Sunday, January 27, 2013

Issue #98 January 27, 2013- Leadership and Personal Responsibility

We Need A Hero?…
As a democracy America faces an interesting challenge.  On one hand we are a media driven culture that looks for individuals to lead and inspire us.  We seek out individuals, and hold them up as examples of what we value as a society and what we aspire to become ourselves.  America sees itself as being built on the legacy of "Rugged Individualism" and a "Cult of Personality" that makes individual personalities out as the core of a movement, event or action.  We can't talk Civil Rights without Dr. King, Civil War without Lincoln or our nation's creation without Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, etc.  These historical references are incomplete without a "Face" to guide our understanding of events. 
This is no less true in current events.  Scott Walker is as much an iconic figure as he is a real person.  Barack Obama has become either a hero, or a villain depending on your political ideology.  In both cases we often take the focus away from their policies and actions and instead focus on our political leaders as celebrities or images.  By trying to "humanize" important figures, we also distract ourselves from dealing with issues.  Politics, economic policies and foreign policy decisions become as much of a tabloid feature as they do discussions with real consequences. 
Yet, while we can't ignore, and shouldn't forget, the contributions that individuals make to our society as a whole, it is also important to remember that any individual's impact is only made significant by the faceless masses that give these leaders their support and power.  A leader without followers isn't a leader, and a movement without people isn't a movement.  In addition, our nation's democratic system of government, by definition, requires the support of people to elect leaders to positions where they can make their ideals into legislation and policy.  While some people have tried to circumvent the system and use their influence/money to hijack the process, in the end the people will have their say, one way or another. 
Our leaders can guide a movement and inspire people to follow their leadership, or they can ride the coattails of a group and manipulate their way to the forefront.  America, like all nations, has had its fair share of both types of leadership.  At times we have had difficulty discerning the difference between true leaders and the person who is a leader by opportunity.  In this day and age of media hype and misleading information that's presented as fact it is even more difficult to identify those who are true leaders. 
In many ways our political process muddies the waters even further by making our elected leaders go through a process that requires them to try and define themselves, while at the same time being defined by a media driven to create or destroy individuals.  We recently finished a political campaign season that was as much a soap opera as it was a political exercise.  Too often we are left with choices between political creatures who are beholden to outside interests and who are more concerned with image than they are representing or guiding the people who elect them.  We are given leaders who are more like parasites, gaining personal power and wealth while draining their members assets, physically, emotionally and morally. 
In this climate where every move is scrutinized and every position that is taken is subject to extensive, and often uniformed, critiques, it is no wonder that we find ourselves struggling to find true leaders.  Part of the problem is the climate, but another challenge is that true leaders are not easy to find.  People who can inspire others, while still maintaining their focus and staying grounded in their own humanity are truly rare treasures.  They are the people who become historical icons and who leave a lasting legacy behind them.  They are also people who are able to accept their own failings and look to those around them for support and guidance.  They exist in a symbiotic relationship with their followers gaining strength from those who support them, while also providing strength and guidance.  They listen to others and their thinking evolves over time, always progressing towards some goal.  They are also able to bring people together and get others to consider different viewpoints.  These are the people who, even when you disagree with their positions you can still find ways to work together with.    
These are the people that we need to identify and cultivate as we work to move our nation towards a progressive, socially just society.  We need them at all levels of our government, and we need them in our grassroots organizations too.  We need leaders on a large scale, but we also need leaders who can inspire people locally as well.  Our current political, social and economic landscape is filled with people trying to be leaders, but in the end there are some key leadership roles that we must see filled.     
State Level- Conservatives in Wisconsin have a number of people who they can rally behind, the most obvious being Scott Walker and Paul Ryan.  I won't pretend to be unbiased in my portrayal of these GOP leaders.  In my opinion they have done more self-promotion than they have leading.  They have entrenched themselves in an extremist philosophy that is not about finding ways to make our society better, but rather seeks to seize and control power and wealth for a minority of citizens.  The fact that they have been less than honest about their motives and have actively sought to divide the people of Wisconsin is another strike against their credentials as leaders.

