and onto the old Chambersburg Pike – the same road that General John Buford rode into town with his division of Union cavalry late in the day on June 30th, 1863. That evening long ago, a grimly determined Buford watched with concern as a brigade of Confederate infantry under General Pettigrew probed south from Cashtown along the Chambersburg Pike toward Gettysburg.

Pettigrew’s brigade had been sent by his division commander, General Henry Heth, of A.P. Hill’s Corps in search of much-needed supplies — including a cache of shoes they understood to be in the town.

But when Pettigrew saw Buford’s cavalry arriving south of town, he returned to Cashtown and told Heth and Hill what he had seen. Despite Pettigrew’s claim that Federal cavalry was on the Chambersburg Pike, neither of his superiors believed there was anything more than Pennsylvania militia in Gettysburg.

Fate – and the fighting – would wait until tomorrow. And so, as Victoria and I pulled into the parking lot of The Doubleday Inn, would our own adventures on the Gettysburg battlefield wait until the following day.

The charming house at 104 Doubleday Avenue, now The Doubleday Inn, was built in 1939 and it’s the only B & B or hotel located on the grounds of the Gettysburg National Military Park. It stands on the very ground that Buford and his cavalry would defend the next morning. There are 42 battlefield monuments within a quarter mile of the Inn honoring the regiments that took part in the fierce fighting that took place here on July 1, 1863.

Before we turned in for the night, we took a sunset stroll along Doubleday Avenue on Oak Ridge to check out the monuments lining the road in front of the Inn.

Our favorite was the monument dedicated to the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. All of the monuments at Gettysburg are stirring, heartbreaking testaments to valor and sacrifice – but this one is unique because of a dog.

On the side of the monument that faced the enemy that bloody day is a cast iron representation of the regiment’s beloved mascot, a terrier named “Sallie,” who was said to have hated three things: Rebels, Democrats, and Women.

According to the well-documented story, after the first day’s battle was over, faithful Sallie refused to leave the field where her brave boys had fought and fell. She stayed with her dead soldiers until she was found, weakened and close to death, a day after the battle. Sallie’s regiment nursed her back to health and she fought with them until she was killed in battle in February 1865. Sallie’s boys never forgot their faithful canine comrade – immortalizing her on their regimental monument.

To this day, visitors paying their respects at the 11th Pennsylvania monument on Oak Ridge often leave dog biscuits and bones for the devoted Sallie – as they did on the evening that Victoria and I paused to remember the regiment’s service and sacrifice before going back to the Doubleday Inn to prepare for the next morning:

July 1, 1863 – the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

“Forward men, forward for God’s sake…”

On the morning of July 1st, my wife, Victoria, and I got up early enough to enjoy breakfast at The Doubleday Inn with our housemates — a collection of congenial history buffs and their spouses.

One of our fellow guests, a 40-something Pennsylvanian named John, was there by himself, and this was clearly not his first visit to Gettysburg. It was fun to see how enthused he was about getting out on the battlefield.

I shared John’s excitement as I downed my breakfast, a delicious, maple syrup drenched version of French toast that proved too heavy for Victoria. She needn’t have worried about the calories: battlefield tramping burns ‘em off big time.

By the time we left the Doubleday Inn on Oak Ridge that morning, headed for the new Gettysburg Visitor Center and Museum, we could imagine General John Buford’s battle-weary cavalry corps falling back under fire from Confederate General Henry Heth’s reinforced infantry to positions along Oak Ridge (and the adjacent McPherson’s Ridge) 147 years ago.

Buford’s boys had been fighting off Heth’s two brigades since 5:00 AM, and here we were, two honeymooning sluggards, just getting into action at 9:00.

As we drove toward town and the Visitor Center, we could see the distinctive cupola of the Lutheran Seminary along Seminary Ridge, an important landmark on the battlefield in 1863 – and to this day. We could envision a grimly determined General Buford up in that cupola, field glasses in hand, watching the progress of the battle raging to his front, and looking anxiously to the rear for the approach of General Reynolds and his infantry corps.

In fact, if we were there on that fateful morning in 1863, General Reynolds would soon be passing us on the road, riding up to the seminary and calling up to Buford, “How goes it, John?” Buford would reply, “The devil’s to pay!” and the next chapter of Gettysburg history would soon be written. But that would have to wait. We wanted to check out the new Visitor Center first.

