Sunday, June 17, 2012

Issue #67 June 17, 2012- We Continue The Fight

What This Is…
Issue #67- June 17, 2012
In this issue: What's Next and More Recall Reflections

What's Next?…
For the first time in recent memory, progressives in Wisconsin are left without an immediate, concrete timeline and clear objective to focus on.  Over the past 16 months we have followed a path of elections pointed towards the ultimate goal of recalling Governor Walker.  Now we face a critical time as we look towards the future without the unifying force that the recall provided.  

In some ways I find this a terrifying prospect.  The fear is that the coalition that formed between different groups will break apart and people will return to their daily lives that were put on hold during the recall efforts, or focus their energy on their own specific interests.  The solidarity that was developed between groups with different interests can be fragile and we are vulnerable to the "divide and conquer" strategy.  This is especially true when so many of us are facing economic challenges that force us to make decisions between our personal interests and the good of our society as a whole. 

Another danger is that the issues we face are so big and daunting that it becomes easy to get discouraged.  Working to recall Walker gave us a specific goal to work for.  Protecting the environment, restoring worker's rights, protecting and promoting quality public education and all the other issues that were keystones in the recall movement are ongoing issues that require constant attention.  It can be tempting for involved citizens to disengage from the process and return to their previous states of momentary outrage and general "What can I do anyway?" thinking.       

However, we can't forget that we've already faced moments like this one during our 16 months of resistance.  I remember thinking that everything would fall apart after MTI returned to work in February, after the Supreme Court election and after the summer recalls of 2011.  I wasn't convinced that we would be able to get enough signatures to recall Walker, yet we nearly doubled the number needed. 

So, now that we come to another crossroads in the path towards restoring Wisconsin values to Wisconsin, I look ahead with more confidence and faith in myself and my fellow citizens.  The road ahead is uncertain and filled with challenge, but we've already come so far together that it is difficult to imagine us failing to complete the journey. 

What we can't forget is that we've travelled the road together, not as individuals or as specific interests, but as a group unified by a vision of a society that provides equality of opportunity and support for all.  Now is the time to strengthen our connections and build bridges between groups that will eliminate divisions and allow us to be the ones to conquer.  Without the pressure of the recalls and without the intensity of emotions that the electoral cycle created we have an opportunity to reach out to all citizens of Wisconsin and share our message and be heard by the more moderate opponents of our movement.  There are many citizens who voted for Walker, but did so without conviction and they need to hear from us.  There are also many who continue to feel that the system has abandoned them, and we need to show them how they can make it work through their participation.

It should be crystal clear to all of us that this is a long term struggle.  However, the battle only continues if we don't give up the fight.  Remember your physics, an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.  That rule applies to humans as well.  Most of us will settle in to routines and accept what life deals out without much resistance unless we have support and prodding from others. 

In fact, most people will go out of their way to defend the status quo.  They will use any number of different justifications, but we can see countless examples throughout history of good people defending bad things.  It is this inertia that allows conservative policies to gain acceptance as being "good" for our society.  This inertia fuels resistance to progressive ideas like desegregation, inclusion and acceptance of diversity.

There is a certain amount of irony in the idea that conservatives in Wisconsin have labeled themselves as the party of reform, while at the same time painting progressives as the party of the status quo.  The GOP did a magnificent job of portraying themselves as the party moving Wisconsin forward even as they implemented policies from the 1950's and earlier.  They also were able to present themselves as a party with a plan of action, no matter how misguided and destructive their plans were (and will be).    

Over the past 16 months progressives in Wisconsin have built a good case against the "reforms" offered by the GOP.  Unfortunately, progressives failed to establish a widely accepted impression as a party with a plan to make Wisconsin a great state to live in.  As we look at the results of the recall election we see that many people saw a difference between protesting against specific policies and providing a plan to move a state forward.  Governor Walker was able to manipulate this situation to make himself look like a man of strength and action.

Much of my writing has been designed to justify and support the protests against the policies of the GOP in Wisconsin.  As I said, the case that has been made by many activists (I try to share as many sources as I can) that the conservative agenda is not a good one for most Wisconsinites.  Now, as we move away from the initial stages of the conflict here we must provide a blueprint that will guide our thinking and hopefully influence future policies that are developed in Wisconsin. 