A $200 tax cut over two years!  Wow, that's less than $2 a week.

While my mistrust and frustration with the Walker administration and the GOP leadership in Wisconsin is readily apparent, at the same time I recognize that these are the people who have control of much of the government of my state.  They are the people we need to work with, if possible, for the next several years and to ignore or perpetually chastise them puts Wisconsin progressives in a position of being similar to the anti-Obama conservatives who have disrupted Washington D.C.  Like it or not, this is the government we have and we must do everything possible to force them to come to the table and try to govern together.  This is difficult and it is also difficult to see policies enacted that are harmful and spiteful towards a majority of Wisconsinites. 
The mutually hostile political climate that exists here is one that magnifies the need for leadership.   Engaging in heated rhetoric has its place, but won't help move our state forward.  The last thing that we want to happen is to see gridlock result in policies and actions that harm more people in Wisconsin.  We've seen that happen in Washington as legislators debate endlessly while their inaction creates hardship across the nation.  True leaders will keep fighting, and keep talking to the end.  This is difficult in an environment where those in power are looking to destroy their opposition, but there are good people on both sides who need to step up and find ways to work through the animosity. 
Here in Wisconsin we are still looking for that statewide leader who can bring the many factions who oppose Walker's extremist positions together.  We saw this issue clearly during the recall effort and the fact that Tom Barrett didn't receive widespread, enthusiastic support.  The challenge is to find someone who can inspire progressives and still communicate effectively with moderates. 
Locally- School Board and MMSD Superintendent- Madison is bracing for a vitally important school board election as well as the hiring of a new superintendent to lead our public school system.  With all that is going on in terms of public education "reform" and the challenges that public schools face, this is an area where true leaders are greatly needed. 

It is an area where we are seeing unnecessary factions form and divides between groups widen.  I say unnecessary factions because many of the groups that are in conflict should really be allies.  School administration and school staff should be united in the face of the attacks on public education from the far right.  School administration and staff should be united with our families in poverty and those demographic groups who face our Achievement Gaps.  Good schools benefit our whole community and business leaders should stand behind quality public schools.  Instead of uniting at a crucial time we are facing the prospect of conflict between groups.

This isn't to say that we should ignore the differences that exist, or that the enemy of my enemy is by definition a true friend.  However, many of the groups currently involved in the battles for public education are closer in their desired outcomes than they may realize, or want to admit. 
Stepping into this fray will be some new faces who need to demonstrate their ability to articulate the goals of public education and to stand firm in their defense of our public schools.  They will face the challenge of bringing groups together and building trust between factions.  The people of Madison want their children to have access to the best education possible and it is up to the leadership of our school district to promote public schools as the best resource for our community's future. 
We need advocates of public education to step into positions of leadership, and truly lead.  No more hiding behind the "reforms" like NCLB or Race to the Top and claiming that there isn't anything that can be done in the current climate.  Instead, we need leaders in education who are willing to support the families and educators of Madison in their efforts to preserve, protect and promote public schools as cornerstones of our society.    
In the midst of the challenges there are also opportunities that wouldn't exist without the conflicts.  More people are paying attention to public education because of the attention focused on "reforms" and public educator unions.  The discussion may be heated at times, but with the passionate debate comes the chance for powerful compromise.  If we select the best leaders for key positions in public education, we will be able to survive and thrive, even in these difficult times.   
Grassroots/Organizations/Unions- In many ways, I believe that most of our true leaders are found at the "lowest" level of organization.  This is where we find people motivating and inspiring others, often not for personal profit or glory, but because they feel a passion for the causes they support.  As you work your way up the leadership "food chain" the pressures intensify and people can lose touch with those that they once represented. 
Yet, at the same time it is often difficult for leaders at these levels to see the "bigger picture", and to form coalitions beyond their immediate base.  It is also a struggle to be heard by those who can influence bigger policy decisions.  We also see grassroots leaders who are talented and motivated pulled in directions that encourage them to seek higher positions with more influence and prestige. 
What is important for leaders at these levels to remember is that, in the end we are all limited in our ability to make change in the world.  While he lead a movement that made tremendous progress towards a socially just society, Dr. King wasn't able to totally eradicate racism.  All the power and influence in the world can't change everything for everyone.  So along with the leaders who are recognized on a large scale we need people working in individual neighborhoods, schools and on issues that seem important to only a small number of people.  All of our efforts together are what moves a society in any given direction.  It truly is up to all of us to determine what course our society follows.      

