So much has changed politically in Wisconsin in the last three months. It shows up clearly in this Talking Points Memo timeline of the Wisconsin union struggle, which begins with historic low polling favorability for unions and finishes with jaw-droppingly bad polling for Wisconsin's brand new governor.
The public groundswell of opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's attack on workers' rights has changed. It's gone from getting thousands of people to the Capitol every day and tens of thousands every weekend, to getting a few people there every day and 100,000 together somewhere in the state once a month or so, while mobilizing volunteers to mount and contribute to recall campaigns against Wisconsin Republicans.
The shape of national and social media interest has also changed. Last Thursday, for the first time since the February peak of the protests in Madison, "Wisconsin" dropped from the list of top tags on DailyKos, the largest community blog in the progressive netroots.
The popular #wiunion tag on Twitter no longer updates too fast to read everything, though it still sees regular use, and has been superseded by the #wirecall and #wivote tags that started seeing use as the energy of protest politics was shifted towards electoral politics.
As we're likely to be feeling the ripple of recent events in Wisconsin for a long time to come, it's a good point at which to look back at some of the early social media milestones before they're lost in the flood. Whatever else it was and is, the #WIunion struggle was mostly a word-of-mouth popular uprising, driven in large part by citizen media and email activism and inspiring people all over the country. If we're lucky, we'll see its like again.
The list of social media milestones you'll find below could have been three times as long, or more. Hopefully, it's just long enough to capture the sense of community purpose and public conversation that made #WIunion a powerful experience.
1: The Call
The infamous call, where the Buffalo Beast blogger impersonated David Koch and recorded the 20 minutes of conversation he then had with Gov. Scott Walker, was one of the most shocking, if not gonzo, media moments of the budget fight. Listeners marveled at the amount of time the governor made available, on short notice and without an appointment, for someone that he thought was a billionaire campaign contributor of his. At the same time Walker bragged about his exploits to 'Koch,' almost as if he were giving a progress update to a boss, his staff were telling Democratic State Senators that he was too busy to talk to them.
2: The Mistress
The report, via a chain of blog posts and a little sleuthing by BloggingBlue's Zach Wisniewski, that not only was Republican State Sen. Randy Hopper living with his 25 year old mistress in Madison, but that she was also a lobbyist, generated a media firestorm. The story was prominently picked up by FireDogLake, and spurred a fundraising action on DailyKos to run ads on the topic to support the Hopper recall campaign.
3: They Begged To Differ
Cognitive Dissidence covered the budget fight and protests in the largely editorial posts in this archive.
Chris Liebenthal's chronicling of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's support of Walker before their eventual criticism of him over the budget fight in late February is exemplary of the way bloggers in the aggregate tend to connect these sorts of dots into larger stories, in ways that mainstream media outlets often won't. Liebenthal has countered Walker's claims about public employees and has continued to focus on issues such as alleged 'cost-cutting' measures that will cost the state millions.
4: They Mopped The Floors
First Draft started covering the protests early, with extensive photo archives on the blog and their Flickr stream, getting the story out early that these were peaceful, positive events, and striking back against the talking points of Walker's allies with personal stories and editorials, and larger photo diaries from all the big weekend rallies.
Key posts include a photo diary of protestors washing the Capitol floor & playing chess, a review of the UW-Madison privatization plan, and an eyewitness debunking of the claim that protesters took hinges off Capitol building doors.
5: They Built A Town
David Dayen of FireDogLake provided one of the definitive eyewitness reports on "The Incredible Ecosystem of the Wisconsin State Capitol," when FDL decided that this was a big enough deal to send in a correspondent. This is fairly rare for even large blogs, who tend not to cover events in person if they don't have writers nearby. It's likely that this wouldn't have happened if the local blogs hadn't followed the story from the beginning and helped keep it alive.
Dayen continued to cover developments in the Budget Repair Bill fight in fair detail, most of which can be found in this tagged archive.
6: They Got Pizza
Word got out that Ian's Pizza on State St. was taking their leftover pizzas to the Capitol protests while the building was being occupied 24 hours a day during the Assembly Democrats' marathon budget hearings. Some bloggers noticed and asked people to call in orders to be delivered to the protesters so that Ian's would get reimbursed. People on Twitter were made aware. The local Journal Sentinel and the New York Times heard about it.
