Friday, June 17, 2011

Tough morning

Well, friends of Wisconsin, I know we're all feeling pretty down this morning - and undoubtedly frightened about our future here. Discouraged, sad, angry - all that. It is a helpless feeling to see authoritarians make off with one's democracy and feel like there is nothing you can do to stop this steamroller.

It has to play itself out. It will.  It will be ugly.  It will not be permanent.

But we do need to learn some lessons - urgently. One is that we must promise never again to become complacent about staying engaged with the democratic process. I worked on Central America human rights issues for more than 25 years in Washingon DC and it was always moving to tears to see poor people claiming their rights, organizing, forming political organizations, voting, when any of those things could get you killed (or worse, like tortured first). Voter turnout was always in the 80-90% range.

We are a complacent, spoiled people in many ways. We don't remember what it cost people over generations to win the rights we take for granted. I live in the Bay View neighborhood of Milwaukee and I am reminded every time I drive to the Hoan Bridge what that cost was in the lives of people who carved the path for us - the memorial to workers massacred by state militia, under a governor's orders, while holding a peaceful march to demand an 8-hour work day.

Or the police dogs and hoses in Birmingham.

Now most of us don't even bother to vote, much less engage the process in between elections, until one day we find our rights are threatened, and then suppressed - then we get all upset.

Lately I find myself pondering daily about how my state is the home of Fighting Bob La Follette and Joe McCarthy, the birthplace of AFSCME and of the Republican Party. I recall that that Republican Party was founded as an anti-slavery party and that now, in my state and others, it is trying to suppress the vote of African-Americans and is fueled by resentment that a black man is our president. I reflect on my own family roots - pro-union Democrats (except for my father, Republican but also a union member) harboring deep racist attitudes.

In the birthplace of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, we have just busted their collective bargaining rights - which is the whole point of having a union.

This is my bipolar state, and the rightist Repubs now in power are using their authoritarian bent to drive a wedge right through that divide. I have it in my own family, as does just about everyone I know, growing lists of things we can no longer talk about because disagreement now is not the beginning of conversation or even argument, but of no discussion at all.

It hasn't yet, but it's a nice thought.
We will have to pull out of this not by turning to old ways of thinking and organizing and running organizations and institutions; those old 'paradigms' failed to anticipate fully what was coming or to mobilize a broad and effective solidarity - not because they are bad but because the world has changed and is changing all around us rapidly. I think we fail to understand what this power grab is really about and what these people have in mind for our nation.

It is not time to regroup, it is time to reinvent. So while many are out in districts working on the recall elections, they and all of us need to take time to read, learn, discuss, and think again about how one builds a movement appropriate and relevant to the real shift in power that has taken place in this state, and which is proceeding across the nation.

This will be a time of great demoralization or it will become a time of great creativity. And that choice is completely up to us.

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