I had the privilege of spending time on the phone with a woman very close to me who is a teacher in the Madison public school system– listening to her describe the local union meeting of attended by almost 3,000 people yesterday. She told me stories that made me laugh and cry– about how they didn’t have the technology to count votes on many issues on which they had to vote, so many times over they all filed out of the room and then walk back in either through the yes or the no door and be counted. She told me that she took the microphone and spoke of Nachshon who, when the Jews were fleeing Egypt and slavery, was the first to step into the Red Sea– not knowing, of course, what would happen. As things always are– in a critical moment, there is always a person or a small group who take that first step. Uncertain of what will follow, but knowing that they must take that step forward.
She told me how deeply teachers worry about public opinion and that the teachers worried about what is being said and thought of them. She spoke of Rosa Parks, saying that when Rosa Parks sat down and refused to move to a different seat on the bus, they thought this would be a short, perhaps one-day or days-long boycott. Which went on for a year. And that when the all important bus boycott began, public opinion had not been on their side. That what was on their side was that they were right.
I listened to her as she figured out what she wanted to communicate when she will be one of a panel of speakers on a Madison radio station today– representing the viewpoint of teachers in Madison. As I have watched and listened, I understand more and more about how we can make each other hopeful and inspire each other to take bold action, to keep going, to do right, to not be passive and to believe that we can do big, significant things. We need to keep letting them in Wisconsin know that we are watching, behind them, proud of them, on their side and standing with them.
There are about 68,000 people protesting in Madison today. I caught a glimpse of a protest sign that sums up my perspective on the meaning of preserving collective bargaining rights. It read: “Teachers’ Working Conditions are your children’s learning conditions”.
Today I cheer for the teachers, the parents who are supporting the teachers, the students out in support, the firefighters and police who have resisted Scott Walker’s attempts to divide people, the working people not grumbling but figuring out alternative arrangements for their school children and for all of stand-up Wisconsin.
Here is the link to a NY Times op-ed piece called Wisconsin Power Play— about why this matters to all of us. The tag line is “What’s happening in Madison isn’t about the state budget.” I am glad that at least some parts of the mainstream media and the East Coast are catching on here.