Fighting Bob Fest and the fight against 'mere passive citizenship.'
In the making
Fighting Bob Fest, the annual celebration of progressive politics and ideas that began a decade ago in the depths of the Bush/Cheney era, gathers again Saturday, September 15, at the Alliant Energy Center. It will be huge in scope and content, with speakers such as Phil Donahue and Jim Hightower, as well as National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill and Madison’s own Ed Garvey. But the real power of the event, as always, will be with the people.
The great presence of Wisconsinites who seek to retain and renew the message of the man for whom the gathering is named — Robert M. La Follette, who served Wisconsin as governor and U.S. senator — is what makes Fighting Bob Fest the most meaningful grass-roots gathering of progressives in the nation. This is why it will feature national figures such as Bill McKibben, Greg Palast, radio personality Mike Papantonio, former Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer, Green presidential candidate Jill Stein and anti-war campaigner Norman Solomon along with Wisconsin Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin and Gwen Moore.
Wisconsin progressives agree with La Follette, who said: “America is not made. It’s in the making. It has today to meet an impending crisis as menacing as any in the nation’s history. It does not sound a call to arms, but it is nonetheless a call to patriotism and to higher ideals in citizenship — a call for the preservation of the representative character of the government itself. If we would preserve the spirit as well as the form of our free institutions, the patriotic citizenship of the country must take its stand and demand of wealth that it shall conduct its business lawfully. That it shall no longer furnish the most flagrant examples of persistent violation of statutes while invoking the protection of the courts. That it shall not destroy the equality of opportunity, nor the right to the pursuit of happiness guaranteed by the Constitution. That it shall keep its powerful hands off from legislative manipulation, that it shall not corrupt but shall obey the government that guards and protects its rights.”
“It is a glorious service, this service for the country,” La Follette continued in his great 1924 campaign declaration. “Mere passive citizenship is not enough. Men (and women) must be aggressive for what is right if government is to be saved from those who are aggressive for what is wrong. The nation has awakened somewhat slowly to a realization of its peril, but it has responded with gathering momentum. The Progressive movement now has the support of all the moral forces that the solution of a great problem can command. The outlook is hopeful. There is no room for pessimism.
“Mere passive citizenship is not enough.
“Every man (and woman) should have faith. Advance ground has been secured which will never be surrendered by the American people. There’s work for everyone. The field is large. It is a glorious service, this service for the country. The call comes to every citizen. It is an unending struggle to make and keep government representative. Each one should pocket a patriotic duty to build at least a part of his life into the life of his country, to do his share in the making of America according to the plan of the fathers.”
(A version of this article originally appeared in the opinion section of the Capital Times.)
September 15, 2012
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John Nichols is associate editor for the Capital Times in Madison, Washington correspondent for the Nation magazine, and a FightingBob.com contributing editor. He and Robert McChesney are co-authors of The Death and Life of American Journalism.