During the past couple of years the importance of strong leadership has become more and more apparent to me, while at the same time I have seen the power of the collective whole working together.  Along the way I have also come to realize that, in the end, my world is shaped by many factors, few more important than who I choose as my leaders, my peers, or groups I associate myself with.  I am always telling my students that their success in school is heavily influenced by who they choose to be close friends with.  It is no different for adults.  Who we align ourselves with shapes much of our reality and adults are certainly not immune to peer pressure of all types. 

While our associations with others is a great influence on us, in the end we are responsible for our choices, our words and our actions.  I have formed many close associations with people as a result of my increased activity on the political, union and educational fronts, and each organization or individual has had an impact on my views of the world and how I work towards my own goals.  I value my colleagues and friends, but am still hold on to my individual ideals.  This may require me to debate, discuss and compromise in order to maintain my values while still benefiting from the power of a group.  It can be a struggle to maintain individuality while being a member of something or associating with a specific individual, but if we truly want to be able to impact society as a whole (with all of its diversity) we need to find ways to work with those who share similar beliefs and values. 

Do we need leaders?  Of course we do, but we can't wait for someone to tell us what is right and guide us to act on our beliefs.  Each of us is responsible for the impact we have on the world we live in.  We may not end up immortalized in a history book, mentioned prominently in the press, or even recognized by those in our immediate circles, but we still need to make our mark and represent ourselves in whatever capacity we can.  This idea is summed up in a couple of quotes found in the book Bearing the Cross by David J. Carrow.

"By idolizing those whom we honor we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves.  By exalting the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., into a legendary tale that is annually told, we fail to recognize his humanity…that are similar to yours and mine.  By idolizing those whom we honor, we fail to realize that we could go and do likewise." 
                                                                        --Charles Willie

"If people think that it was Martin Luther King's movement, then today they --young people-- are more likely to say 'gosh, I wish we had a Martin Luther King here today to lead us.' … If people knew how that movement started, then the question they would ask themselves is, 'What can I do?'"    
                                                                        --Diane Nash

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Issue #97 January 20, 2013- Worker's Rights Now and for the Future

Worker's Rights, The Current Situation…
Over the past few years we've seen a radical shift in the legislation and policies that govern much of the labor environment in the United States.  Some states have seen more change than others, but on the whole there has been a significant amount of alteration in this area.  Most of the changes have pushed the labor environment to the right, some in very drastic ways.  The rationale for the changes, or "reforms", is that they are supposed to revive, restore or otherwise save some aspect of our economy.  In addition we are seeing the "reforms" touted as a return to our "roots" where freedom is allowed to thrive. 

Republicans enjoyed tremendous success at the state and local levels in  the election of 2010 and gained the power to make changes that would implement their ideas of limiting the power of organized labor, cutting back on protective regulations and expanding the power of business in general.  They were able to gain control of all branches of government in some states, like Wisconsin, and this allowed them virtually unlimited abilities to implement "reforms".  In most cases, once again very visibly in Wisconsin, they did so without much effort to compromise or to work in a bi-partisan manner.  Instead, they relied on their power as the majority party to simply force their legislation and policy changes through. 

Labor responded, and continues to respond, in virtually every manner possible short of a general strike.  Wisconsin's public sector workers led the way in February of 2011.  We saw efforts to resist the "reform movement" of the GOP in other states as well.  Workers took to the streets, engaged in political action (recalls and referenda), challenged laws in courts and used other methods to try and defend the gains made by labor over many generations of struggles. 

In some places the tide of "reform" was slowed or even halted.  Who can forget the strong victory for labor in Ohio, as voters rejected the anti-labor legislation in overwhelming numbers.   