Our hosts at the Doubleday Inn (and several of our fellow guests) had spoken in glowing terms about the wonders of the new Museum and Visitor Center, which opened in April 2008 — and they were not blowing smoke. Victoria and I have been to a lot of National Park visitor centers, and this one blows them all away.

Far more than the usual place to pick up maps, brochures and a gift or two, the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center is 22,000 square feet of exhibits, battlefield relics, inter-active exhibits, and multi-media presentations, including the film, “A New Birth of Freedom”, narrated by Morgan Freeman (who also starred in the film, Glory, which triggered my Civil War obsession in 1989).

Victoria and I watched the film and checked out the incredible exhibits – including the stretcher used to carry the mortally wounded Stonewall Jackson from the field at Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863. (Jackson’s death 8 days later would have dramatic repercussions at Gettysburg.)

The humble furnishings of Robert E. Lee’s personal field quarters were also on display, as were hundreds of period muskets, rifles, pistols, artillery shells, uniforms, and other treasures discovered on the battlefield over the years. It would be very easy to spend the entire day there – but with General Reynolds arriving on Seminary Ridge to reinforce Buford and the first day’s fighting heating up – we were eager to get back on the battlefield.

But first, we had to see the fully restored Gettysburg Cyclorama.

We’d seen it 20 years ago, when it was something of a sideshow attraction along with the old electronic map with its more than 600 lights that, for forty years, tracked the major action in the battle for visitors. Today, in its new home, the Gettysburg Cyclorama — the nation’s largest painting — gets its due.

The massive artwork, entitled “The Battle of Gettysburg”, is a 360-degree cyclorama by the French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux. The vivid painting wraps around the curved walls of the exhibit, surrounding the viewer with a stunning, colorful, and violent depiction of “Pickett’s Charge” on July 3, 1863 – the climactic action of the three-days of unprecedented valor, fury and sacrifice that was The Battle of Gettysburg. You really have to see it to understand the scale and power of this thing. The whole experience made me proud to think “Your tax dollars at work.”

“Reynolds and the Iron Brigade” by Keith Rocco. © Keith Rocco and Traditional Studios http://www.keithrocco.com

After our rewarding morning at the Visitor Center, we drove back out to McPherson’s Ridge, where Heth’s reinforced Confederate brigades of General A.P. Hill’s corps were about to confront the vanguard of the Union Army of the Potomac, hurriedly deployed by its commander, General John Reynolds. Reynolds First Corps included the famous Iron Brigade, wearing their distinctive tall black hats. For Heth’s rebels, one look at “those damn black hats” made it clear that one of the Union’s hardest-fighting, battle-tested veteran infantry units had now joined the fight for the Gettysburg high ground.

Victoria and I knew that our first stop on McPherson’s Ridge would be a somber one: the spot where Reynolds fell, shot from his horse in the opening moments of the engagement as he urged his troops forward, bellowing, “Forward men, forward for God’s sake and drive those fellows out of those woods!”(Generals led from the front in those days.)

The sudden loss of Reynolds was a brutal blow to the Union cause. John Reynolds wasn’t just any general – he was one of the Union army’s best.

Some historians maintain that Lincoln wanted to give Reynolds command of the Army of the Potomac, but that Reynolds demanded more autonomy than Lincoln could grant him. Ultimately, Lincoln put Pennsylvanian George Meade in charge of the Army of the Potomac with Reynolds leading the army’s First, Third, and Eleventh Corps.

Upon Reynold’s death, command of the Union forces fighting on McPherson’s Ridge and Oak Ridge devolved to General Abner Doubleday. (The Doubleday Inn, get it?) Two years earlier, Captain Doubleday had fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, now, promoted to general, he was called upon to once again play a pivotal role in an epic moment.

And while it may well be that the claim Doubleday invented baseball in 1839 (he was in West Point at the time) is no more than a legend, what he did for the five furious hours after Reynolds death would have been legend enough for any man.

Doubleday’s men fought hard all morning, holding fast to the critical ridgelines just outside of town. As the Confederates threw wave upon wave of reinforcements into the fray, Doubleday’s 9,500 men battled ten Rebel brigades numbering more than 16,000, inflicting casualties on their attackers ranging from 35 to 50 percent in various regiments. The monuments that line McPherson’s Ridge and Oak Ridge are silent testaments to the valiant resistance of Doubleday’s troops in the face of overwhelming odds.

