Monday, November 21, 2011

Worried about civility

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is worried about civility in this state as our political discourse sharpens. I understand. We worry about that, too. We also would like to invite all those engaged in Wisconsin's popular democracy efforts right now to act like adults, to be the political culture we would like to be.

But let's also be clear about what is creating this acrimony. When parties representing one set of narrow interests uses cudgels of power to beat down the rights of others, those latter folks get upset. That upset ought not be equated with the atmosphere created by those with the cudgel.

And those with the cudgels need to take responsibility for the hatred, racism, and resentment that often gets unleashed in the spaces created by their politics of arrogant exclusion. When your policies increase the suffering of the suffering, when they squeeze more from those who have less and less to be squeezed, when they take rights that empower workers, students, poor people, and elderly to participate in democracy away from them, or make it harder to exercise them, they create fear, frustration, and growing feelings of powerlessness.

The Walker recall campaign did not create this acrimony, but acrimony from the right and the cudgel being used by the Walker/Fitzgerald regime helped mightily to create the recall campaign. People didn't take to the streets and shopping malls and Lambeau Field and their own front yards to gather signatures because they don't like Scott Walker or just for fun or because they are Democrats or because they don't like Repubs and on and on. And despite what the governor says, they aren't doing this because 'big unions made me do it!' They are doing it because of concrete tangible grievances having to do with the politics of deception of the Walker 2010 campaign, because of anti-democratic policies that have passed the state house and been signed by the gov. They are doing it because of the threats they feel to their livelihoods and well-being. They are doing it because it has become abundantly transparent that this current government exists to promote the narrow interests of its corporate and other rightist backers, not the interests of the public it is meant to serve.

Just want to make note of yesterday's front page article on the Bradley Foundation. The writers note that while we have focused so much attention on the Koch brothers, this Foundation has helped put Walker in the governor's mansion and been architect of many of his policies.

I didn't vote the Bradley Foundation into office, nor the Koch brothers and their offspring, Americans for Prosperity.

Yup, it's true; elections have results, as Walker's supporters love to tell us. Democracy is built upon them, but not on them alone. Some of the most important aspects of democratic participation are what happens between elections. The recall 'tool' (Walker loves to use that term, so we will, too) exists for a reason - to provide a mechanism through which the people can reverse an election when the outcome is undemocratic, a threat to democratic rights (like worker rights), or when it is discovered that a government is at the service of interests that are at odds with the common good.

I won't hold my breath, but maybe we could allow this recall process to unfold the way we do an election. They are both written into democracy here in Wisconsin. Sadly, elections themselves have become subject to the culture of nastiness that has emerged in our difficult times.

So what I do ask here is that all of us who care about these things raise ourselves to a different level. Even when that guy roared passed me with his car the other day when I signed the petition, I found myself wondering what his story is, his particular fear and anxiety. What is it that makes him feel such threat, as if his world is somehow rocked by my signing the recall petition.

Maybe if we could realize that most rage, resentment, and fear is based in pain and suffering, we could approach even the angry and resentful with the necessary compassion required to tamp down the fiery, volatile tones of this political era.

It's not as if life is going to get easier - not for a long while. But it can become kinder if we can figure out how to get to the point of realizing we are all in this together. We can go up in flames together, or we can figure out how to get through the hard times with a better world than this one, so full of injustice, violence, anger, and ecological unraveling. We can figure out how to re-knit the human community into one that has compassion at its heart and the well-being of all of us and the generations to come after us at the top of its priority list.

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