Wisconsin fought constant political battles for over a year as multiple state senators, and ultimately Governor Walker, faced recalls.  The controversial anti-labor legislation, Act 10, is now tied up in court with some of the aspects of the bill currently ruled unconstitutional. 

Along with the successes that labor enjoyed came setbacks.  Michigan passed Right to Work legislation quickly and behind locked doors.  Republicans continued to use their political power to implement policy changes in states where they have majorities.  Often these are done through administrative procedures or by appointing anti-labor individuals to key policy making positions.

The end results of about 2 years of intense conflict are difficult to assess.  On one hand it is clear that labor faces an increasingly unfriendly environment.  Conservatives have effectively utilized propaganda and the media to paint organized labor in a negative light.  The GOP's control of many state governments allows them to impose their ideas on the people they "represent".  These are truly discouraging times for supporters of worker's rights.  However, the picture is not without hope.  Labor has won victories and has been able to maintain their presence in the debate.  The visible assaults on organized labor has galvanized support, increased membership's participation and reinvigorated a labor movement that was stagnating in many ways. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in Wisconsin.  The events of February and legislation like Act 10 had an immediate impact on workers in the state.  Many school systems and municipalities now operate with handbooks (or similar documents) instead of contracts.  These places are seeing the impact of what Governor Walker and his supporters want our workplaces to look like.  Act 10 shifted the balance of power almost entirely to management.  The law allowed municipalities and school boards to set policy and working conditions virtually unilaterally. 

Yet, at the same time the labor movement here in Wisconsin hasn't been more active for many years.  In fact it is the actions of the workers over the past two years that is slowing the tide of "reform".  Because of the strong response by Wisconsin's workers, GOP leadership is reluctant to take on issues like Right to Work.  We are also seeing labor organizing and looking for ways to build for the future under the restrictions that have been imposed on them.  

One of the ways that labor is fighting back is by educating the public and informing their membership about the effects that conservative labor "reforms" can have on our economic futures.  Conservatives would have us believe that by giving management control of the workplace, the economy will automatically improve.  However, the results of their "reforms" isn't as clear cut as they would like us to believe. 

One example of this is the Right to Work legislation that conservatives value so highly.  

The struggle is nowhere near to being finished.  The most recent news from the Federal Courts isn't positive for labor, but we still have a successful injunction against Act 10 in the Wisconsin Judicial System.  

WEAC v Walker -- 7th Circuit Decision.pdf

Worker's Rights, Civil Rights, Human Rights…
As we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s life and legacy it is important to remember that worker's rights were a big part of King's message.  He recognized the value of labor unions and saw worker's rights to organize as vitally important to achieving a more equitable society.  The Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for worker's rights are intertwined throughout history and we must remember that as we work to promote a more socially just society.   Worker's rights provide a unifying cause that almost all citizens, no matter what demographic group they are a part of, can unite behind.  Most of us are workers in some way, shape or form and our support for each other is vital to the continuing success of our society and our economy. 

We often hear the arguments made that civil rights protections are no longer needed, or that labor unions are obsolete.  Some would have us believe that, while those things were needed in the past when there was widespread discrimination and horrific working conditions, our society has become so fair and just that everyone can enjoy equal opportunity in a market free of regulation.  Ironically, these are often the same people who say that Marx, and other similar thinkers, was misguided because human nature calls for people to try and rise above others.  If Socialism and Communism won't work because of human nature, how can Capitalism or free market ideologies ever produce a fair and just society.  This gets at the heart of the differences between progressives and conservatives.  Progressives look to build a society for the good of all, while conservatives look to build a society where some can thrive and everyone competes to be one of the successful few. 

In a perfect world we wouldn't need civil rights laws, we wouldn't need protections for workers, in fact we wouldn't need most of the legislation and policies that we currently have.  Everyone would look out for each other and treat each other fairly no matter what their demographic group might be.  For conservatives this world is governed by a free market, unfettered by troublesome restrictions.  Those who support this view have forgotten their history and are ignoring the current realities of our world socially, politically and economically.  In a free market, everyone looks out for themselves, and those with more power can do so much more effectively than those with less power.  Over time power consolidates and we see the stratification of society and the end of that society's ability to claim to be free and equal.   

