On this Labor Day, I wanted to remind you that you did something great. Yes, it was over three years ago, but many of us haven’t forgotten. In fact, I even wrote a song about it. More on that in a bit.
But first, in February of 2011, you reawakened America’s fighting spirit. You assembled huge numbers of people in protest for an important cause – numbers this country hadn’t seen since the Vietnam War. It was breathtaking.
You inconvenienced yourself. You stood in the bitter cold for weeks on end. You missed work. You got arrested. Fourteen of you even hid out in Illinois. You were scorned and mocked.
You reminded America that there were more important things to be concerned with than who gets voted off Dancing with the Stars or the idle rich antics of the Kardashians.
You stood up to Governor Scott “Divide and Conquer” Walker and Act 10, his so-called “Budget Repair Bill” – legislation that would attempt to solve Wisconsin’s economic troubles on the backs of people earning $35,000 a year. (It amazes me that there is outrage over the pensions and benefits of people making very modest wages, but barely any outcry over the fact that the 400 richest families in America have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.)
You stood up to the likes of Koch brothers and those who would privatize everything. These are people who would treat American workers like a collection of old spare parts, to be tossed into a pile when they are no longer useful. These are people whose only goal is to funnel as much money as possible to the top 1%. Tax cuts for the wealthy. Austerity for everyone else.
Without you, there may have been no Occupy Wall Street, and I doubt that the issue of income inequality would be front and center as it is now. Heck, even John Boehner admitted this past spring that income inequality is a problem (then quickly blamed it on Obama). I also don’t think we would be seeing states across the country raising their minimum wages if not for your passion.
Wisconsin’s fight was America’s fight. It was a fight about greed. It was a fight about upholding the basic protections workers have relied on since America’s first union – the Molders Union Local 125 – was formed in Milwaukee in 1865. Yes, the birthplace of the American labor movement began in your great state. In 1959, Wisconsin was also the first state to allow public employees the right to bargain collectively. And there during that cold winter of 2011 in Madison when that right and others were under attack, you stood up, shouted loudly and unleashed the power of protest.
To paraphrase Albert Camus, “In the midst of winter, you found there was, within you, an invincible summer.”
In the end, your efforts may not have been enough to stop these darker forces. But you know what the say about losing the battle but winning the war. And I believe that the war will eventually be won. The voices have become too loud to be ignored. Because of you, Wisconsin, the giant is no longer sleeping.
And so it occurred to me recently – Has anyone ever really thanked you for all that you did?
I sing and write songs for a Boston band called Eddie Japan. I wear my progressive politics on my sleeve. My mother was the president of a teachers’ union for many years, and I was taught never to cross a picket line. But somehow, my songs have never been political. Perhaps it’s because writing about topical issues is so hard to do well. But after being glued to the television during the winter of 2011 and watching all that was happening in Wisconsin, I couldn’t help but be inspired. The Occupy Wall Street movement followed in the fall of that year, and anyone who cared about the issues that so many people were taking to the streets over, had to feel like there was something in the air – that a change was going to come. It finally seemed like the curse of our shallow preoccupations and short attention spans had been broken. We woke up and realized that our country was being taken away.
Out of all this came “Fight Song.” It is a musical thank you note to all the people who sacrificed and fought – a fight that began in Wisconsin. It is an upbeat anthem and a dose of encouragement for anyone who is working to get America back on the side of labor and economic fairness. The band hopes that it can play some small part in continuing this important work, and maybe even help elect Wisconsin’s first woman governor this November.
Earlier this year, we shot a video for “Fight Song.” On a bitter cold winter afternoon, we set up in an old butcher block mill in Providence, Rhode Island with our filmmaker friends William Smyth and Paul Tierney, and a crowd of friends and fans who had been plied with pizza and beer. It was a shotgun approach to video making, but William and Paul managed to capture magic that afternoon. Editor Jon Downs then made even magic with their footage. We were blown away by the results.
We are honored to partner with the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO for the premiere of the video for “Fight Song.” There are many music blogs we could have approached for this effort, but we wanted "Fight Song" to get right to the people who inspired it. We know that the WISAFLCIO is fighting hard for Wisconsin and all working people, and Eddie Japan stands in solidarity with this great organization.
The chorus of “Fight Song” states emphatically that “we’re never going back again.” “Back,” in this case, is defined as a time when there were only rich and poor in America. A time when it was basically every man for himself – a time that would look much like the Gilded Age. But here in 2014, I am optimistic that we won’t go back. There will be more fights ahead, but you showed us the way, Wisconsin.
Thank you, and Happy Labor Day.
David Santos is the singer and songwriter with the Boston, Massachusetts band Eddie Japan. In April of 2013, the band won Boston’s famous Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble, and in December of that year, the band won a Boston Music Award for “Live Artist of the Year” – a category that also included Aerosmith. Eddie Japan’s dramatic pop has been described by the Boston Herald as “...a circus of jazzy horn lines and girl group cooing, of swinging ‘60s cool and odd ‘80s new wave.” David lives 100 miles west of Boston in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife Jody and son August. His commute to band practice is a long one.
Fight Song art credit: Tyler Litwin/Blake Ink United
Photo credit: Kristin Hughes/Kris Marie Photo
Top Photo - from left to right: Emily Belastock, filmmaker Paul Tierney, Kate Connell, Chris Barrett, Eric Brosius, filmmaker William Smyth, Chuck Ferreira, David Santos, Charles Membrino, Bart LoPiccolo