21 Feb 2011

From Egypt to – Wisconsin?

As protesters in Wisconsin compare their sit in to Egypt, Sarah Smith discovers that pizza is at the centre of keeping their resolve strong.

The protestors who are occupying the statehouse in Wisconsin clearly consider it to be their Tahrir Square. They frequently say that they have been inspired by the demonstrators in Egypt and like to compare their movements.

You might think that any Egyptian who risked their lives to demand basic democratic freedoms would be insulted that American government employees demonstrating against cuts to their pensions think that their struggle is comparable to what happened in Egypt. But it seems no one is offended. In fact, someone in Egypt has been sending pizza to the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin to feed the protestors who have been living in the legislator for a week now.

On the face of it, it seems a bit strange that thousands of union members and their supporters are still occupying the state parliament building. After all the unions and the governor have agreed on a series of spending cuts that would eliminate the state’s budget deficit. The workers have already agreed to pay more of their salaries into their pensions and pay more toward their health insurance. So what’s the problem? Union leaders say that the Republican governor also wants to get rid of many of their rights to collective bargaining as well. Union members are convinced that the newly elected governor is using the budget crisis to enact sweeping changes that he and other right wingers have been hoping to introduce for decades. To reduce the power of the unions in the public sector in Wisconsin permanently.

It’s the same on a national level. Lots of Tea Party backed Republicans were elected to Congress in November with a mandate to cut Government spending. And after that “shellacking” at the polls, President Obama had to promise he would spend less of taxpayers’ money. But when Republicans voted on the budget last week to drastically cut funding for Planned Parenthood, a group that offers family planning and abortion advice, and National Public Radio, a station that often gets accused of being too left wing, it was obvious they were using America’s huge budget deficit as an excuse to reduce money for groups they have always disliked anyway.

Maybe that’s why the battle in Wisconsin seems to be striking a chord, across America and across the world. The local pizza shop has also had calls from people wanting to donate pizza from Korea, Finland, Demark, Australia, Canada, Germany, China the Netherlands and turkey – as well as several calls form London.