There will always be a struggle between groups of people trying to make their voices heard.  Dr. King spoke eloquently about the continuing struggle and portrayed the different struggles as parts of the same larger conflict.  Those who follow his thinking and see him as a role model are working to do the same thing today.  As so many signs at the capitol in Madison stated, "Worker's rights are human rights!"  We can't allow ourselves to fragment and be divided in the quest for a socially just society. 

State of Our State…
Tuesday brought us the much anticipated (for a variety of reasons, positive and negative) State of the State Address given by Governor Walker.  Like or dislike the Governor, it is clear that he is a polarizing figure who has split our state into separate, hostile camps.  That may be the most disturbing stamp that his administration has placed on Wisconsin.  

While claiming to be trying to steer clear of controversy, Walker clearly has a couple of items on his administration's agenda that will fail to achieve this goal.  The proposed mining legislation will stir up a storm of conflicting data and emotions and will pit two conflicting economic, social and ecological outlooks. 

Education "reform" will also be a source of bitter conflict during the upcoming year as conservatives attempt to expand privatization and use their power generated by Act 10 to dismantle public education in Wisconsin.  

Another aspect of the conflict that is cause for concern is the reshaping of our political maps by GOP legislative majorities in many states.  This means that the Republicans will be able to maintain their advantage in these decision making bodies even if they aren't able to garner a majority of the vote.  It is true at the local/state level as well as the national level.  It is disturbing because it creates a situation where the voice of the majority is silenced and we are faced with potentially permanent domination by one party. 

Unions in 2013, Organizing for the Future…
It seems quite clear that the far Right has taken firm control of the Republican Party in Wisconsin.  The agenda proposed by the Walker administration and Republicans in the legislature pushes our state farther to the right than it has been in a long time.  At the same time the Democratic Party has not proven their ability to counter the power exercised by the GOP.  It has taken grassroots organizations, often powered by union members, to resist the efforts of the GOP to expand their power here.

The power of unions was made clear during the protests of 2011 and the subsequent recall efforts.  Unions provided the people power and the organizing ability to help make these actions possible.  Now however, unions are facing a tough test of their ability to survive and need to find ways to be effective under new and harsh legislation and regulation.  Just when our need for organized labor is at its highest, it faces restrictions that impair the ability of workers to organize and effectively represent their interests.

We are not without hope.  There are a number of ways that unions can continue to have an impact socially, politically and economically.

Reach Out and Communicate- Unions are a collection of individuals operating for a common interest.  Without communication it is difficult to maintain an organization that has seen its ability to negotiate for and represent its membership decrease in recent days.  Members need to have a stream of information that keeps them connected with their peers and with the efforts of other groups to promote the rights of workers.  The best way to communicate is to take the time to speak face to face with individual members.  Union leaders, or stewards, need to be visible and communicate directly with the membership.  This takes time and effort, but the rewards are significant. 

Unions must also reach out beyond their membership to communicate with the communities they live and work in.  An example of this is a group of parents, educators and other community members that has formed at my school.  We meet regularly and discuss issues around public education and how to have a positive impact on the policies enacted in our school district.  By communicating with those outside of our unions we are able to share ideas and build support for our efforts, while connecting with and supporting our communities as well.  Respect and trust is built between groups and the best interests of the community can be advanced. 

Build From Within- Unions must retain their membership and look for ways to expand the number of employees they represent.  A union's strength is its members and their collective support of the organization.  Every potential member is another source of power for unions. 

Maintain Their Organizational Structure- It might be tempting to reduce staff or to cut back on other aspects of a union's organization, but unions need to maintain what they have in the face of the current challenges.  I have seen the amazing ability of union staff to organize efforts quickly when needed.  The "infrastructure" of a union is crucial to our efforts to mobilize support and collective actions of members.  If this "infrastructure" is allowed to erode, the efforts of union members will be less effective in the future.     

