Yesterday Was “Fighting Bob Fest” in Wisconsin
Senator Feingold at the Kickoff celebration before Fighting Bob Fest at the Barrymore Theater in Madison. He’s talking about the Supreme Court case, Citizens United. He wasn’t there in the Saturday line-up, which included David Couper, Rep. David Obey, Jesse Jackson (above, who received a lifetime achievement award), and Thom Hartmann. Seems like he’s been missing in action at events like Fighting Bob Fest and President Obama’s recent speeches in Wisconsin. Possibly, he’s distancing himself from too many progressive gigs; he’s in trouble here. Big trouble.
I’ve always wanted to attend Fighting Bob Fest just to get a feel for it. I’ve attended one Kickoff since living here. A couple of years ago, Cynthia MacKinney, Robert McChesney and Bill McKibben were feted. Robert Kennedy, Jr., Amy Goodman, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Phil Donahue and Rep. John Conyers have attended in previous years. It’s a great outdoor political festival perched at the end of the summer that claims to the nation’s largest. I wonder, though, because from some of the photos and videos, it’s also a graying festival.
A day that began with overcast skies and scattered rain showers ended with bright sunshine and a rollicking, old-school rallying of the progressive faithful in the tradition of Robert M. “Fighting Bob” La Follette, the Wisconsin governor, senator and 1924 presidential candidate for whom the festival is named.
Jackson, who was honored with a lifetime achievement award by festival organizers, hailed the progressive movement led by La Follette, which stood for economic and social justice at home while opposing empire-building abroad.
Echoing La Follette’s messages of the previous century, which recognized the danger of spending on foreign wars rather than meeting human needs at home, Jackson called for bringing U.S. troops home and reallocating resources from military occupations overseas to fighting unemployment at home.
“We want for America what we provide for Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Jackson. “We want jobs for Chicago… jobs for Milwaukee… jobs for Sauk County.”
Sounding economic justice themes that repeatedly brought the crowd to its feet, Jackson warned that: “We’ve globalized capital without globalizing human rights, without globalizing workers’ rights, women’s rights, children’s rights. Let’s democratize our economy!”
In 2001, 10 activists who were veterans of the successful battle to stop Perrier-Nestle from taking our state’s spring water and ruining our ground water and wetlands came together in Wisconsin Dells. They were looking to find ways to carry the victory forward into other arenas and to help other citizen groups learn from their experiences.
Out of this meeting, and this sentiment, Fighting Bob Fest was born. The group discussed the problems they faced when the Perrier fight began. They pledged to spread their newfound knowledge. They decided to devote what energy they had remaining to sponsoring an event that would bring together citizens who were willing to help each other.
The first Fighting Bob Fest happened in 2002, and it’s grown larger in succeeding years. It remains a time and place for people to network, to learn about other people’s interests, issues and activism, and to gird their loins and fire up the grassroots, so to speak, for coming political fights. That was the point in the presidential election of 2008, and definitely during this political cycle with the midterms coming up.