Ian's pizza got call-in orders for the protesters from all 50 states, DC, Egypt, Antarctica, and dozens of other countries. A few weeks in, they got so many orders that they opened the doors and gave away their food for free to anyone who walked in and placed an order, in addition to continuing to deliver their widely-praised pizzas to the protests down the block at the Capitol.
Ian's also makes salads. They were delicious.
7: They Got Thrown Out
Dane 101's archive of state government stories featured extensive photo diaries, covered day by day developments at the Capitol and put the spotlight on stories such as the illegal contributions made to Walker's campaign by wealthy railroad executives. They also posted video of some key moments, such as footage of citizens being removed from the State Assembly antechamber in advance of a March 11th vote on a standalone bill to strip state workers' collective bargaining rights.
8: The Whole Country Watched
Until Thursday, April 28, the "Wisconsin" tag steadily remained among the 20 most popular on DailyKos. This national blog, while it didn't send a correspondent, has prominently featured diaries by community members (including teachers and other union workers) from Wisconsin and interested political enthusiasts from around the country. Front page authors picked up the story and covered the topic daily during the height of the protests and budget standoff, as well as educating people about the recall effort.
During the first electoral contest following the peak of Capitol protests, the Wisconsin Supreme Court race between David Prosser and JoAnn Kloppenburg, a front page analysis of the procedures being followed in the investigation of vote totals in Waukesha was significant in quelling conspiracy theories about the election's outcome. And while Kloppenburg lost in the final count, many onlookers were amazed that she'd made up a 30-point deficit in the polls to come so close to unseating the incumbent, Prosser.
The site's full Wisconsin archive is here.
9: They Would Not Be Silent
#WIunion: This hashtag isn't the one that was initially favored by the unions. It was actually started by Kristian Knutsen of The Isthmus, Madison's alt-weekly, on Feb. 11th and used as a tag for their daily blog coverage, well before events in Madison became a national story. With a first-mover advantage like that in the Wisconsin twittersphere, it was the one that stuck, even trending worldwide at one point. Although the pace has slowed considerably, it was updating on April 2nd at a rate of 2-3 times per minute, minimum, and still gets updated with new content at least every 5 minutes or so during the day.
Also noteworthy on Twitter, Melissa Ryan, Sen. Russ Feingold's former new media director, put together the lists of key local bloggers and #WIunion allies for others who wanted to follow their perspective on events.
10: They Took Pictures Of Each Other
This list would be woefully incomplete without a mention of two independent films of the protests posted to Vimeo, by 23 year old student Matt Wisniewski, (no relation to Zach Wisniewski of Blogging Blue), set to popular songs and cut together from his own footage of the Capitol protests. While not blog posts, as such, these video montages (though there were many others, and multiple livestreams, and many Flickr archives of still photos,) will define the event for tens of thousands of people who weren't able to be there in person, and even for many who were.
When people asked if you saw 'the protest videos' in Madison at the peak of the demonstrations, chances were, they meant these.
11: They Watched The World
A time-lapse video of global protests & uprisings, Dec 18, 2010-March 7, 2011 was put together by John Caelan of SwampPost, and added to his site on March 9th, 2010. The video link spread like wildfire over Twitter, tapping into popular sentiment among the activist community that saw protests in Madison and other state capitals as part of a global wave of populist uprisings, each unique to their situations but inspired by the same longing for more just societies.
12: They Raised Some Dough
The online fundraising driven by the #WIunion events and national publicity definitely deserves its own spotlight. As they head into an unprecedented season of recall elections, Wisconsin Democrats start with a cash advantage in excess of $1 million, and to thank for it, they can mostly look to four online activist organizations that are unaffiliated with either a Democratic Party committee or any of the unions involved.
The charts below cover the online, blog and email-driven, fundraising highlights for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the WI State Senate Democratic Committee. Also included are the larger independent efforts by small-donor, online activist organizations, including Democracy For America (DFA) and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC.) Figures were gathered from ActBlue as of May 2nd.
WI State Senate Democratic Committee
Democratic Party of Wisconsin
Independent State Committees, Ads
|PCCC||DFA||PCCC + DFA ads|
In total, this represents over $3 million raised from more than 173,000 people, putting the average donation at a little over $17.
Update: Links and an expanded history of the #WIunion hashtag added.