Eventually, Confederate troops finally pushed Doubleday off those ridgelines, past the Lutheran Seminary, and onto Cemetery Hill — where Union troops were concentrating to secure the high ground overlooking the town and fields below. At day’s end, Doubleday’s First Corps had lost two thirds of its men, dead, wounded, taken prisoner, or missing in action. But their sacrifice saved the day. The gallant stand made by Buford, Reynolds and Doubleday had kept the Confederates from reaching the high ground on Cemetery Hill.

The contest for that high ground – and victory on the bloody Gettysburg battlefield — would last two more days.

First Minnesota monument at the base of Cemetery Hill: Heroism on Day #2

Victoria and I returned to The Doubleday Inn with a greater appreciation of the man whose name our pleasant B&B bore.

To be continued…

Victoria and a friend ask Honest Abe for directions in downtown Gettysburg.

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150 Years Ago Today: A Victory for Modern Naval Warfare…

cropped-Carnage-140th-Spotsylvaniamontauk1pAs we continue to acknowledge the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War…

On Saturday, February 28, 1863, 150 years ago today, a now-forgotten Civil War engagement pointed the way toward the future of naval warfare.

imagesOn this day, Federal Naval Commander, Captain John L. Worden (former captain of the original Union ironclad USS Monitor) was at the helm of the Union ironclad warship USS Montauk on the Ogeechee River south of Savannah, Georgia — when he saw the CSS Nashville, sold as a privateer and now named Rattlesnake, run aground, lying under the guns of Fort McAllister.

With the U.S. Navy gunboats Wissahickon, Seneca and Dawn providing supporting fire, Captain Worden trained The Montauk’s batteries upon the enemy ship and started firing.

h59286Minutes later, the Montauk’s cannonade hit the CSS Nashville, struck her gunpowder magazine — and the Confederate ship exploded with “terrific violence.”

Alas, after his brief, triumphant engagement with the Confederate privateer, Commander Worden’s own ship hit a submerged mine, and he had to beach the USS Montauk on a mud bar to make repairs.montauk1j

The Confederacy could hardly afford the loss of the Nashville. The CSA commissioned shipbuilders to build 50 warships — and 22 were built and sent into battle, including CSS Virginia, CSS Arkansas, CSS Tennessee, and CSS Nashville.

21862The fate of the Nashville on this day in 1863 is not very well known – but what happened one year earlier to the CSS Virginia — the first steam-powered ironclad warship in the Confederate States Navy – became an epochal moment in naval warfare.

Built as a Confederate ironclad from the hull and steam engines of the scuttled Union warship, USS Merrimack — the CSS Virginia was sunk by the Union ironclad USS Monitor in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862: the first battle between ironclad, armored warships.

h58899150 years ago today – on the banks of Georgia’s Ogeechee River — the American Civil war adds another explosive, revolutionary chapter to the history of modern warfare.

Five months from now, in July, we’ll note the 150th anniversary of The Battle of Gettysburg.

And there won’t be a boat, ironclad or otherwise, anywhere near the battlefield.gettysburg

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The (New) American Crisis.

American patriot Thomas Paine served in George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War as an aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene. In the desperate winter of ’76, the war was going badly — and Washington’s valiant, weary, and ill-equipped troops were in retreat.

The revolutionary cause was in dire jeopardy, when Paine took up his pen to rally his nascent nation’s flagging spirits.

Realizing that “it was necessary that the country should be strongly animated,” Paine wrote a series of popular pamphlets collectively titled The American Crisis. The first of these broadsides was published on December 23, 1776 – and General Washington found it so inspiring that he had it read to his soldiers at Valley Forge.

Today, as we suffer through this trumped-up Debt Ceiling crisis, it is once again “necessary that the country should be strongly animated.”

Therefore, with apologies to Thomas Paine…

These are the times that try Progressive’s souls. Some summer Liberals and sunshine Democrats will, in this crisis, shrink from their core values; but he that stands by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid now, deserves the love and thanks of every working man and woman in America.

The GOP-Tea Party, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. The Grand Debt Ceiling Bargain we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is Tax Fairness – with increases on the Wealthy, Big Business and Wall Street only — that gives Shared Sacrifice any real meaning.

Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon The Common Good; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as The Full Faith and Credit of The United States should not be highly rated by Standard & Poor’s. (Though such a Downgrade looks increasingly possible.)

