What This Is…
Issue #68- June 24, 2012
In this issue: Lies, Community First and Issue Updates
Lies or Politics as Usual?…
Americans have a love/hate relationship with politics and politicians. On one hand we continually hear complaints about the fact that our leaders are out of touch and don't represent our interests. Sit in any public place long enough and you will hear someone talk about how "those politicians" are messing up everything. Yet, at the same time we can't escape the fact that we have come to rely on our politicians for many of our basic needs. Without our government we would find ourselves without many of the services and resources that we expect as part of living in America in 2012.
One of our biggest complaints about politicians is the belief that all of our politicians routinely lie to get and maintain political power. In fact, many defenders of GOP elected officials in Wisconsin used this belief as a defense of their candidates. I heard many conservatives express the idea that the recalls weren't justified because all that has happened here is simply "politics as usual", that Walker/Fitzgerald/etc. weren't doing anything that a Democrat hadn't done as well. They countered attacks on their candidates, not by refuting the attacks, but rather by using the "all politicians lie" mantra as a cover.
Accepting the concept that all of our elected leaders are liars is a pretty dangerous assumption. It is one of the reasons why our voter turnout is so pathetic here in America. Many people simply assume that their vote, or their opinion doesn't matter because all elected officials are cut from essentially the same cloth. These voters turn their back on the system and are rewarded with politicians who have no accountability and who fulfill the low expectations of the electorate. This helps further the GOP strategy of reducing voter participation and reinforces the idea that government doesn't and privatization is the only alternative.
Do our elected officials lie? This is a difficult question to answer because, in order to know if a lie has been told we have to know the speaker's intent and motive. Does a broken promise count as a lie? Is it a lie if the speaker promises to achieve something and then fails, despite putting forth their best effort to try and make good on their campaign pledge? Given the nature of our political system it isn't difficult to find examples of politicians promising something and then failing to make good on that promise due to opposition from other politicians.
Then there are the different degrees of truth telling. All of us are guilty of telling the occasional "white lie" or small "fib". Maybe we tell them out of courtesy or maybe because we don't think our untruth will hurt anyone and telling a lie will make our lives a little easier. While the concept that "honesty is the best policy" is certainly one to try and live up to, the reality is that all of us are guilty of stretching the truth, omitting details and even outright lying.
It may sound like I am building a defense for political figures to lie. However, this isn't the case. Politicians are human beings who operate under a microscope of public scrutiny. As such, they are subject to a higher standard of truth telling when dealing with public issues. What I am calling for is the hope that citizens will begin to look at how they define lying when it comes to political and public figures. Candidates who make campaign promises in good faith and work to uphold the trust that the voters give them are not liars. Candidates who manipulate facts, omit important information, or who outright lie are a different matter and we need to be able to differentiate between the two.
As I said before, here in Wisconsin we are hearing from conservatives that their candidates are simply politicians and that they are manipulating information just like any other public officials have done and will do. What is concerning is that the general public is believing this and is choosing to ignore the growing evidence that we have a morally questionable administration and an equally untrustworthy set of elected GOP officials in our legislative and judicial branches.
Of additional concern is the fact that the media, instead of doing its job of accurately reporting information, is further muddying the water. All citizens should have easy access to unbiased journalism that provides us with information that we can use in our efforts to be responsible citizens.
A New Strategy For Activism…
As we continue to move away from the recall election we are able to gain more perspective on what the recalls meant in this struggle between competing ideologies in Wisconsin and across the nation. With most events of a historical nature, the true impact won't be known for years to come, and the recall election's effects fit that mold. Many people will analyze the results and why Walker was able to hold on to his office, but the real impact of the Wisconsin Uprising won't be determined in the near future.
No matter what side of the conflict you are on, it should be clear that June 5th was not the end, but only another battle in the ongoing war. No side can claim total victory while their opponents are still organizing and resisting. The progressive movement in Wisconsin is far from defeated.
What we saw in Wisconsin was just the latest chapter in the conflict that has existed for centuries. A conflict that centers around a fundamental disagreement over the role of government in shaping and cultivating a civilized society. The political philosophy that guided the original leaders of the colonists resistance to English rule spoke to an essential difference between a "state of nature" where everyone was out for individual success and a society where the government and citizens worked for the betterment of all people.
Here in the United States we have faced significant challenges in providing equal opportunities for all of our citizens. Our nation is made up of people from all parts of the world who came here for different reasons. The diversity of our citizens in culture, race, ethnicity, experience and countless other demographic divisions is at the same time a strength and a weakness. Our nation's history is filled with stories of hope and opportunity and also with exploitation and cruelty.
We face the challenge of celebrating our past successes and our vast potential as a nation that can welcome diversity, yet we can't ignore the violence and inhumane treatment of so many people. When looked at from a historical perspective, one can see gradual progress being made towards achieving the dreams that were expressed in our founding documents. Unfortunately, while many of us have worked for social justice and a more inclusive society, there is always significant resistance to these objectives from those who fear the "other" as a threat to the political, social or economic status quo.
The victory of Scott Walker in the recall was as much a validation of that fear as anything else. In fact the conservative movement in Wisconsin is built on resisting the impending changes in demographics and an effort to hold on to power for the existing elite. We are a state that is seeing some significant changes in the population of our state and these changes make for unsettling times. This is especially true in a state like Wisconsin that has a few medium sized urban centers surrounded by a landscape dominated by smaller communities. Look at maps of the election results and you will see this clearly on display.
