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.

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