The GOP, with Fox News to enforce its Bullshit, has declared that they have a right (not only NOT to TAX) but “to BIND all working people in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” to economic slavery, for so unlimited an economic power can belong only to George Bush’s God of Prosperity, the Koch Brothers, Republicans, Millionaires and Billionaires.

We have none to blame but ourselves, but no great deal is lost yet. All that Boehner, McConnell and Cantor have been doing for these past few months is rather a Ravage than a Conquest. They have over-reached and will be quickly repulsed by the voters. By 2012, with a little resolution on the part of working class Americans – resulting in a Democratic landslide — we will soon recover.

I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up the American People to Economic Destruction by Tea Party Fools and GOP Corporatist Greed, or leave President Obama and the Democrats to perish who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of Default by every decent method which wisdom could invent.

Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that The Almighty has relinquished the Government of The United States, and given us up to the madness of small-minded religious zealots like Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint; and as I do not, I cannot see on what grounds McConnell, Boehner and Cantor can hold Americans over an economic barrel.

‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic (like this artificial Debt Ceiling Crisis) will sometimes run through a country. Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their peculiar advantage is that they are the touchstones of sincerity (Democrats) and hypocrisy (Republicans), and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. They sift out the hidden thoughts of Conservatives, and hold them up in public to the world.

I shall not now attempt to give all the particulars of our negotiations with the GOP; suffice it for the present to say, that the Democratic Party and President Obama, though greatly harassed and fatigued, bore these Debt Limit negotiations with a manly and bipartisan spirit. All their wishes centered in one, which was, that the country would turn out and help them to drive the Republicans out come the Election of 2012.

I have been tender in raising the cry against the Tea Party radicals, and have used numberless arguments to show their danger, but it will not do to sacrifice our country either to their folly or their baseness. The Time of Decision is now arrived, in which either Tea Party Republicans or Democrats must change our sentiments, or one or both must fall.

And what is a Tea Party Republican? Good God! What is he? I should not be afraid to stand with a hundred brave, steadfast Democratic Union Men against a thousand Tea Partiers. Every GOP-Tea Party member is a dupe or a coward; for servile, slavish, and corporate-interested fear is the foundation of Tea Partyism; and a man under such misguided influence, though he may be selfish and confused, can never be brave.

But, before the line of irrecoverable separation be drawn between American Liberals and Conservatives, let us reason the matter together: FOX News is as much rejected by reality as the American cause is injured by FOX News. Rupert “Phone Hacker” Murdoch and his Corporate Paymasters expect you to take up arms and flock to their standard. Your opinions are of no use to The Right, unless you support them without thinking, for ’tis Zombies, and not Thinking Men, that they want.

I once felt that kind of anger, which a man ought to feel, against the mean principles that are held by the Republicans. “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have prosperity.” But today, let every Progressive American awaken to his duty. For though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to flare, the embers can never expire.

I call not upon a few, but upon all Progressives: not on this Blue State or that Purple State, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the heat of the summer of 2011, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.

If President Obama and the Congress cannot avoid the ignominy of National Default, it matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil will reach you all. The far and the near, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike.

The blood of Democratic children will curse their cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the Liberal that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little GOP minds to shrink; but the Progressive whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto Election Day.

Let them call me Liberal and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to GOP politicians who are stupid, stubborn, worthless and brutish — and fleeing with tax-cutting, budget-slashing terror from the orphan, the widow, and the unemployed of America.

There are cases that cannot be overdone by language, and there are persons who see not the full extent of the evil that threatens them. It is the madness of folly to expect statesmanship from Republicans who have refused to do political and social justice. The GOP’s first object is, partly by threats and partly by false promises, to fleece the American people before agreeing to pay their lawful debts.

I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it. The sign of fear has not been seen in our Liberal Camp. Our new Progressive Democratic Army is recruiting fast, and we shall be able to open the 2012 Campaign with tens of millions of voters, well educated and mobilized.

By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils — a ravaged country — crumbling cities — infrastructure without repair, and a shrinking Middle Class without hope — our homes turned into foreclosures, and our children to provide for, whose American Dream will be less than our own. Look on this picture and weep over it! And if there yet remains one thoughtless FOX viewer who believes it not, let him suffer the consequences unlamented.

Awake, Senate Democrats! Arise, President Obama! The GOP is mercifully inviting you to barbarous destruction (in a bipartisan fashion, of course), and men must be either rogues or fools that will not see it. I dwell not upon the vapors of imagination; I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes.