The progressive agenda is one of hope and one that provides the greatest opportunity for the most people.  If we can articulate this message well over the coming months we will see public opinion bend back towards the center and away from the far right.  The key is that we don't lose hope and faith in the people of Wisconsin and in the system of government that can work for the greater good, if the people exercise their influence.   
It's Not The End…
For many Wisconsin citizens June 5th seemed like the end of the battle and a return to "normalcy".  Now that all the protests and hoopla was done we could return to the "good old days" of  pre-February 2011.  A time when we could all roll our eyes at the shenanigans at the Capitol and everyone (Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.) was unhappy with the outcomes, but accepted them with a sort of blind trust or at least apathy.  A time when our elected officials would work together to form policies and heated debate was an oddity.

While that past may never actually have existed, many Wisconsinites would love to go back to the days when politics wasn't perpetually "in their faces".  However, isn't that constant exposure to the truth exactly what is needed here?  If we simply accept what has happened as inevitable and throw our hands up and walk away from the political arena, what will we be left with?     

It would be a horrible mistake to assume that because of the past months the Republican leaders in Wisconsin have "seen the light" and will be more moderate in their future actions.  Nothing in Walker's past or in recent events would lead us to believe that we are in for anything other than more controversial and divisive policies over the remainder of his term in office (hopefully his only term).   

We can continue to hold out hope that the John Doe investigation will lead to some significant consequences for Walker.

In my last edition I laid out 4 major areas (Public Education, Fair Elections, Worker's Rights and Buycotts)  that I wanted to focus on as we move ahead with our resistance to the conservative movement in Wisconsin.  I plan on sharing information, articles and links to organizations that are operating here so that others can join in the effort.  Remember, our strength is in our solidarity and the unity we create with others.  That's why Walker knew he needed to try and divide us in order to conquer Wisconsin.     

I know that I am not alone in my belief that through citizen action we will be able to make positive change happen here.  I also recognize that there are many other areas that progressives are working in and don't mean to ignore or diminish any other aspects of the struggle.  What matters most isn't necessarily what you do, it's that you do something.    

Worker's Rights…
There is no doubt that this is an important aspect of the conflict.  We know that the GOP's strategy is to attack opponents in their areas of strength.  They knew that they needed to undermine the power of labor in the political process.  By weakening the power of workers at their jobs and in politics the GOP gained significant advantages in their efforts to seize power here, and across the nation. 

Working conditions and wages are of huge importance to most Wisconsinites.  We spend much of our time at work, we identify ourselves by our occupations and we need the income and benefits that our labor earns for us and our families.  Worker's rights have been a cornerstone of nearly every social movement and need to continue to be emphasized in the ongoing struggles in Wisconsin. 

The labor movement must work to counter the efforts of the GOP to paint unions in a negative light.  Solidarity between all workers is key to the effort to change the image of organized labor.  Workplace by workplace we need to demonstrate the benefits of organizing and find ways to expand the power of workers, even as management and conservative political leadership try to eliminate the influence labor has.  

Real Education Reform…
Education is the great equalizer.  It provides opportunities for individuals and groups in all areas, political, social and economic.  People value their educational opportunities and gaining access to an education is a part of the ongoing struggles for equality in our nation.  It is also a battleground as different groups try to control access to education and the content of curriculum taught in schools.  In addition it is an economic marketplace where there is the opportunity for significant profit to be made if someone places profit over student's needs.

Public education in the United States has been under attack for decades as conservatives have tried to undermine the credibility of educators and control the content taught in the classroom.  I've written quite a bit about the attacks and will continue to share information about future attempts to destroy our public education system.  In addition to this type of information I will also be sharing ways to defend public education and ways we can improve our public schools. 

There is no denying the fact that these are troubling times for public educators in Wisconsin and across the nation.  We face cuts to school budgets and cuts to educator wages and benefits.  With the loss of collective bargaining we face a time when educators will need to find new ways to influence debate over issues that impact education.  The privatization of our schools is gaining popularity in many circles and we face increased accountability through inaccurate and ineffective measures (standardized testing).     

Educators find themselves increasingly excluded from decision making about the schools they work in.  Republican and Democrat alike have accepted the conservative idea that testing is good and privatization is positive.  The voices of educators are ignored or silenced in the effort to "reform" education. 

