Last Tuesday you cast your ballot and exercised your power in the voting booth. This Friday (and in the days that follow) use your economic power and spend wisely to support your local economy and labor rights.
Stop the Insanity…
It's been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. There's also no denying that the recent political events in Wisconsin and around the nation have been intense and even "crazy" at times. I can't count the number of times I've read about, witnessed or participated in something and thought that "truth really is stranger than fiction".
We've seen and heard some amazingly extreme things, especially in the past couple of years.
While I could go on at length about my opinion of the craziness coming from the far right, I would much rather focus on what progressives and liberals can do to offset the extreme tactics, legislation and policies that the GOP is pushing on our society. That's where the definition of insanity comes in to play. We've seen this pattern happen before as the pendulum of politics swings back and forth. An extreme push by one political philosophy is met with a strong response from its opposition. The people "wake up" and realize that they have power, and also responsibility to exercise that power in order to stop an extreme agenda from dominating our political, social and economic landscape. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of effort and for many citizens it is difficult to maintain a level of engagement in politics. The end result is that we see large numbers of citizens disengage from the process and return to a state of political apathy. Thus the election of 2008 is followed by significantly different results in 2010.
It's only natural that people focus their energy on what they see as having the most impact on their personal lives. We all have an obligation to provide for ourselves and those we care for. When times are tough this means that our focus narrows and we often lose sight of the "big picture" in our efforts to make ends meet. Plus, our political system isn't necessarily terribly interesting to watch work. Many of the important details are masked by long winded debate, many paged documents and confusing legal language. In the end it becomes easier for many of us to simply let someone else take care of political business.
The events in Wisconsin during 2011-12 have shown us several things. One is the fact that politics do matter in our daily lives. I only have to look at my significantly depleted paycheck every month to see the impact that one piece of legislation can have. I talk to educators around the area and hear about the ways that their daily work has been impacted by the changes in, or the elimination of, their contracts as a result of the actions of our legislature and governor.
Another lesson to be learned from recent events is that the people must hold their government responsible for creating policies that are in the best interest of the citizens. In the end we can only rely on ourselves to protect our rights. While we may have others who represent our interests in some venues, we can't cede power to anyone else and expect to see positive results. This means that we can't afford to retreat from our current state of political activism and still hope for our voices to be heard by those in power. Those who advocate for us only have power because of the people who are behind them. Unions are a great example of this. Our union leaders can lobby and advocate for their members, but union members need to be active in the process as well for their voice to carry any weight in the debate.
Need evidence that a mass withdrawal from politics would be "crazy"? Just look at some of the things that are happening, even as we celebrate our successes at the ballot box from a week ago.
--We've seen Governor Walker and legislators decide to make a political statement using healthcare as a "tool".
--We've seen GOP leadership as well as conservative businesspeople continue to promote economic theories that don't work and use fear to confuse people. This conflict will continue to escalate as we get closer to the deadline for making decisions around taxes and budget cuts. The grandstanding and political manipulations won't help our nation's economy.
The rest of the world is making their voices heard about "austerity".
--Along with the failed economic policies, we are also seeing a continuation of the attacks on worker's rights. Organized labor played a large role in the successes enjoyed by Democrats nationally and that won't be forgotten by the GOP. Conservative business leadership has little interest in supporting their worker's efforts to improve their economic conditions and continue to offer poor contracts, then blame unions for not accepting them. This creates a volatile labor environment as workers are faced with fewer ways to resolve disagreements without resorting to labor actions.
Meanwhile here in Wisconsin, we are told that we won't see the legislature try to pass "right to work" legislation. This from the same group that was going to "work with" unions after the 2010 elections.
--With control of many statehouses and an election loss to mourn, conservatives are not going to give up their efforts to change voting laws. They use the argument that laws protecting voting rights were needed in the mid-1900's, but these protections are no longer needed. Government oversight and protection of rights is an infringement of individual freedom according to the conservative ideology. Interesting, but flawed logic.
--One of the wildest ideas coming out of the November 6th election is the number of petitions circulating to have states secede from the Union. While this is certainly coming from a relatively small percentage of the population it clearly shows the depth of the hatred as well as a significant lack of knowledge by petitioners. GOP leaders like Mitt Romney don't help our healing process by continuing their heated rhetoric attacking a large portion of America's people.
--GOP leadership continues to use Benghazi and other national security issues as political weapons. Republicans can claim to be the party of national defense, but their record isn't quite as definitive as they would like us to believe.
--It wouldn't be a post from me if I didn't at least mention education. The national victories for Democratic candidates doesn't do much, if anything to give public educators hope. We still need to change the debate away from a defense of public education to an offense that promotes the strengths of our educational system. In order to do this we need to educate people about the fallacies surrounding the "education reforms" that have been promoted by both parties.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. It is naïve and unrealistic to assume that conservatives would simply concede defeat and accept the results without fighting back after Tuesday's election. In fact it is logical that, given the heated campaign, that their would be a strong response to the loss. While the election was a positive step, the path to recovery and social justice is littered with traps and pitfalls. Success at the ballot box doesn't guarantee success in society. The same problems that existed prior to the election remain. It is up to us as citizens to move our nation forward. Find a way to get involved, and then stay involved, it's not enough to simply cast a ballot in an election anymore.