Let the Bush Tax Cuts expire! Cut the Pentagon’s bloated budget! Let Medicare negotiate deals with the Drug Companies! Collect a fair share of taxes from Corporations and Wall Street Financiers that have reaped such an ungodly percentage of our National Treasure! Leave Social Security and our National Health alone! Do these things, and the blessings of Prosperity will be upon our Nation once again.

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Salute to Johnny “One No” Boehner…

My musical friend, Shelly Goldstein, recently sent me her musical salute to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). Shelly is a Los Angeles-based comedy writer and nightclub chanteuse with a knack for parody songs that highlight the insanity of our world with stylish satire.

In this video, Shelly takes aim at our weepy Mr. Speaker, who took back the gavel from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). And my what a big gavel it was…

But Crybaby Boehner is all gavel and no gravitas.

Boehner and his new GOP majority took over the House of Representatives jabbering about “jobs, jobs, jobs” – but instead their legislative agenda has been focused on restricting abortion rights, defunding for Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio, vilifying American Muslims, declaring English as our official language and making sure “In God We Trust” remains our motto.

And, oh yeah, Johnny B. Teardrops has one other prime objective that’s presumably keeping him from helping to create any “job, jobs, jobs” – and that’s saying “no” to any plans by President Obama and the Democrats to create jobs.

But, let’s hear Shelly sing it…

And if you’re still in the mood for more musical political satire, here’s a number from “The Vic & Paul Show” featuring arch-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a recent arrival on the Court…

And because we must not forget the ongoing battle for work’s rights in Wisconsin — and other states controlled by GOP governors — here once again is Wisconsin native Steve Rashid’s marching song for the Madison Uprising…

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Sing Along with Steve: A Protest Song for The Cheddar Revolution!

Another day — and another fine progressive artist rushes to the Madison barricades!

In this case, our good friend, Steve Rashid, a multi-talented musician, composer, recording engineer – and native of Ripon, Wisconsin – combined his skills on behalf of the pro-union protestors in his home state.

The result is a timely and humorous protest song that you can hear by clicking the link below.

Fight On, Wisconsin

And for those who want to sing lustily along – and I assume that’s all of you – here are Steve’s lyrics…


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Ron, Wisconsin!

Our resident (and favorite) artist, Ron Crawford, sent us his rendering of today’s demonstration in New York by Screen Actors Guild members in solidarity with their fellow unionists in Madison, Wisconsin.  (That’s Ron himself depicted in the upper right corner of his drawing, holding the sign with a clenched fist.) How Ron manages to be in the moment and yet capture the overall moment is just one aspect of his singular talent.

Meanwhile, the momentum from the Madison uprising is being felt in Statehouses across the Midwest. And today, a national poll shows that, by a 2-1 margin, Americans oppose taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees. According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, 61% percent said they oppose legislation stripping public employees’ collective bargaining rights in their states, as compared to only 33% who favor such union-busting laws. The majority speaks!

On, Wisconsin!

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On, Wisconsin!

Hosni Mubarak, meet Scott Walker. Walker’s got a popular uprising on his hands, too.

A funny thing happened on the way to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s goal of rolling back the hard-earned rights and benefits of his state’s public employee unions. Tens of thousands of citizens began marching in the streets of Madison.

A newly elected Republican, Governor Walker wants his GOP-controlled state legislature to pass a law that forces state workers to pay more for their pensions and health insurance coverage and takes away most of their collective bargaining rights. Ironically, Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to grant public employees collective bargaining rights.

An imperious Governor Walker says there will be no negotiations on his union-busting budget plan. If the legislature doesn’t pass his plan, Walker has threatened massive layoffs and cuts in state services that will cost thousands of jobs.

And in a move that would make Hosni proud, Walker put the National Guard on alert in case state workers strike or rise in protest. The Wisconsin Guard hasn’t been called out in a labor dispute since 1934. (And that situation was deadly.)

On Tuesday, February 15, approximately 15,000 people jammed inside the Capitol building and on the grounds to express their opposition to Walker. The next day, schools in Madison were closed as 40% of the teachers union’s 2,600 members called in sick and joined the growing throng of protestors at the Capitol.

Also on Tuesday, more than a thousand demonstrators gathered outside Governor Walker’s home. The line of protestors was ten blocks long.

Surely, this is all big national news, right?

