Know/Name Thine Enemy
Popular labor slogans such as “Solidarity!” and “Unite!” were ubiquitous throughout the 2011 Wisconsin protests. This is perhaps unsurprising given the fact the Republican-backed “Budget Repair Bill” at the epicenter of the protests intensely curtailed the bargaining power and dues-collecting capacity of public sector labor unions. The slogans also proved to be apt descriptors of the broad coalition of public labor, private labor, progressive activists, and individual citizens that coalesced to fight the legislation. The common cause of protesters, however, was not the only kind of solidarity that figured prominently in the rhetoric of the Wisconsin Uprising.
In order to respond to the nearly unanimous support for the bill among Republican state officials and the support those officials were perceived to be receiving from unelected conservative figures/institutions, one of the important roles that protest rhetoric played was in delineating the many supporters of the bill as enemies that could be defeated. Much in the way that themes of solidarity and unity functioned to articulate a united front in opposition to the bill, rhetorical treatments of the bill’s (perceived) supporters carefully articulated them as a unified front; a conspiracy working in concert to do harm not only to Wisconsin’s citizens, but to the citizens of the nation by extension.
Whether or not Wisconsin Republicans, conservative donors like the Koch Brothers, and other conservative entities such as the Tea Party and Fox News coordinated their efforts in support of the “Budget Repair Bill” to the extent they were accused of, these arguments were undoubtedly important to the shared identity and sustained coordination that animated the massive demonstrations. Rhetoricians have long attested to the importance of a monolithic and dangerous enemy in generating movement cohesion, and the cabal of conservative officials, journalists, activists, and billionaires constructed during the Uprising fits the bill nicely.