When Oconomowoc, Wisconsin becomes a hotbed of political activity, you know legislators are in trouble. Driving through town to visit my mother over the past few months, I was shocked to find Wisconsin Avenue crawling with volunteers gathering signatures to recall Fitzgerald. It was very ‘Freaky Friday,’ as though Oconomowoc and Madison had somehow switched geographical locations, because this was not my mother’s Oconomowoc. It’s clear that this sleepy, Republican-dominated town has been transformed into ground zero in the fight against regressive policies, and there is one man most responsible for this incredible transformation: Dwayne Block.
Beneath Dwayne Block’s fancy hats, muted sweaters, and old-school mannerisms lies a fiery political activist hell-bent on preventing Wisconsin from turning into Arkansas. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of catching this mild-mannered, church-going, retired music teacher in action. Last September, my jaw dropped as I watched Leah Vukmir (R) threaten to have Dwayne Block removed from the Capitol for his “outbursts” while protesting a last-minute Joint Committee hearing regarding Voter ID. (Dwayne earned major street cred with me that day.)
When not personally taking on high-ranking GOP legislators, Dwayne Block can be found leading the OconDems meetings which he founded in July of 2007. “OconDems is an independent, ideologically aggressive Democratic organization. My premise for operation is that we need an independent progressive ideologically organized force to keep the political Democratic Party on task and on target. The severity of the 2007 stock market crash, the powerful rise of Barack Obama, and the Scott Walker war on Wisconsin values have provided the climate for great popular involvement and OconDems growth. The Walker factor has also given birth to a new Oconomowoc Democratic group – the Oconomowoc Area Walker Recall Group- a group which promises to break still new ground,” stated Block.
Indeed, the growing number of citizens getting up early to listen attentively to educational presentations on the first Saturday of every month is growing exponentially. Surprisingly, some attendees with whom I’ve spoken are not Democrats, some are former Republicans, and others have never been involved in politics before. Regardless, Dwayne makes everyone feel welcome. And he provides (free!) snacks and coffee.
Of course, each person has his/her own specific reasons for showing up, and I don’t pretend to know all of them, but the most pressing concern appears to be regarding the corporate takeover of Wisconsin, and what we citizens can do to stop it.
Dwayne Block understands that unless citizens unite and stop the Wisconsin GOP from allowing ALEC to craft our laws, we’ll cease to progress as a state and begin to regress. “Building the OconDems has been driven by the love of country under the duress of fanatical right-wing corporate fascism that we have all lived with and learned to despise. My political drive has a broad historical foundation and a sincere Christian faith to fuel it. It is because of this that the corporate drive to dominate all human beings across this state, nation, and planet is particularly offensive,” said Block.
He cited one giant tangible measure of success against such corporate takeover. “We (citizens all across Wisconsin) just completed a recall of Walker with over 1 million signatures. An event of popular democracy of staggering dimensions never approached in the history of the nation in over 200 years.”
Attendance levels at the OconDems meetings are certainly another indicator of success. What started out as a group of “about a dozen” has grown to over seventy-plus at times.
I hope citizens in Oconomowoc and throughout Waukesha County will continue to remain energized and engaged long after Walker and Fitzgerald are gone, that we don’t return to complacency any time soon.
I look forward to the day when I drive through the streets of O-Town, see activists out on the street, and yawn.
(The next meeting of the OconDems is Saturday, February 4th, at the Oconomowoc Public Library.)