In recent weeks, our national news media was awash with breathless coverage of the mass demonstrations in Egypt that brought down a dictatorship. That was as it should be. The defiant pro-democracy rallies in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were clearly and importantly newsworthy. So why isn’t it newsworthy when 10,000 Wisconsin citizens gather in the frigid streets of Madison chanting, “This is what Democracy looks like!”

In fact, many of the protesters in Madison recognize similarities between their struggle to maintain their rights and the Egyptians’ battle against an autocratic, oppressive regime. Some protest signs in Wisconsin say things like, “Hosni Walker,” “Don’t Dictate, Negotiate,” and “Dictators Will Fall.”

Our news media should be showing all Americans the sights and sounds of this popular uprising within our own borders. There should be up-close-and-personal feature stories about the local Madison businesses giving free food and coffee to the demonstrators — or police officers buying lunch for protesting state workers. Or the cheers that rose up when a column of hundreds of firefighters from across the state joined the protest, marching to the sound of their bagpipers.

Governor Walker had tried to keep the cops and firefighters out of this fight by exempting them from his regressive new anti-labor law – but Walker’s gambit to divide key groups of Wisconsin’s public employees against each other didn’t work. The President of Madison Fire Fighters Local 311 declared that even if supporting the protest leads to the cops and firemen getting their rights and benefits cut, too – organized labor sticks together.

“Oh you can’t scare me, I’m stickin’ to the union…”

According to all reports, the uniformed cops monitoring the protests are friendly and supportive — and off-duty officers are carrying “Cops for Labor” signs.

Of course, the struggle in Madison isn’t just about public workers’ rights in Wisconsin. It could be a pivotal event for the labor movement in America: a galvanizing moment when working people begin to push back against the 30-year conservative war on organized labor that began when Ronald Reagan broke the PATCO union during the air traffic controller’s strike.

President Obama appears to understand the larger implications of (what I’m calling) the Great Badger Labor Revolt…

“Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally seems like more of an assault on unions. And I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers.

“They make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution. And I think it’s important not to vilify them or to suggest that somehow all these budget problems are due to public employees.”

But where Obama sees “neighbors” and “friends” who “make a lot of sacrifices and make a big contribution” – right wing gasbag Rush Limbaugh sees only enemies, calling teachers “parasites” and union workers part of an “anti-democracy” movement.”

It’s sad to think that Limbaugh’s ranting may carry farther on the media airwaves than President Obama’s pro-union message.

And why has Governor Walker launched his assault on middle-class jobs and collective bargaining? Walker claims his state is broke — but an independent analysis by the Wisconsin Fiscal Bureau projects a net positive balance of $56 million for the state budget at the end of 2011. And a report by the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future estimates the cuts in public employees’ pay will cost the state $1.1 billion in reduced economic activity annually – which will lead to the loss of some 9,000 private sector jobs.

Walker’s plan is not about what’s good for Wisconsin.

This trumped-up “budget crisis” is really an extension of the Republican war against workers’ rights that Walker’s fellow GOP governors, like Ohio’s John Kasich and Arizona’s Jan Brewer, are also waging.

But in Wisconsin, Walker is facing a revolt. And that revolt has spread to the legislature itself.

Today, on Thursday February 17, in the midst of heated debate as Walker pressed his GOP majority to hastily ram his budget plan through the legislature — all 14 members of the Senate Democratic caucus walked out — depriving the state Senate the three-fifths majority it needs for a quorum on budgetary issues. Soon afterward, the NBC affiliate in Madison reported that the Democrats left the state entirely.

“I know the whereabouts of not a single Democratic senator,” said Democratic Party communications director Graeme Zielinski Zielinski. “I do not know what latitude they’re on, or know what longitude they’re on. I assume they’re in this hemisphere, I’ll say that.”

GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said that at some point, if necessary, Republicans will call upon the State Patrol to round up the Democratic diaspora and return them to the Senate floor. (And how’s this for nepotism, cronyism, and conflict of interest? The state Senate leader and the Assembly Speaker are brothers — and the new head of the State Patrol is their dad. You just can’t make this stuff up.)

Working people in America are fighting for their survival. This uprising by unions members and citizens of Wisconsin should be a major news story.

We’ll see what kind of play it gets in the corporate-controlled (and thus, anti-union) national media — other than MSNBC.

Will we see Anderson Cooper live from the Capitol Grounds in Madison?

I hope so.

I doubt he’ll have to worry about any Cheese-heads hitting him in the head.

On, Wisconsin!

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