If you long for many things to change in the world as I do, you may think a lot about the hopelessness and sense of defeat that seems so endemic (both of which feelings– defeat and hopelessness, I often experience myself). When you periodically come upon the thrilling surprise, the amazing mystery of moments where a wildfire of activism, courage and dedicated, thoughtful, collective risk-taking, speaking-truth-to-power–are set in motion, you may wonder, “why did this moment result in forward motion rather than more hopelessness and inertia?” I want to understand better and better what allows these hopeful, forward moving times to happen. I want to bask in these moments of thoughtful, hopeful, determined action, and hopefully be part of one or more movements in which many of us will generate more moments that give way to action and forward motion. So let’s talk about Wisconsin.
On Thursday, midday, I ran into a friend and neighbor who unexpectedly took me to lunch. At the very end of our time together– she tossed out a quick comment about the wild uprising in Wisconsin. I had heard from neither my sister nor one of my closest friends, both of whom live in Wisconsin. I had no idea what she was talking about.
I raised a questioning eyebrow, she told me a tiny bit and we said goodbye. I promptly searched the internet, and turned on CNN (despite an almost immovable policy to never watch tv during the day while unemployed). I learned that in Madison, a mass protest was (and is still) underway led by roughly 35,000 school teachers, other public sector employees, and I think many students– in response to a bill that the recently elected, utterly dishonest Tea-party Republican governor, Scott Walker, introduced a week ago Friday– which would strip away most of the hard-won collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin public sector employees.
The bill was introduced on Friday, February 11 and slated for a vote on Thursday, February 17. And the protest was going strong. There are thousands of people who were and are still sitting in and protesting at the State Capitol in Madison. I called one of my closest friends, a Madison public school counselor and learned more from her. She had been at the State Capitol on and off for days and was involved as a member of her union, in the decisions made that set all of this in motion. The reporting by CNN about Wisconsin consisted of truly reprehensible and utterly biased verbal attacks on the Democratic State Senators who had left the state house, in a legitimate strategic move to block a vote on a terrible piece of legislation that was going to be forced on the state of Wisconsin with less than a week’s time for public discourse, debate or amendment. The CNN anchor kept throwing out accusations that in leaving the state to ensure that there wouldn’t be a quorum, that the Democratic State Senators were “not doing the jobs they were elected to do”. In the most vicious and derisive tone. When the spokesperson the anchor was beating up on, countered that the Governor had given no notice, no indication in his campaign that he intended to pass legislation that would strip workers of collective bargaining rights, the anchor said “Oh that’s just politics”. Apparently lying in electoral campaigns is ok, but taking procedural steps, as an elected official, to block a vote on legislation with which you and thousands of your constituents have disagreement, is simply lazy. If it helps to put all this in context, the Governor had sent the police out after the missing Democratic State Senators– to try to drag them to the State Capitol to ensure a quorum for the vote on Thursday. I could and should go on and on about the distortions and bias of the CNN anchors on Thursday afternoon. That what I heard from two different CNN anchors on Thursday afternoon pass as legitimate journalism astounds me.
But back to the subject at hand– I am deeply proud of the solidarity that is being demonstrated by the Wisconsin protesters. And although I won’t try right now to articulate why; I think it is no coincidence– that this uprising, this saying of “No, we are not going to take these lies and moves to further silence working people” is happening in the Midwest. I am proud of the Wisconsin protesters, of the history of protest in Wisconsin and I am proud that this is happening in my Midwest.
Although I have lived on the East Coast for over 20 years, I am a Midwesterner through and through. This truth about me shows itself in many ways– for one, when I open my mouth and speak. I was born and grew up in Chicago and suburban Chicago. I got a lot of excellent higher education in the 70s and 80’s– all of it in Madison, Wisconsin. I lived in Madison for about 10 years. I learned a lot there– both in and out of the classroom. I have often said that Chicago is my hometown but Wisconsin is my state. So look beyond the mainstream media, and dig deep to follow this. Although you won’t find much helpful or honest on CNN, Rachel Maddow, the Christian Science Monitor and many others have had some interesting things to say. Wisconsin is important and what is going on there is profoundly important. To you and to me and to all of us.