Losing Home

The recall enables the people to dismiss from public service those representatives who dishonor their commissions by betraying the public interest.  ~ Robert La Follette

For the last year and half, my state has been flooded with negative energy and anxiety regarding our political leadership. Regardless of the leadership favored, one couldn’t escape the discord and angry rhetoric, which, of course, has become increasingly perpetuated and repeated in robo-calls and divisive television advertising as the recall election date has approached.

Tomorrow’s recall election represents a struggle some feel (and I believe) is between outside wealth and Tea Party extremists dictating what happens in our lives, and having a state government that’s localized, encouraged by our voices, focused upon our land management, workers’ rights, quality of education and other issues germane to this state, its people, and its resources, both natural and economic.

I’ve engaged in this struggle by attending rallies and informational meetings, canvassing for my candidates, posting links, and sharing with other concerned voters. I’ve donated my time and what little money I could afford to support those candidates I believe will re-establish our integrity, and I’ve spent a lot of time in silence, discharging negative energy and becoming re-centered.

It’s been emotionally challenging and, at times, greatly dispiriting. I’ve been politically active since I was in high school, but I’ve never been so attached to a political outcome as I am to this one, nor so worried about my state’s and family’s direction and choices if the present governor remains in office. Wisconsin looks no place like home anymore, and it’s breaking my heart.

You would have to know some of the history of my state to understand my responses to the relatively recent and abrupt changes the current governor has enacted. For example, I’ve always been proud that John Muir spent his formative years in Wisconsin, and that Aldo Leopold’s belief in nature conservancy and environmental protection came to fruition during his years as a professor at the University of Wisconsin and during his time at his home in Sauk County, writing A Sand County Almanac. Senator Gaylord Nelson launched the nationally-observed Earth Day while serving as our state senator.

Now, we have a state government inviting mining corporations to write their own environmental negligence into law just to “provide jobs,” while satisfying their greed and destroying our resources, as well as breaking our treaty agreements with native tribes and entirely discounting their voice at the table.

In 1911, Wisconsin was the first state to legislate a Workers’ Compensation Act. In 1932, unemployment compensation was enacted in our state, and in 1937, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Act was passed, adding critical state support to workers’ right to organize.

Now, we have a state government that has destroyed collective bargaining rights, broken union strength and protections, and is encouraging, even laying the groundwork for, the transition of Wisconsin to a right-to-work state.

For over 30 years, following the brief, dangerous misery known as Joseph McCarthy, William Proxmire served as our state senator, refusing campaign contributions for his last two terms, and earning well-deserved fame for exposing government waste, especially in regards to military spending, through his Golden Fleece Awards.

Now, we have a governor who has raised almost $31 million in campaign contributions, largely from out of state PACS funded by millionaires and billionaires like the Koch Brothers, with specific and special-interest agendas. How many hours of non-stop negative advertising and lies do you think this has spawned? His challenger has raised under $4 million, in much smaller increments, and almost all of it from in-state donors. (http://www.wisdc.org/)

Wisconsin was home to “Fighting Bob LaFollette,” who, as a U.S. senator, advocated progressive reforms like child labor laws, social security, and women’s suffrage, and lived from a moral center that led him to protect the rights of the voiceless when others preferred feeding the personal greed of a ruling elite.

Now, we have a governor with an immense legal defense fund (that grew by $100,000.00 just this past month), who advocates secrecy votes and who misrepresented his goals when he ran for the office of governor. Only later was he clearly exposed as a pawn of corporate interests and out-of-state power centers. He has repealed the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act.

Once, and for decades, our state ranked near the top of the country for the quality of the public education provided for its students.

Now, we have underfunded schools, overcrowded classrooms, and a state government that participates in and encourages the vilification of teachers. Many of our seasoned and most talented teachers have taken early retirements to ensure they’ll receive even part of the retirement benefits they were promised and worked for these past thirty years or more. I worked as a teacher and I was a good one, but not the first year, or the second…it takes time to manage a classroom and the flow of lessons, to enhance and enrich them and to become sensitive to the energetic currents in a classroom. We’ve lost a lot of depth in our classrooms these past two years.

These are just a few of the reasons I’ve been involved in the recall effort and care deeply about the results. Decades of environmental, employment, and educational progress, reforms and protections are disappearing, rapidly. The place we’ve called home is disappearing.

And still, after all of these lies, and power-grabs, and repeals, and reversals, there are people who refuse to participate. I met a woman yesterday who told me, “I just don’t vote, usually…I wait and see what my neighbor says and does, and then I might do what she does…” She laughed as she told me this; expecting what? That I would join in her merriment, tickled by the rampant vacuity of someone surrendering her power so blithely?

