Monday, June 06, 2011
Walkerville is a symbolic movement currently going on in (of course! You guessed it) Madison, WI. Protesters have set up tents and small shelters around the Capitol grounds and scheduled events to call attention to the risks of the proposed state budget and the governor's extreme agenda. Walkerville, they say, represents the equivalent of a Depression-era Hooverville.
One argument of the makeshift community's: Gov. Walker's union busting is unconstitutional, unwise, and wrong. The law, if it makes its way through the State Supreme Court, will cause more economic harm than good. More than 100 days after its introduction, Wisconsin's citizens and legislators remain polarized and conflicted around Walker's philosophies in general and the so-called Budget Repair Law in particular. No disagreement there; the union busting attempt has a direct effect on me and on my colleagues in education.
In addition: access to the Capitol has been severely limited. Any groups potentially in opposition to Walker have been forced off the floor and onto the grounds.
But is Walkerville equivalent to a Hooverville? No, it's not. Organizers chose the name Walkerville to invoke the memories of Hoovervilles, the shanty towns of the depression. Major economic crisis: check. Job scarcity: check. Shanty towns: let's talk it over.
The best description of a Hooverville I've ever read was in Christopher Paul Curtis' Newbery winner Bud, Not Buddy. Bud, a 10-year-old orphan, is on his own and looking for shelter when a local man tells him to head toward the outskirts of town and find "Hooperville." Bud finds his way to the shanty town and finds out it's not Hooperville, but Hooverville, named after the president, who thought they were so special that every town ought to have one.
Bud asks, "How do I know I'm at the right Hooverville?"
"Answer these three questions. Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you scared?"
"Yes. Yes. Yes."
"Then you're in the right Hooverville."
Hoovervilles were home to people who had no home. Many were riding the rails, sneaking into open boxcars to travel far away from home in search of work. These people were homeless, but not entirely hopeless. They banded together to feed each other (Bud eats muskrat stew cooked over an open fire and served in a square tin can), keep warm, and stay safe.
Walkerville isn't made up of shanties; people brought tents and sleeping bags. The comfort level is much, much different. Residents of Walkerville are temporary; one was quoted as saying he couldn't stay because he had final exams most of the week. They'll go back to their dorms or their homes when the time for protest is done. Residents of the real Hoovervilles had no place to go but another Hooverville.
Walkerville is a planned protest, complete with scheduled speakers and music and even documentary movies in support of the cause. Hoovervilles sprang up according to extreme need. The name works in a way, as this site describes it, reminding skeptics that "(n)aming a forced settlement after the person who made it necessary has historical significance in the labor movement."
The tent city in Madison is an attempt to direct attention to policies that will hurt the middle class. Walkerville and the movement as a whole have historical significance in the labor movement nationwide. This is a creative way to make a point and gain publicity.
But is it a Hooverville? No. Walkerville is named for a leader known for divisiveness and conflict, but he hasn't forced masses of citizens into homelessness yet.
Yet. If he continues along the same political road, Walkervilles may no longer be camp-outs. I hope this month's Walkerville tactics help make the point and change direction enough that we don't need the real thing.