What would be easy for many progressives to do, is to simply look at this as an example of ignorance, racism, or other negative trait of the voters in the state that supported Walker. However, by doing so we will simply increase the divide between the different factions that already exist and eliminate the ability for groups to find common ground. No one likes to be told they are less informed, less tolerant or less responsible. Instead, we need to find ways to have positive discussions with our opponents so that they see a need to help find solutions we can all live with.
Progressives find themselves in a similar position when trying to mobilize the populations of the more diverse areas of Wisconsin. For years the Democratic Party and progressives in general have assumed the support of these different groups of citizens. This is mainly because the Republican party hasn't offered any reason for diverse populations to support their candidates. Yet, the "minority" populations of Wisconsin haven't received much in the way of meaningful support from either party. Diverse neighborhoods see an influx of activists during election cycles, but are virtually ignored in the periods between political campaigns. Much of the political activism in these areas centers on simply getting people to the polls (with the assumption that they will vote for a Democrat when they get there). In other words, "we need your vote", but do little to earn it.
Our current efforts to organize communities and our entire political structure are designed to support citizens who are used to the existing system. We have committees, elect leaders and discuss problems in the same ways that we always have. This means that any group that wants to have an influence in making changes must adapt to a certain way of doing things. This effectively limits who has a voice and disenfranchises and devalues a segment of our state's population.
So how do we make changes in our existing system without completely undermining the stability of our social, political or economic structure? In other words, how can we incorporate the diversity of our state so that as many groups as possible are heard and respected in the debate? How can we undo the efforts of the GOP to "divide and conquer" us? How do you bring the small town together with the urban center and engage them in meaningful discussion? Ideally our elected officials would be able to provide a forum for the needs of different groups to be heard, however, we have seen that this system is breaking down under current antagonistic conditions.
Our leaders in the 1700's recognized what needs to be done in these types of situations. When our governing bodies and leaders fail us, we must act ourselves to restore a just and civil society. You can see efforts to restore Wisconsin springing up in many places across the state as different groups work to find ways to bridge gaps and communicate with others.
Here in Madison several labor groups are working to try a new approach, called Community First, to organizing and communicating across demographic boundaries. We had our first meeting this past week and discussed the need to work with community organizers and groups to bring people together for coalition building and problem solving. This effort is designed to go beyond electoral politics and move towards building long term relationships between labor organizations and different community groups.
While the cynics might say that labor is reaching out to the diverse populations in Madison because of political need, the reality is that many of us feel that this effort has been needed for a long time. Here in Madison we have large numbers of citizens who have been excluded from decision making and who are struggling to make their voices heard. Cooperation between labor organizations and different neighborhoods, demographic groups and other interests is natural and logical. Look at the names of the major civil rights leaders and you will find that they were advocates of worker's rights as well. Labor rights and civil rights have been companions throughout our history and the relationship should be strengthened during this time of crisis. Strengthened with the intend of maintaining and increasing connections even after we have successfully reclaimed Wisconsin's progressive tradition.
What is important in this effort is that it is a joint effort with groups treated as equals. No single group gets to control the agenda and each group gets to speak for itself. This presents a challenge in organizing, but means that we will see our movement strengthened by the diverse approaches to problem solving. Each group provides insight and ideas along with enthusiasm as issues of importance are addressed.
This outreach of labor to historically disenfranchised groups has tremendous potential to help all groups advance their agenda and bring specific concerns to the attention of the larger community. It also allows for communication between diverse interests and helps counter the "divide and conquer" strategy currently employed by the GOP. As the Madison community organizes and unites we can begin to develop ideas for reaching out to other communities and begin to expand the connections outside of the traditional Democratic strongholds. More importantly though, unifying coalitions like the one we are working to establish help citizens view each other as human beings and not as stereotypes that are created by propagandists of either party.
This effort is in the initial organizing stages and we face some significant challenges as we work to establish relationships with other groups. We will need to work to counter the negative images of organized labor already in place. We will also need to convince other groups of our good intentions and willingness to cede some authority over the goals and objectives of the organization. Additionally we face the challenge of building a movement among people who have been excluded from meaningful access to power for extensive amounts of time. Convincing people that their actions can make a difference is always challenging, and is more difficult when there isn't a long history of successfully organizing for action.
At the same time there is hope for the future and a new way of "doing business". I am a firm believer that good can come from bad circumstances, and we are certainly facing some tough times in the near future. Projects like "Community First" provide us with legitimate reasons for optimism in uncertain times.
A few items from the past week involving the struggle to defend worker's rights in Wisconsin and across the nation. I encourage you to read the comments in the articles (where available). They provide insight into the dialog surrounding the issues of interest to progressives.
Chicago Teachers Union | In These Times: Chicago Teachers Union Takes the Upper Hand with Overwhelmi
Real Education Reform…
We can't forget the need for honest discussion and debate about ways to address the Achievement Gaps that impact many of our students.
The Madison School Board has passed a budget for the next school year.
In Wisconsin it's clear that Walker's reforms won't have a positive impact on public education (and they were never designed to improve education, just change the balance of power).
On the national scene, many educators view the current Democratic leadership's plans with skepticism and disdain.
Overall, the trends in public education are not favorable and we need to work hard to turn the ship around and head in the right direction (or should I say "left"). As opportunities are cut and conservative "reforms" are implemented our students will suffer the consequences.
Let's Commit to Equalizing Educational Opportunity! | National Opportunity to Learn Campaign | Educa
In WI, One Plus One Does Not Equal Two | National Opportunity to Learn Campaign | Education Reform f
With the break between elections, now is the time to work on reforming our system. However, we can't forget that control of the state senate hangs in the balance.
A cool interactive chart of PAC spending and which campaigns get the money.
It's My Money and I'll Spend How I Want To…