Find New Ways to Promote the Interests of Their Membership- Depending on the current state (or lack) of a collective bargaining agreement, unions may be severely restricted in their ability to negotiate for members' wages, benefits or working conditions.  In addition we have seen how legislation can cause a union to be cautious in challenging administrations or management.  Yet, the need for unions is great and unions must find other ways to represent their membership if the traditional ways are not as readily available.  Now is the time for unions to look for creative ways to advance their goals and also to look for allies wherever they may be found. 

Buy Local…
One of the challenges to spending money on products, and at stores, that promote progressive values is that so many companies are owned by staunch conservatives.  A CEO may make a statement or implement a company policy that undermines worker's rights, or promotes an agenda that we oppose, but the local businesses that are part of the franchise are the ones that suffer for the words/acts of the leadership.  This restricts the spending options for progressive shoppers and also harms local economies.  It's the same old story, where the wealthy are not impacted as severely by their words/deeds as those farther down the chain. 

Here's an example of a CEO making some strong statements, but there are many other similar situations that have happened recently.  The statements of the CEO draw national attention and are easy to spot.  What is more difficult to uncover is what the management and staff at the local businesses feel about what their leadership says.  In some cases the employees and management at the local level is in agreement with their leadership, but in others they are more interested in their continued employment than in making a political/social/economic statement. 

This still doesn’t change the fact that we must continue to try and shop responsibly and make our opinions known.  However, we must keep looking for ways to promote businesses and products rather and focus our energy on positive ways to impact the economy. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Issue #96 January 13, 2013- Conservatism, Politics, Unions, Ed. Reform and Buy Local

Things That Make Me Go, Hmmm?!?!…
One of the real challenges that we face in Wisconsin and around the nation is the difficulty in seeing the world from the perspective of those who oppose our views.  This is true on all sides of the conflict and creates a situation where we have significant problems finding common ground because our perspectives are so far apart. 

I truly believe that for the most part, a majority of people have the same goals and interests at the core of their world view.  Talk to a variety of people in a variety of communities and I'm sure you will find that we all want to be able to live comfortably and safely and we want to provide the same opportunities for those who are close to us.  We want to have a safe and prosperous civilization that supports our interests.  In order to do this we recognize the need for some type of government and a society that will allow us to live our lives in a way that we desire.

If my premise is correct then it becomes difficult to see just how such deep divisions have arisen in our nation.  I find myself looking more closely at just how we have arrived at the place we find ourselves and trying to make sense of the conservative mindset.  I should mention that I recognize that my political, social and economic ideas are at times inconsistent and probably just as problematic to a conservative thinker, but here are some of the problems I have with the conservative ideology as it has been portrayed in recent days…

-It seems very much an ideology driven by fear and mistrust of human nature.  The world is a very dangerous place and the only way to succeed is through an aggressive and confrontational strategy.  Yet, being aggressive and confrontational creates more conflict, danger and distrust.    

-In addition to the mistrust, it seems like the conservative ideology is driven by pessimism.  We are constantly faced with "Gaps", "Deficits", "Vulnerabilities" and are beset by dire challenges.  All of this in a nation that they call the greatest on Earth.  Yet, if our nation is such a tremendous place, why does it seem we are always on the verge of disaster?

-The good of the few is placed above the good of the many.  Everyone is encouraged to look after their own interests, no matter what that does to others.  If those "others" aren't successful then it is their fault and you have little responsibility to help them.

-Freedom and equality mean very different things to different people.  They are often defined in the specific moment and have little grounding in historical precedent. 

-Economic struggles mean that we cut spending in government, reduce corporate reinvestment in expanding business, yet the majority of people are supposed to find ways to spend more money to improve the economy.  Unfortunately, they don't have jobs or safety nets to allow for them to do this.  Meanwhile the very rich are able to ride out the economic downturns and emerge better off in the long run.   

-We are supposed to trust in the individual, while demonizing the government.  If we don't have a government, are we really a nation, or are we simply a collection of individuals occupying common space?

-It is better to destroy your opponent and silence all dissent than it is to find ways to compromise and collaborate.

-One amendment (2nd) is more powerful than any other.

