Sunday, July 15, 2012

Issue #71 July 15, 2012- Vacation Reflections and Issue Updates

 What This Is…

Issue #71- July 15, 2012
In this issue: Vacation Reflections, Issue Updates

My family and I just returned from our annual summer trip to Rhinelander, WI.  For the last 17 years we've vacationed at Holiday Acres Resort, and the trip has become a tradition that the whole family looks forward to.  Our first visit was when my oldest son was about 3 months old and we were joined by my grandma, niece and nephew (along with my parents).  The subsequent summer vacations have included a variety of family and friends, with a consistent core of my wife, mom and dad, and 2 sons.  We spend our time relaxing, swimming, boating, reading and playing games.  Over the years the owners and many of the staff at Holiday Acres have become "honorary" members of our family.  Rhinelander has become a second home for us, in fact, every year someone in the family makes a comment as we pull in to the resort's parking lot to the effect of "we're home again".    

In addition to the opportunity to relax (away from daily email checks, phone calls and other occasionally important, but frequently mundane events) the trip also provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the changes (both immediate and long term) in our lives that have occurred.  We've seen our boys grow up, family dynamics and membership change and all the other common things that people experience in the course of their lives.  All these changes are framed nicely by this middle of the summer tradition. 

Of course, change happens on a larger scale as well, and I approached this trip with some concern because of the political situation and how it may have affected our "second hometown".  The last time my entire family was in Rhinelander was during the week that the primary elections were being held in the senate recall race (July, 2011).  These were the first primaries that featured fake democrats running against real democrat challengers for the 6 GOP senators facing recall in 2011.  The Rhinelander area had a GOP primary with candidates competing to face Senator Holperin (D) in an August recall election. 

My wife and I returned to Holiday Acres in August to celebrate our anniversary and canvass for Sen. Holperin.  The climate in the area was different, but people were still friendly and, while they were still very interested in politics, the intensity of the Madison area was missing.  We spent an afternoon driving around the area and talking to citizens about the issues surrounding the recall election.

This year's trip was 17 months removed from the start of the uprising and the recalls were all completed.  I wondered if there would be any lingering effects from the political upheaval.  Would there be comments about my "Cops for Labor" or "MTI-Solidarity" shirts that have become a standard "uniform" for me?  What would the mood of the town be regarding the events of the past 17 months? 

One of the first things I noticed was the lack of significant evidence the recalls had ever occurred.  For the last year my eyes have been drawn to every yard sign and a mental tally has been kept of which candidates are getting more visible support in an area.  As we drove through Oneida County I saw a total of 3 "Stand With Walker" signs and no recall signs.  The news was all about the country music festival being held in Rhinelander.

One of my greatest fears since February 2011 has been that people would simply accept the "reforms" implemented by the GOP in Wisconsin and move on with their daily lives, allowing conservatives free rein to put their policies in place without public oversight.  Was this absence of political talk and public display of political ideology evidence that this fear had finally been realized?  Was it true that Dane County is really so out of touch with the rest of the state and that people were happy and content with what has happened here?

As our vacation continued I began to realize that my anxiety was unfounded.  The first night we were there we saw a notice in the local paper about a meeting to plan campaign strategy and to expand the outreach programs for labor organizations.  The next day we drove downtown and saw the storefront property rented by the Democratic Party as a headquarters.  The windows were filled with signs and looked like it belonged in downtown Madison. 

Then there were the comments from people about my pro-labor apparel.  I received many positive comments and talked to several people who had been active participants in the recall process.  These individuals were from different parts of the state and had all experienced the challenges and the successes that all recall activists shared. 

Finally, there were multiple discussions with residents of the area who shared the common feeling that the recall process had been worthwhile and that the fight wasn't close to being over.  While the visible signs of the resistance were missing, the spirit that drove the uprising still remained strong under the surface.  I got the sense that people were recovering and regaining strength for the challenges that we will face in the future.   

There are those who will tell you that Madison, Milwaukee, and a few other counties in the state are islands in a sea of pro-Walker sentiment.  They want us to believe that it is the progressives of the state who are out of touch with the majority of Wisconsinites.  They argue that the liberal "elite" don't understand the "common folk" who live outside the isolated progressive strongholds.  However, I would argue that those who think that way should take some time and really visit with the people of Wisconsin.  They will find a very different story, one that doesn't necessarily reflect itself in the recent electoral results.  This is a state of concerned and worried citizens who are rethinking their political stances. 

I heard several issues that were of significant concern to local citizens in the northern part of the state.  I also heard tales of hope as local communities used creative strategies to preserve natural resources.  In Rhinelander there was talk of selling their school forest/outdoor classroom because of budget issues.  Instead of simply selling off the land and allowing it to be destroyed a compromise was reached and the forest was saved.

I left my vacation refreshed and rejuvenated, but also with a renewed sense that we must continue to share information with all citizens of Wisconsin.  People in Wisconsin are like people everywhere, they care for others and want what's best for their families, their communities and themselves.  Wisconsinites also have a long history of progressive traditions and our state has been a leader in many areas like labor rights.  Sometimes these interests compete with each other and difficult decisions must be made. 

Sometimes it is misinformation or misunderstandings that influence people's decision making processes.  I still hear many of the lies and conservative propaganda being told as truth by citizens.  The idea that there were riots in Madison during February is one example.  The citizens of Wisconsin (and everywhere else) deserve to get the full story before they cast ballots or make other decisions.  This isn't a struggle that is easily defined by labeling people based on single issues or events.  Instead we are seeing people develop new ways of looking at our society's political, social and economic structures and questioning the way that things are being done.  The key to success lies in getting the most information out to the most people while combating the negative message of conservative talk shows.             


The saga continues…

Issue Updates…

One of the recurring themes in the conservative argument against unions is the idea that they are obsolete and unnecessary in modern America.  Conservatives might agree that we needed to protect American workers during the late 1800's and early 1900's, but that current laws and policies give workers a safe and secure environment to labor in.  However, anyone who works in the United States knows that we still need to be vigilant and protect our wages, benefits and working conditions.   

Where there isn't a crisis, one can be created.  Wisconsin continues to have a stable and well run public employee pension plan, just as long as we can keep Walker's hands out of the cookie jar. 

The new rules that public employees operate under here in Wisconsin are designed to pit different employee groups against each other.  They are also designed to create labor strife as school boards are forced to make changes because of reduced state aid. 

I continue to struggle to see how anyone can really think the conservative agenda of cutting school funding, increasing assessment and privatizing education is good for most Wisconsin children.  We are taking control of public education away from those who know the most and putting it in the hands of politicians, some of whom actively dislike public education.

While it may be a symbolic victory in some ways, it's still a victory.  Now we must focus on maintaining the majority in November, and on closing the gap in the Assembly.   

Instead of working to implement voter ID it seems like the GOP should be focusing on the real problems with our electoral system. 

We are engaged in a struggle for control of our economic independence.  The current system rewards a small number of people and keeps most of us at the mercy of the system managed by the wealthy elite.  Every purchase, no matter how small, that goes to support small, local businesses helps in our fight.  We must be constantly vigilant in our efforts to support each other.   

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