The Wisconsin GOP is fighting an imaginary war on Christmas while Wisconsinites fight for their lives.
At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, a small group arranged a paper chain in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol, snaking the decoration from the top of the stairs down to the sidewalk and back up again. At the top of the steps, Assembly Rep.-elect Francesca Hong addressed a gaggle of reporters. Each link on the chain—nearly 5,000 of them—represented a Wisconsin resident who has died of COVID-19 this year.
The demonstration was organized after Republican lawmakers—in a show of obstinacy and pettiness—put up a Christmas tree in Capitol Rotunda without a permit.
The Christmas tree was a jab at Governor Tony Evers, who has closed the Capitol to the public due to the pandemic. In 2019, Evers called the pine in the Capitol a “holiday tree,” drawing the ire of right-wingers who’ve made this into an annual culture-war spat. (Of course, renaming a Christmas tree a “holiday tree” doesn’t make it any less a symbol of the Christian holiday—but even the suggestion that it should sent Republicans into a panic). Notably, the Christmas tree fight of 2020 comes after months of Republican inaction amid the pandemic.
Kate Walton, who organized the demonstration, hoped to highlight the GOP’s selective inaction with the symbolic decoration for the tree—a memoriam to the dead.
“They want holiday decorations, [I]’ll give ‘em holiday decorations,” Walton wrote in a message to Tone Madison.
Walton, a union nurse and activist, works in the emergency room at UW Hospital, where the first rounds of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered to frontline workers this week. Still, in Dane County and around the state of Wisconsin, COVID-19 cases continue to rise. On December 22, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced that 69 more people had died due to COVID-19, and recorded 164 new hospitalizations. In total, 4,614 people have died of the virus in the state alone.
And yet, Wisconsin Republicans, in state and federal government, remain unwilling to provide direct aid or enforce COVID-related safety precautions—even when the call comes from within the party. On Friday, December 18, Senator Ron Johnson blocked a Republican-sponsored bill that would have afforded a round of $1,200 stimulus checks. And in Wisconsin, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos held a press conference on November 19, promising to announce COVID-19 related legislation—only to reveal that he had no bill, and no plan. When Republicans did roll out specific proposals, they were full of power grabs and poison pills.
In the last 10 months, state Republicans, aided by the conservative state Supreme Court, have sued to block Evers’ COVID restrictions, including the governor’s shelter-in-place order, limits on public gatherings, and a provision for expanded absentee voting in the April primary. The Wisconsin Legislature has not taken any meaningful action since April and will not likely meet again before the new year.