In the end it boils down to different visions of what America is, has been, and should be in the future.  For me, it is more important that we are able to engage in discussion, work cooperatively to resolve issues and find consensus to create a society where all are valued and respected.  Instead of hiding behind rules and policies that create a false sense of security we need to work to open up our nation so that people are not forced to choose between being an "American" and belonging to one of the countless "subgroups" that make up our nation.  If we can achieve this sense of community (dare I say solidarity?) we will go a long way towards reducing the amount of fear and tension that currently drives so many of our actions and causes us to be reactionary and not proactive.  

Local Politics…
With all the attention that has been paid to politics on the state and national level, it's often easy to forget that there is a lot happening on the local scene as well.  In fact, given the realities of politics at the "higher" levels (Wisconsin's state politics are dominated by conservative voices and the national political climate is the home of big money and other powerful forces) our best chance to have much input is to work at the local level.

In fact, it is at the local level that we can work to influence how the policies enacted by "higher" levels of government impact us in more direct ways.  Local school boards are one example of this.  Because of pressures from legislation and policy from state and Federal sources our local school officials are feeling the pressure to make changes to align their policies with the conservative reformers who are looking to dominate the current debate on education. 

Here in Madison we are fortunate to have a number of quality candidates running in the April election.  While they share some significant similarities there are also differences between the candidates.  It is important that we look carefully at each candidate and work to support their campaigns so that we can have a school board that stands up for public education.  It is obvious that these are challenging times for public education and public educators.  By working to elect school board candidates who are knowledgeable and passionate about the values of public education we can help insure that we will have another line of defense against the "reforms" that are really attacks on public education. 

Madison is an unusual place in many ways.  We are at a crossroads here, as we look to make a transition from a smaller city to a larger urban area.  So many things are changing, and changing rapidly, as our metropolitan area grows.  This is clearly seen in our public school system and in other social service areas.  For years, Madison has been able to present itself as a small city with small city issues.    

With all of the challenges that come with the increasing size and other issues comes opportunity as well.  Here in Madison we can learn from other urban areas and work to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that have created so many problems in communities like Milwaukee, Chicago and other large metropolitan areas around us.  We shouldn't simply follow in the footsteps of other cities, especially when we can see that these paths haven't lead to success for many citizens.    

Politics, An Ugly Busine$$…
A new year brings new hope, but that hope is significantly tarnished here in Wisconsin.  It is difficult to see just how we will be able to move beyond the turmoil and rancor of the past two years.  The divisions that have been created, nurtured and expanded here in recent years are barriers to compromise and progress. 

The most important thing that we've lost is trust.  Very few politicians or citizens trust their opponent's words or actions.  Once this trust is lost it becomes extremely difficult to navigate our way towards successful resolutions of the issues we need to address.  We hear the words that are spoken on both sides.  Words that call for bi-partisanship and unity, but few truly believe that this year will bring much change in the bitter struggle that has enveloped our state.      

There are several issues that will magnify the conflict in Wisconsin.

The upcoming Supreme Court race will reopen the divisions in our state as we refight the same battles on a statewide level.  The fact that this seat on the court will give one ideology majority control will insure that we will see the worst in politics brought to the forefront. 

There will continue to be a disconnect between the rhetoric of the GOP around job creation and the actions of the legislature and governor.  

The debate over mining in northern Wisconsin will divide our state.  This issue will be used to attempt to break the progressive coalition apart by using jobs and the economic distress of our state as a wedge between groups.  Tribal groups environmental organizations, and others will speak out against the mine and their objections will be portrayed as short sighted and selfish in order to create dissension.  GOP leaders will try and simplify the debate to make it appear that they only want what's best for the citizens of Wisconsin.    

 Unions in 2013…
We are hearing from GOP legislators that Right to Work legislation will not be part of their agenda in 2013.  We can only hope that this is true.  If the legislature doesn't take up RTW in its upcoming session it will give labor organizations an opportunity to recover from the perpetual conflict that has dominated their efforts for two full years.  

