I met Juan Esteban Ruiz the young activist, journalist and artist when he was passing through Berkeley. He had come to understand the political and cultural climate of California and bring back what he had learned to his home state Wisconsin. Unfortunately, among some positive strategies, he also learned that the cops here have serious issues. Here is a video in which Juan gets a less than warm reception playing the drums at a protest. He returned to his home state with no idea to what extent it was about to go down over there… but go down it did, and soon he was participating in the biggest labor fight in his state’s history. So big that we in California have actually heard about it, which is a big deal considering how labor battles are more often than not swept under the rug completely. Today, I present to you an interview with Juan on these issues and more. Here goes it:
L: Thank you for letting me interview you. To start out, could you please speak on who you are, how you came into activist journalism and what your current projects are?
J: Hey, my name is Juan Esteban Ruiz and I was born in Buenaventura, Colombia. My family moved from Colombia to Madison WI, when I was four. As far as how I can into Activist Journalism is pretty much answered by how I developed in my teens and early adulthood. I went to four different high schools and the the fourth school is named after Malcom Shabazz, or Malcom X. It was an alternative high school that really turned on a light inside of myself for a thirst for knowledge in Politics and Current Events. I started volunteering at local business’s in Madison for school credit, and Radio Journalism turned out to be one of them. When I was 19, I had just graduated high school and enjoyed a beautiful summer in Madison. Then hurricane Katrina hit, I worked hard with several other activists as a Relief volunteer in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. I made a radio documentary about what was happening on the ground in New Orleans and several other locations in the southern struck regions of the US. I won a Wisconsin Public Broadcasting Award for best independent documentary. It was my first radio documentary. I just put a story together for WORT 89.9 fm on the protests at the Capitol building in Madison. I interviewed Amy Goodman at a local event that she spoke at. I also interviewed our newly elected mayor, Paul Soglin, a veteran of the Civil Rights era, I’ve been focusing my attention on people who have made an impact in our community here in Madison. Both from my generation, older activists, and the youth, because that’s how I got into it.
L: What was your role in the recent labor conflict in Wisconsin that had been receiving a lot of press in the last few months? Could you explain briefly what the conflict was to a layperson that isn’t up on their union lingo?
J: As far as the recent protests in Madison, my role has been that of support. I need to get harder into the grit, but good thing there’s a lot left to the fight, there’s not much we can do to repeal the change in the law that bans Collective Bargaining Rights for Union members right now, right now. I say that meaning in the short term. But as far as the long term is considered, there needs to be a collective movement un-electing the current state senate that has a Republican Majority. And of course, the Recall effort of Scott Walker. Basically our newly elected Governor Scott Walker wrote a very Draconian bill that cuts funding for a lot of social programs, cuts collective bargaining rights for Unions, like teachers and garbage men. He’s trying to make abortion and clinics like Planned Parenthood lose their federal and state funding. He says all this under the guise of reform and balancing the budget. But yet he’s not increasing taxes on the top earners in the state, he’s increasing taxes on the middle class and below.
L: One could arguably say that the battle in Madison has been lost, in that governor Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill that banned most collective bargaining was passed and that media attention has now been focused away from the efforts and on to other things such as the death of Osama Bin Laden and Bristol Palin’s new face. Many of the activists and journalists that had been fighting the cause had to give up in order to keep themselves afloat financially. Would you say that this movement in Wisconsin has been a complete failure? (And if not, why not?)
J: I don’t think its been a failure, I think it will be a travesty is
he is reelected, or even if doesn’t get recalled. Around November is when we can actually start the recall process of the Governor… So we need to get the petition to sign the petition going strong this summer. Then in November we can start canvassing all of Wisconsin, especially the Madison and Milwaukee area, and we can hopefully make state history and recall a very fascist Governor Walker. I guess we need 540,000 signatures? I don’t think it will be that hard considering we broke 100,000 people at the capitol for a month straight! As far as the media goes… Well they haven’t covered much of this story since, and that’s what happens in main stream media, they play the shit out of a story, then they drop it, and move on to the next story. I’m not offended, I’m just glad they gave us the attention they did! The first wave may be over, but there is a lot more left in this war…
L: Here in California, and all over the United States, the quality of life for the working class is diminishing ever faster as a result of these “budget balancing acts”. Were you the governor, president, or other miscellaneous dictator guy, how would you go about balancing the budget in your state and the whole country? Can the budget be balanced in a civilized way (Meaning, in a way that will improve or at least not reduce the quality of life for America’s poor without relying on imperialism?)