Here’s the thing: I haven’t undertaken canvassing door-to-door because it’s a keen source of enjoyment or even self-satisfying. I haven’t donated time and money because I had nothing better to do or money to burn (hardly that). I haven’t read countless articles, listened to debates, watched informational programs and asked questions because it wouldn’t have been more fun to read a book, take a nap, or watch a mindless movie…And I’ve done very little compared to countless people who have given most of their energy to the recall election for months and months and months. But this is (or used to be) a democracy: of, by, and for the people. If we’re not involved, if we’re not self-monitoring and paying attention, and participating, then we’ll lose rights, and quickly. And if we don’t question the smiling lies, and legal defense funds, and out-of-state money pouring in by the millions, then we’ll get the government we deserve. Run by special interests and serving them, not us.

Our votes absolutely have power, whether we use them or not, but perhaps not the power we would have preferred, in retrospection. Power corrupts in the hands of those more focused on personal gain than the welfare of all. And all it takes for the corrupt to rule is for good people to sit back and do nothing.

If home is where the heart is, where is home for a heart that’s broken? I want my heart healed and my home back, starting tomorrow.

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

 

 

Tipping Points

A year ago this weekend, my husband and I attended a rally in Madison to protest changes made by our then-new governor and a state government whose Republican majority supported him. That Governor Walker won the election with only a 52% majority perhaps foretold the divisiveness to come, but I don’t think many of us anticipated the cataclysmic changes or acrimonious conflicts ahead.

Over the past year, the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public sector employees (with the exception of police and fire fighters), the draconian cuts to public school funding (in the neighborhood of 900 million dollars), the implementation of voter identification requirements, and dozens of other measures taken to ostensibly “manage the money” of our state, have split its people and created an atmosphere of such vitriol and mistrust that friends and families have parted company and once-strong professional alliances have broken beyond repair.

Whatever merit existed in these changes and whatever “good” they have contributed to the state budget, they have come at too great a cost to the spirit and people of the place I have called home most of my life. I continue to protest the manner in which these changes have been enacted and I am anguished by the attitudes of disrespect and indifference with which those in the majority have flouted their power. But I am equally affronted by much of the oppositions’ language and inability to focus on policy rather than the individuals with whom they disagree.

Over a million signatures—540,208 were required–were collected to force a recall election of Governor Walker and his lieutenant governor, and other signatures have ensured the potential recall of other state legislators, including our own district’s senator, the majority leader of the state senate.

These recall elections will take place within the next few months. I’ve joined thousands of others in supporting the recall elections, but I dread the anger, distortions, and noise the campaign advertising will likely spew and the bitterness they will engender. My conscience led me to protest the choices and to participate in what I felt were just actions to stop those in power from creating further damage, but I’m so disappointed it’s come to this, and I’ve tried to proceed cautiously. I want to remain hopeful regarding the outcome.

What continue to sadden and perplex me are the perceived and dangerous changes in our degrees of dialogue, courtesy, and compromise that have shadowed this entire process, a reflection of the larger national shifts in political and social discourse, and in the sensationalized way they are presented and reported by our media.

I wonder a lot these days about lines that are drawn with humorous intent that then becomes sarcastic, then cynical, and then hate-fueled…when do these lines become too dangerous to cross? When do they become walls?

At what point do words incite action and then violent action? Are there a given number of rally cries, or decibels, that convert a crowd into a mob? When does a discussion become an argument and an argument a war? When does a perceived threat overtake reason?

What creates the necessary energy to make me forget my connection to everyone in my community and align myself with only those who think as I do?

What, finally and irreversibly, causes us to see each other as enemy? 

When did some Germans, or Poles, or Hungarians look at their Jewish neighbors and begin to see them as expendable? And how did “some” become “more” and then “enough?” What shift allowed Rwandan Hutus to pick up axes, and knives, and spears to murder their lifelong Tutsi neighbors? How could the English elite turn away from my own ancestors’ starvation? How could they ignore Irish people eating dirt and families dying in fields? How could anyone ever consider anyone else his property? How were the United States shaped by justifying the destruction of those who were already settled here? Is it possible to freeze the moment when my vision alters, my self-awareness fades, and my heart turns?

We’re always walking on see-saws and there are tipping points everywhere.

People read historical accounts of human atrocities and shake their heads. How did that happen; what were they thinking; how could they allow it? But I doubt those living into such times conceived what they would become. We must always be aware of our words and their power, our energy and what it can harness, our shadow and where its neglect may lead us.

The usual suspects: greed, power, fear and ignorance are like liquid mercury, and only mindful attention to the direction they’re flowing and ways they’re joining forces—within and without–works in our favor. So we must slow down. See the human frailty in ourselves and the other. Be brave enough and energetic enough to counter injustice before it overwhelms.

We must never be willing to sit back in silence when there are people and governments who must be held accountable for their behavior, but we have to focus on the behavior, the flawed thinking, the likely damage, not engage in hating the individuals. And we must be willing to take a long and penetrating look at our own motives and behavior. Make apologies when necessary. Proceed with care.

Begin and end with love.

 A news program I admire for its maturity and impartiality is The News Hour on PBS; an added attraction is that women guests, reporters, and newscasters are as prominent as men. I especially enjoy David Brooks and Mark Shields for their respectful way of presenting opposing views: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/politics/political_wrap/

 

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.