This doesn't mean that union members and leadership should take a break (though it would be well deserved) from organizing and political action.  There are certainly many other issues that organized labor needs to address and we can safely assume that this non-confrontational period is only the lull before the storm.  Unions should use this time to learn from the past two years and reassess their organizations, building on strengths and preparing for future struggles. 

One area that unions should continue to work to expand their influence in is in the message that the media delivers.  Too much of the rhetoric and reporting in our media outlets reflects a conservative view of labor.  The message comes across as just plain "common sense", but in reality is thinly disguised propaganda for employers in their effort to control the workplace.

An example of this is in the "skills gap" that is often reported to exist.  According to this thinking, employers are looking for skilled workers, but the American worker is just not motivated, competent or responsible enough to fill the positions available.  I believe the reality is quite different.  In my opinion, if people saw an opportunity to gain employment that would be compensated fairly that most of us would jump at the chance. 

In other words, people will develop skills if they see a market for them, without good paying jobs there is little incentive to pay for training or education.  Conservatives are asking others to violate their principles when they expect people to pay for instruction without compensation that equals the cost.  No conservative politician would ask a business to take this type of risk, and in fact go to great extremes to limit the risks that large business take when expanding their operations.  

Education Reform- Issues and Actions…
With all that is going on in the world, it is easy to lose hope and feel discouraged.  As a public educator the past two years have been filled with strife and turmoil.  However, educators are nothing if not resilient.  It comes with the territory and is one of the major resources that we've drawn on during the struggles here in Wisconsin.  No matter what has been thrown at us, we continue to keep fighting for what we believe in.

In some ways the attacks on public education that have intensified over that past couple of years are a "blessing in disguise".  They have forced public educators to look at ourselves and to really discover what it is that we truly value about our schools, our students and our public education system.  They have also allowed us to find allies and develop connections that we never would have sought out if we weren't facing such intense challenges.  The struggles have also allowed us to call attention to issues that might have been ignored if not for the attacks on public education.  Without the conflicts, many citizens would not pay much attention to issues around student achievement, curriculum or other topics in education.   

One of these issues is the effect that poverty has on our children.  These articles talk about charter schools expulsion rates, but also included are some interesting thoughts about poverty.  "Charter advocates deny that the schools are trying to push out challenging students. They point out that D.C. charters enroll a higher proportion of poor children than the traditional public schools and that poor children often come to class with greater needs than their middle-class peers. Charters are open to all students across the city, with admission by lottery if there is more demand than space available."  Yet, we are told that poverty isn't as important an issue for public schools here?

Of course, we can't ignore the fact that race is an important factor in our education system.  Charter and voucher supporters try and paint our public schools as inadequate for our "minority" students.  Yet we see the same groups of students struggling in all settings (strangely enough they are the same demographic groups that are struggling in society on a large scale.

Public educators work to try and support all students, regardless of their economic, racial, gender, or other demographic category.  The debate over education can be used to highlight our efforts and shine the spotlight on the lack of support and resources provided by our political leaders.  We can also celebrate our peers who are standing up for what is right.

It is up to educators and their supporters to encourage our school administrators and politicians to help make our schools excellent places for children to learn.  Too frequently our schools are set up to accommodate things other than the needs of children.

Yet, public educators continue to be targeted in the ongoing war between conservative "reformers" and progressives who support public education.  The "reformers" would have us create a pay structure that mirrors the private sector.  A structure that favors the upper levels of management and ignores the reality that it is the workers "in the trenches" who really make a district great.   

I must admit that there are times when it seems like it would be better/easier to go the charter route.  It certainly would be the path of least resistance.  Charter/voucher schools are not bound by the restrictions that are placed on public schools and also aren't open to the same level of criticism that public schools face.   

Then I remember that the problem isn't the public educators, their unions or the public school system.  That may be what the "reformers" want us to believe, but really it’s the "reforms" that are doing the most harm to our students and our schools.

Buy Local…
It continues to be important to keep an eye out for business who act in extreme ways.  We know that we won't be able to avoid all spending at anti-labor businesses, but every effort counts.

There are many resources available to help us find businesses that are local and/or labor friendly

For Wisconsinites, this is vital.