The divide and conquer strategy is being implemented in the debate over public education as well.  Issues like the Achievement Gaps are used to make it seem that public education is failing and that public educators are not capable of or interested in educating "minority" students.  Instead of recognizing the challenges involved in educating a widely diverse population and supporting educator's efforts to work with all children, conservatives use the available data to cut funding and promote privatization of schools.  Societal issues like poverty, inequality in opportunities and access to resources are ignored and public education is blamed.

I'm not pretending that there aren't issues that public education needs to address, especially regarding the achievement of our African-American and Latino students.  However, the "reforms" that are offered by conservatives lead us down a path that increases the divide between groups instead of closing the gaps.  If conservative "reformers" wanted to be consistent they would reduce the oversight of educators and give us more independence to improve our public education system (just like they want to do for banking and industries like mining).  One of the simplest reforms that would work to improve public education is to simply allow professional educators a true voice in the formation and implementation of educational policy at all levels.      

However, all is not lost.  Educators, families and supporters of public education are working together to share positive messages about our schools.  Just as in the struggle for worker's rights, forming connections and building public support is crucial as we work to defend our system of public education. 

As we move forward into an uncertain future with the collective voices of educators stifled by Act 10 it remains to be seen what our public schools will evolve into.  No matter what happens, public educators need to make sure that their voices are heard in the debate.  We must work with community members, families and other organizations to make sure our students receive the educational opportunities that they need and deserve. 

Here in Madison we face another challenge as the leadership in our district changes.

Honest Elections…
Over the past 16 months Wisconsin has held a significant number of elections.  Between the recalls, primaries and regular elections it has been a period of continual campaigning here.  In addition to the seemingly endless election cycle, we have also seen heated debate over the need for reform in our electoral system.  Yet, after all is said and done we are left with bitterness and significantly divided opinions about the health of the most important part of our democracy, honest and fair elections. 

Perhaps the only thing that all of us can agree on is that we need to reform our electoral process.  From that point there is significant disagreement as to what the problems are and how to fix them.  Conservatives argue that voter fraud is rampant and that stricter control over voter registration and balloting will solve all our problems.  They want to place restrictions on same day registration and support laws that make voter ID rules more stringent. 

These proponents of stricter voting rules also claim to want to cut the costs of elections and change recall rules to increase the difficulty of recalling elected officials.  Of course this is the same party that ran fake candidates in the recalls and essentially doubled the costs of the elections by forcing primaries.  They also criticized Justice Kloppenburg for requesting a recount, but have no problem when Van Wanggaard asks for one in the recently decided election in District 21.

Progressives argue that the issue isn't voter fraud, but rather a system where money plays an overly important role in electing a candidate.  In addition to the influence of money progressives are also concerned about the accuracy of our electoral results.  I seem to have more accountability for the test booklets I give my 4th graders during state wide testing than some county clerks have for their voting results.

Until we have elections that all parties can agree are fair and that yield accurate, unquestioned results our democracy is in serious jeopardy.

It's My Money and I'll Spend How I Want To…
My final area of emphasis is one that we can all accomplish on a personal level.  Money drives our society and our politics and we need to think carefully about how we spend the money we earn.  Conservatives continually talk about the money that unions poured into Wisconsin's political arena during the recall process, but they fail to mention that union money comes from union members.  These same members have a voice in who their union endorses and supports.  Conservatives enjoy the financial support of multiple large donors (as well as other sources, but it is the large individual donors who concern me the most) who aren't accountable to anyone but themselves.  The only way that we can have an impact on these donors is to make a united effort to expose their influence and avoid supporting their companies.  

It boils down to conflicting views of what our society's economy is built on.  Conservatives look only to the bottom line and view their decisions in terms of profit and loss.  In this world view, there are always winners and losers and a person's value is viewed in stark economic terms.  Progressives look at our economy as a vehicle for providing the best opportunities for as many individuals as possible.      

In the end, each of us has a personal responsibility for helping develop our economic policies.  Each purchase we make, or don't make, is essentially a vote in the ongoing struggle to improve our economic situation and hold the wealthiest among us responsible for the decisions they make.  We are a nation driven by consumption and our economy relies on our spending.  What we don't need to do is be conspicuous consumers, instead we can spend our money wisely and support our local economies as much as possible.   

No comments:

Post a Comment