J: If I were head of the World Bank, well even farther than that. If I
was the heir to the throne of the Richest family in the world… like
the Waltons, or the Medicci, I would do so much for the world… At
least I think so. If I had the money that Bill Gates does, and the
influence over people like Obama. First thing I would do is create a
sustainable agriculture program. Start reallocating corporate farmland into smaller sustainable farming communities. So we can create jobs, whilst feeding ourselves. Along with sustainable agriculture, I would enact sustainable energy programs. Because if we trained more people how to create there own energy, we could tax that energy into a collective pot, and use that to power things like hospitals and airports at lower cost. I want to create jobs… The way we do that is through technology and education. If we could create hydrogen powered energy plants, that created energy, and had a by product of drinkable water… Than you could solve a lot of issues that will be a factor in the future. Cities are getting way too over populated, we need to terraform desert into sustainable communities, but keep a careful balance with human encroachment on the animal kingdoms. I would start
composting plants, so we could create soil out of organic waste
material, I would totally reform all basic utilities to become more
green and sustainable. I would also start gardening and botanical
projects for children in schools. Making it mandatory education to
learn how to grow your own food. With the facts of pollinating bee’s
dying on mass in the United States, and the erosion of the the top
soil in America’s heartland, huge Corporate farms and there waste
product of fertilizers and pesticides, pretty soon there won’t be
enough usable soil to feed our population. So we need to start
teaching people how to grow there own food first, because I’m not
trying to rely on Monsanto to feed me when the shit hits the fan!
There’s a lot I would do if I were in power… But even the powerful
have safe guards against anyone of there own going rogue and actually helping the people. Honestly I know Obama would’ve done more political moves like Kennedy if only he wouldn’t get shot in the head for them. When you dive down the rabbit hole in activism, it can get really scary at times. If you simply read the history of social movements, and what the rich and powerful do to those of there opposition, then you will learn that you cannot trust any government official. You cannot trust any corporate suit, and you might not even be able to trust your own wife! Meaning anyone can be corrupted, and intimidated. Or anyone person can be an informant. Sadly you have to realize those facts in activism, and persevere… I think honestly the Government knows whats its been doing is wrong, its just about the money, really, so when money doesn’t become the main issue, then maybe actually healing and preserving our world will take presidence over that. I guess the best thing that could be done, if for all the owners of the Fortune 500 companies, the leaders of Governments and States around
the world, got together and chose to help… Really its that easy,
they can just choose to help. I guess that’s all I want really, is just
some compassion and love towards a stranger ya know?
L: How can we here in the Bay Area support our allies in Wisconsin and the greater community?
J: How can the Bay help Wisco? Well I’ve always wanted to setup a connection of fundraisers, I would love to setup a tour of different groups from the Bay coming to Madison and Milwaukee. Music is such a huge way of bringing people together… The Bay has mad culture, that’s something they can export to the Midwest, because there are some ignant folks here in Wisco. But here in Madison, its a lot like Berkeley, its the Wisconsin countryside that would use the culture of the Bay the best. There’s a lot that can be done between both regions, but were like 2000 miles apart, that makes it kinda hard to be there in person, even when your there in spirit! We need more recognition for the hard work people have been doing here in Wisconsin. And there’s a battle to be fought in Cali as well, I guess who knows what the future holds, I just know that if we wanna see our dreams come true, we gotta work at it… Basically, it don’t come easy, and it don’t come cheap, change has a cost, but those who persevere always get ahead, that’s just what I truly believe…
Thank you, Juan Ruiz.
Show your solidarity with Wisconsin. Click here!