Saturday, March 30, 2013

Issue #107 March 30, 2013- Vote, DeWalkerize WI, Speaking My "Truth"

April 2nd Elections…
If we've learned anything from the past two years, it should be that elections matter.  With that in mind I'm urging every eligible voter to head to the polls on April 2nd and exercise their rights as citizens.

The two statewide offices up for election will have huge impacts on the immediate future of our fight to reclaim Wisconsin.  The race for Supreme Court Justice between Justice Roggensack and Ed Fallone has the potential to decide the fate of Act 10 among other key issues.  

The race for Superintendent of Public Instruction features two contrasting visions for public education in Wisconsin.  Tony Evers is the best choice to lead our public school system.  Pridemore appears to be more interested in privatizing our schools than in leading them.

 Local races feature a key contest for Dane County Circuit Court Judge and Rhonda Lanford is an excellent candidate worthy of our support.

With three seats up for election on the Madison School Board, this spring's election will have a huge impact on the way the board approaches important issues.  With the continuing assaults on public education from the state and federal levels and the impending expansion of the voucher program into more Wisconsin communities it is vital that we have a strong school board who will work with educators, administration and the community to protect our public schools.   

Seat #3- Dean Loumas vs. Wayne Strong
Seat #4 James Howard vs. Greg Packnett
Seat #5 TJ Mertz vs. the now out of the race Sarah Manski

De-Walkerize Wisconsin…
As I thought about the upcoming elections I reflected on the qualities of the candidates, but I realized that my attention wasn't focused on them as much as on the overall political climate and the possible repercussions of casting a ballot for any individual.  This has always been something that voters needed to consider, that their vote would put people in office who would create policies that would impact our communities.  It should be obvious that, in a representative democracy, we elect people who best represent our interests, but they may not be "perfect" fits for each individual.  We also face the fact that, once elected, politicians are able to act in ways that we may not support. 

The election of Scott Walker in 2010 made this real for many voters in Wisconsin.  I've gone back and looked at his campaign material and it is clear why it resonated with voters during the election.  Many Wisconsinites cast a vote for him thinking that he was a "common sense" type of candidate who would represent their interests well, yet once elected he became a different Governor than what was portrayed.  Now, as we prepare for another election, many of us are worried that we won't get what we thought we were getting when we cast our ballots.  This concern is reinforced when things happen like Sarah Manski suddenly withdrawing from the race for school board.  Suspicions run rampant and confidence in the process is undermined.

Looming over every race on this April's ballot is the specter of Walker and the conservative reforms that that have swept over Wisconsin during the past two years.  Without the threats that Act 10 and school vouchers put on public educators and community members would our discussions about issues like Madison Prep have been different?  We certainly would be discussing the merits of candidates differently and politics wouldn't be as divisive in many races.  The past two years have created a legacy of bitterness, fear and in some cases hatred that make it so difficult to find common ground and the compromise that is necessary to truly exist as a viable society.

As I read the John Roach article I found myself becoming furious at, what I consider, the unfair and spiteful language directed at a person who I respect and admire.  I also was offended by the tone that implied that race is the only issue of importance in our society and that we should cast votes based exclusively on one trait of a candidate.  It seemed to imply, just what has been said before about public educators, that we are pawns in a larger game and mindlessly follow the directions of leaders who supposedly don't have the best interests of others at heart.  It is also humorous to think that MTI or any public educator entity has such power over our public school system.  If that was the case, I can assure you that things would be much different.  Just ask any public educator about what they would do to change the system and you will find yourself realizing that it isn't the people who are necessarily the problem, it is the bureaucratic reality that shapes so much of what happens in public education. 

I could mention many other issues I have with this editorial, but as I reflected on them I realized that there was something else happening here.  As a society we are spending way too much time dwelling on the past and looking for scapegoats.  We live in an imperfect world and one where social justice is often elusive.  If we are to continue moving forward we must find ways to unite.  If we can't then we face a future where we will refight the same tired old battles and achieve the same flawed results.        

