Meanwhile, I will post now and again some longer-range reflections on Wisconsin and our predicament. The headline is a quote from one of the Upper Midwest's finest writers, Meridel Le Sueur, in her marvelous book, North Star Country. Just finished it and highly recommend it. As insightfully as any Midwest writer I have read, she captures something of the long history of the pioneers, the Indian massacres, the rape and pillage of the land, the horrible exploitation of immigrants and workers by corporate bosses over generations, the struggle for the dignity of workers, the bloody costs of fighting for the right to form unions - the right to not be savagely exploited, manipulated, robbed, and abused.
The struggle has been a long one, and as I learned from a recent exchange with someone in my family, we forget or neglect these roots at our peril.
From Le Sueur's book:
The growth of corporations and absentee ownership of natural resources brought a change in human relationships, shifts of group allegiances, a new pattern. Pioneer days were marked by thrift, economy, and simplicity. But now mutual co-operative aid and the simple relationships of an expanding democracy were shattered. A new pattern was forged, a separation of interests; groups fell into those who possessed natural resources and tools of production, and those who, on the other hand, sold their labor.
"The pattern sharpened by the further impoverishment of the land, depletion of forests, erosion, and destruction, so that the land also began to fall into the hands of financiers; there was the vanishing of old ways to make a living, marked by ghosts towns, dead areas, loss of farms, migration of whole sections and there was even a partial exhaustion of high-grade ores. The development of aluminum alloys, the refinement of steel, sharpened the conflict of the big dinosaurs.
That was written just after World War II. Could it be more relevant today! The roots of the struggle between the corporate big bosses and the workers, farmers, and middle class, is as old as the struggle to define what it is to be 'American.' We have arrived at another of those defining moments when we must determine who will decide what our future looks like, what kind of world we want this one to be.
What kind of Wisconsin...
Then this final thought from Meridal Le Sueur:
The North Star Country's long cradling of democratic institutions, the peculiar largeness and boldness of its structure has always demanded new techniques and laws of common and individual rights, suggesting always the necessity of broader forms of democracy.
"Our future stands in real and sunlit shapes in all the gloom...
To truly understand what is going on in our state right now, it helps to know its cultural roots, and thus today's headline. Those roots are deep and abiding, they are tangled and source of great conflicts of interests and values. It will not help to sling insults at one another, but rather to understand this history and to begin coming together around some common purpose and vision for a future threatened on many fronts by the power of capital, the destruction of our natural environment, the individualistic lifestyles that have fragmented us, and the moral righteousness that has come to pervade so much of politics, culture, and religion.
To move forward, we must try to peer into the future to see the 'real and sunlit shapes.' We must pull those shapes out of the gloom that surrounds us now and begin to make them real, and, by necessity, through 'broader forms of democracy.'
To order North Star Country from Amazon.com, click on this link.