Wisconsinites and many across the nation have received a wake-up call in the past two-plus weeks with the labor protests in Madison, in Wisconsin and in the other 49 states.
"This movement is one we will look back on as a brand-new awakening for our nation," said Center for Media and Democracy Executive Director Lisa Graves, speaking as part of a panel on Media and the Wisconsin Labor Struggle. "This awakening has been long in coming and it's going to need to be sustained."
Graves was among the panelists for the free public forum held Thursday night, March 3, at the Orpheum Theater in Madison, and organized by the The Labor & Working Class Studies Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Haven's Center. Graves said the eyes of all have been opened to how little corporations pay in taxes, and how they have shaped the divisive budget debate in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
For the past 30 years, business concerns have poured money into media interests to grow their ideas and a political system that would advance their corporate agenda. Meanwhile, unions of all stripes have gotten ill-covered, according to Frank Emspak, founder and producer of Workers Independent News.
"The last nationwide labor radio show went off the air in 1955. There's 100 percent censorship in labor news. We deal with this bias by creating our own voice," Emspak said.
But if mainstream media doesn't cover a movement, does that make it irrelevant? Noted Matt Rothschild, editor of the Progressive Magazine, "Something is happening here, and corporate media is missing it. This is the largest sustained labor rally that this country has seen in decades, and it may be the single most sustained rally for workers in U.S. history. Scott Walker and the Koch brothers thought people would continue to take it lying down and they're fighting back, and it's spreading. And the fight started here."
Graves explained what the Center and its PRWatch.org website has done to inform the public of how corporate leaders including David Koch, Koch Industries and the groups they bankroll, spend millions of dollars seeding movements and candidates –- including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker –- that advance their cause. She noted that a surprising number of corporations pay little or nothing in corporate income taxes.
The Club for Growth, which has been running pro-Walker ads across the state in recent weeks, reported $3.5 million in revenue in 2009, according to records obtained by Graves. The Club for Growth Wisconsin reported a separate $3.5 million in revenue for that same year. R.J. Johnson, formerly one of this organization's main consultants, became one of Walker's political strategist.
"We vote. They invest in candidates and they expect a return," Graves said. "The budget Walker unveiled is a return on that investment."