So, we really need to de-Walkerize our elections this spring.  Not by voting based on our support of opposition of Walker, but by deciding to move beyond, or above, the climate he's created in Wisconsin.  Somehow we, collectively, need to realize that it isn't about Scott Walker.  He is only one voice, and one that will be replaced in the not so distant future.  Many of us remember Tommy Thompson's reign as governor.  I always thought that things couldn't get worse than Thompson, but the reality is that someone will always come along to try and make their mark.  It was with no small amount of wonder that I found myself saying that Thompson was probably the best Republican candidate in the past primary for U.S. Senate. 

Instead of focusing on Walker and dwelling in the past, voters need to send a message about the future of our society by choosing candidates based on merit and not on fear or anger.  As a wise Jedi once said, "Fear is the path of the Dark Side.  Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering."  It is our job to change the path that we walk on. 

In this election, cast your ballot wisely.  Do your "homework" and learn about the candidates.  But, also never forget that your job as a citizen isn't done after the ballot is cast.  In reality the job of citizen is never finished.  It is up to each and every one of us to hold our elected officials accountable for their words, actions and policies as they work to represent us.  

Sharing My "Truth"…
One of the dangers in politics, or in any larger scale human endeavor, is the fact that words and actions can be interpreted in many ways.  Trust and honesty are vital to the ability of us to form sustainable relationships that serve a societal greater good.  We are facing a crisis here in Wisconsin, and across the nation, and it isn't so much economic as it is something much more important.  When Scott Walker said that our state was "broke" he meant financially, but I really think that he should have recognized that the real break was in a different venue.

What has happened over time has been a retreat from a more prosperous, egalitarian society to one that is secretive and access to opportunity is more exclusive.  There is no doubt that the "American Dream" has always been one that has been much more difficult for individuals of different demographical groups to attain.  However, in recent years we are seeing fewer and fewer "real" opportunities for people and more concentration of wealth and power into fewer hands. 

Trust, security, opportunity, equality…these are all terms that can be elusive to define precisely.  We all have a sense of what they mean, but the reality of the words can be interpreted in different ways.  As a society we are always striving to find the best ways to offer the most for each individual member of the group.

In America we have chosen democracy and an economic system based on a more capitalistic philosophy to deliver these benefits to our citizens.  However, in order for a society to utilize these "tools" well there are some basic needs that must be met.  When we don't succeed in meeting these requirements we face significant problems.  People feel disenfranchised, people lose faith and hope in the system and we see a movement away from the values that our nation is supposed to be built upon.   

The "truth" as I see it is very troubling.  We are seeing a breakdown in communication of accurate information at all levels.   

We are seeing a widening of gaps in economic opportunity with small numbers of people making vast sums of money off the majority of the population.
FOCUS | Cheney's Halliburton Made $39.5 Billion on Iraq War

We have been mislead by our elected leadership and made more vulnerable because of their actions. 

We find ourselves struggling to stem the tide and to resist the movement of our resources, human, financial or other towards concentration in the hands of the few.  Unions provide one way to resist these trends and are standing up for those they represent.   

We need more organizing efforts and more coalitions between the people of our society.  Unions, co-ops and other community based efforts will give individuals power to act in their own defense.   

Marriage Equality, Race, Economic Class and Public Education…
History is a series of events that seem cyclical in nature.  We always hear about the need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and it is clear that there are trends that reappear throughout human history.  The late 1800's become the 1920's which in turn become the early 2000's.  We see struggles for civil rights move from specific group to specific group and then back again.  Struggles for freedom, suffrage, economic opportunity, citizenship, etc… all find common threads throughout history.  The names, faces and situations change, but the stories sound eerily similar in nature.

Over the past week a lot of attention has been focused on the issue of Marriage Equality.  Many equate the issues surrounding rights for GLBTQ citizens as the newest in the long line of civil rights battles.  We've seen many parallels drawn between the issue of Marriage Equality for GLBTQ Americans and those that African-Americans faced in the not so distant past.  People have brought up the reality that marriage between Blacks and Whites was illegal until just a few decades ago in many places.  Just check your Facebook and you can see that Marriage Equality is of interest to many of us.

