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The people united show their power in Madison

“The people united will never be defeated,” according to a popular progressive protest chant. At least four recent victories in the Wisconsin Legislature show that “the people united” can indeed make a difference.

Since Republicans hold absolute power over Wisconsin government, it is almost a Sisyphean task to thwart GOP legislation.

So let’s recap: In recent days and months, Wisconsinites fought back successfully against several GOP-proposed laws. First was the so-called “potty bill.” It would have forced transgender people to use bathroom facilities that conform with their birth gender rather than their current gender expression. The law sparked demonstrations organized by Fair Wisconsin and other groups. It was widely ridiculed and strongly opposed by medical professionals and a number of school officials. It died.

Next, a ban on fetal tissue research lost steam after researchers complained it would have a chilling effect on developing life-saving treatments for a variety of serious physical conditions. When Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a right-wing group that largely controls the state’s Republican Party, came out against it, the bill was finished.

But there’s more. Good old-fashioned grassroots demonstrations combined with online petitions and social media also managed to stop, at least for now, some bills that seemed destined to pass. 

As the legislative session drew to a close, Republicans were overwhelmed by opposition to a law facilitating corporate takeovers of local water utilities. Assembly Bill 554, proposed on behalf of Aqua America, Inc., a private, for-profit Pennsylvania company, would have taken away the say of citizens in the control of the utilities that provide their water. 

In the wake of public outrage, the Senate abruptly dropped the bill, at least for now.

Also apparently thwarted by the power of the people was AB 450. That bill was designed to ban so-called “sanctuary cities,” in which police are prohibited from reporting undocumented workers to federal immigration authorities during their investigations of crimes.

Immigration rights supporters said without the law, people couldn’t report crimes without fear of deportation. They said that would drive undocumented workers deeper into the shadows, preventing them from attending school and seeking emergency medical help for fear of being separated from their families.

Madison, Racine and Milwaukee County are considered sanctuary cities.

Led by the group Voces de la Frontera, about 20,000 people marched on Madison on Feb. 18 to protest the proposed law in what was called “A Day Without Latinos.” Work stoppages, especially on dairy farms, caused some disruption and reminded state employers of the value of the Latino workforce. On Twitter, protesters used the hashtag #daywithoutlatinos to share images of the protest and broaden its influence.

The Senate apparently has nixed that law, at least for now, unless the chamber takes it up in early March.

Unfortunately, protesters were unable to stop a bill that would keep Milwaukee and other cities from issuing local photo IDs to the homeless, undocumented workers and others who can’t obtain state IDs — thereby allowing disenfranchised people to open checking accounts and obtain certain public benefits. That bill shutting down local ID is headed for Gov. Scott Walker’s signature.

Even in the face of losses, though, the “sanctuary city” fight against the Legislature will have lasting political value, said Voces de la Frontera executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz: “This battle is giving us the opportunity to build a statewide structure to organize the Latino vote that will challenge any candidate who is anti-immigrant in 2016 and beyond,” she said in a statement.

There is power in the people when we come together and take principled stands.

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