What shouldn't be lost in the modern incarnation of our ongoing quest for a socially just society is that the battles are fought and victory or defeat result, but the struggles don't end.  We know that the Civil Rights Movement didn't end racism in our nation.  Women's Suffrage didn't end sexism.  The passage of Act 10 didn't eliminate organized labor.  The "War on Poverty" didn't result in an elimination of economic distress.    

Humans are quick to try and declare a verdict and to move on to new challenges.  When we do this we ignore the actuality that we are all connected and that our struggles are part of the fabric of our humanity.  The union mantra "An Injury to One is and Injury to All" is at the heart of this reality.  We are facing the inertia of human nature that causes discrimination, inequality and injustice, but is also capable of inclusion, equality and justice in equal measures.  

Most people will act in their own self interest first, and then act for the benefit of others second.  What many of us miss is the recognition that by acting in a self-interested manner we often don't promote the most positive action that would benefit all.  In this way we see people acting in short sighted and often acting against their own interests.  Working class people supporting anti-union candidates, "minority" groups attacking the rights of others to achieve equal opportunities, these are a couple of examples that demonstrate the actions of people operating solely for their own interests.
As Americans in a consumer driven, materialistic society we find ourselves swept along in the river of self-interest.  We feel a need to defend what is, or should be, ours and to worry that anything that benefits someone else, by definition harms us.  This somehow implies that there is a finite amount of any given resource available and that we must compete in order to get any part of the desired commodity. 

One can argue that in economic terms this may be true.  We live on a planet that has finite amounts of resources and access to these have long been a source of conflict.  However, in modern America there is enough wealth so that no person should be starving or without their basic needs being met.  Our drive to accumulate is causing long-term damage to our nation's future.

On the other hand, there is no such limit on things like knowledge or rights.  If I learn as much as I can about a topic, that only serves to educate me, it doesn't take away from others opportunities to learn.  In fact, I can use my knowledge to educate others and thereby improve the educational opportunities for those around me.  The more people who are educated, the more opportunities there are and society as a whole improves. 

This same logic holds true in other aspects of rights, freedom and knowledge as well.  Giving a group access to rights like marriage, voting or other basic freedoms doesn't dilute them for others.  The case can be made that by supporting the rights and freedoms of all citizens improves the quality of life for everyone.  Just like union wages raise wages for all workers, so too can providing real, equal opportunity for all actually serve to increase the freedoms, rights and opportunities for everyone in our society. 

Allowing others to have these opportunities is frightening to some.  For example, people may look at the demographics and recognize that White Americans are no longer the majority.  This can lead to fear that by allowing more access to voting the power in America will shift in a way that leads towards an unknown future.  Yet, what is ignored is that our future is always unknown and filled with potential for success or failure.  Holding fast to what we know won't change this reality.  It will make the future more painful if we fight against what is socially just.  The cycles of history have shown us as the concentration of wealth in the late 1800's, and 1920's brought us the events like violent strikes, social upheaval, and the Great Depression. 

In many ways the social movements that have been labeled revolutionary are exactly the opposite.  Revolution implies a radical, sudden change and we often see that the movements that are revolutionary are in reality just the outgrowth of the will of the majority.  They become revolutionary because of the fact that the rules and norms of a society are often conservative in nature and are slow to change.  The struggles become more confrontational because those in power are reluctant to cede any control to others and impose restrictions to slow the changes that are frequently necessary for the long term survival of a nation. 

We are seeing the beginnings of a "revolution" here in America around issues involving many groups and institutions.  Public education will continue to be a centerpiece in this struggle.  Education is vital for each persons success as well as for the success of society as a whole.  Access to quality educational opportunities are necessary and the fact that we are seeing more restrictions to education means that the "establishment" recognizes the importance of this battle.  Educators, families and community members must work together to move our society forward and deliver quality educational opportunities to all students and communities.   

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