Thursday, March 10, 2011

To All My Friends

First of all, to my friends who disagree on the matter of the Senators, the rights of public workers, and the role of government:

Government should be efficient. No one disputes that. I don't know what sort of fairy tale you suppose the modern left lives in, but no one in recent history here has asked that the government take care of their every need. There is, however, such a thing as an economy of scale. It's much cheaper, on the whole, for us all to get together and pool our money in one bucket and decide to hire someone to coordinate the snowplow routes, for example, and if we make that group of people beholden to us, we get better results. This is not a communist idea. It's the foundation of our country. Taxes pay for services. Asking for services from our government does not make us communists. Asking that those services are funded somehow implies that, though. And while Bob the snowplow driver might occasionally take five extra minutes on his coffee break, at the local level there is not a whole lot of waste. If you do see some, be a good citizen and report it. But don't use Bob's 20 minute coffee break as your excuse to cut a billion dollars from our schools.

Sometimes we have shortfalls. I don't know if anyone noticed, but property values plummeted due to a bubble in our housing market. Property taxes are based on estimated values, and as values drop, so does state income. A bunch of people lost their jobs and had no money to buy things. We hit a spiral, dropped downward, and took in less revenue in sales tax, less revenue in taxation of corporate profit (at least what little of that profit we actually tax), and saw more people hit the social safety nets as they no longer had access to healthcare.We are indeed in somewhat of a cyclical crisis.

What elected officials are proposing has very little impact on this crisis.

Very little is taxed out of corporate profit anyway, but we're deciding to take in even less money from them. In exchange, we are reducing the pay, or in some cases even firing our teachers. Now ask yourself if an unproven prediction - some economic theory you heard once - is actually worth taking a job from the teachers you know. There is not a scenario that is going to happen in our state in the next year that will add enough jobs to cover the difference.

But apparently we have to do it anyway. Because you know, it's economic theory. Even as it stands unproven, we heard it once. We don't know the actual economics behind it, and we don't know if it's being applied correctly, but we heard it somewhere.

These proposals are going to end up simply giving some group of stockholders a bit more in profits, or some rich guy a new yacht. They may even create one or two or one hundred jobs. Maybe. We really don't know. But we do know that they're going to destroy someone's livelihood. We know that for sure. Don't think about the thousands of teachers about to be fired. Think about the one you know. Is his job, or her job, worth the risk? If your neighbor has to move to an apartment, or a different state, was it worth destroying her job for the potential to create the one that doesn't exist?

Ask yourself if there was any other possible way to get that money back from our state. Your property taxes could have risen 1%. The sales tax could have been hiked. Corporate taxes could have been raised, or at least enforced. But instead, you've decided that your best course is to take the livelihood away from a person you probably know.

So that's the money aspect.

Now onto the labor rights aspect.

People die for good causes sometimes. No one thinks twice about celebrating war heroes. But there are heroes in the labor movement we ought to celebrate.

You know that weekend you celebrate at the cabin in the summer?

People died for that.

You know those 8 hour days you work?

People got clubbed for that.

You know the equal pay your wife is allowed now?

Women endured years of demeaning sexual harassment for that. Maybe even your mother did.

Somewhere, probably within the last century, real people we know took real risks, went on strike, and improved their lives and ours by their actions. The middle class didn't pop up on its own. It wasn't some gift from the wealthy at the time. Our grandparents rose up together and demanded better lives for their kids. Now we're being asked to throw away the means by which we achieved these rights. We have power now, for a few short more moments, and it's being taken from us, by us, with the consent of nearly half our population. Something is wrong with that.

If a rich man leaves millions to his child, and he squanders it, we think it's a pity.We think, well, if I had that money, I'd have invested it in bonds, or something safe, and just lived off the interest. We'd keep it alive. Why not?

But here, in Wisconsin, our grandparents have left us with a vibrant middle class, along with the means to keep it alive, and we are about to piss it all away in a short season.

There are some things that seem out of our control. The Uniroyal plant left Eau Claire in the early 90s. What people forget is that the union kept the plant in town for twenty years after they decided to close the place down. That's twenty years of hard working men and women bringing in good wages for their families. The union helped those people, and it helped our whole town. Closing the plant was devastating, but the union softened the blow. All because people were willing to get together and ask to sit down and talk about the situation with their employer.

The public unions accepted the financial concessions almost immediately this winter. We essentially got them to agree to their own form of a tax hike, anywhere from 10 to 20 to 30 percent.

I wonder if anyone can imagine the Chamber of Commerce accepting a tax hike of that magnitude.

For some reason, asking an janitor to make less money is fine. Asking a business or a billionaire to chip in is considered socialism.

And rather than letting public employees keep the tradeoff of a relatively safe job, we're taking that away too. We want everyone to be as paranoid as us. No one should be comfortable. It's the most backwards thing I've ever seen. We care so little about our neighbors, we want to drag them right down in the hole we're in. It's as if we need to remove airbags from every car on the road because one of us still drives a '66 Buick.

I really, truly don't know what anyone on the right believes they accomplished tonight. How this is a victory for anyone is completely beyond me. Wisconsin lost tonight, cut its own arm off, and then bragged about its new weight-loss program.

So that's that, for my friends who disagree.

For my friends who have been fighting in Madison, I have better news.

I am hopeful.Wisconsin will be ours.

I am overjoyed with the fight we've put up. So much so that I find myself misty-eyed tonight. We have power together. I'm not even in a damned union and I feel our collective power. Madison will never be the same to me. The capitol will never be a quiet building. When I take my future grandkids there (kidless now) I will be able to tell them what we did here this winter. Christ, I'm turning from a Vikes fan into a Packer fan. That's how moved I am this year. Wisconsin will be ours.

This winter is the moment we've decided to take a hard look at how big money shapes our lives. We've seen what they will do to us if they get control. They don't care if they have to turn us out on the street. They want their piece. But we have hit the streets, and we even, somehow, got 14 senators to agree with us and we damn near stopped this thing.In the least, we exposed these assholes for the frauds they are. We shed light on these nasty people. Everyone sees what they're doing now. No one is going to sneak something by us anymore. Every bill is being closely scrutinized and every vote will be remembered. Wisconsin will be ours.

Recall efforts are underway. We can win those elections. We will be knocking on doors in all 8 of those districts. Should any of these tea party "patriots" get enough signatures to recall one of our 14, we'll be there to canvass for those candidates. We can take back the Senate by the time our kids are in school next year. Wisconsin will be ours.

Scott Walker will follow. Our 60 days for signatures starts in November. Go to tonight and sign up if you haven't already. Sign up your grandma that doesn't have a computer. Make sure her voice is there and we're ready to hit the ground running come November. Wisconsin will be ours.

Our grandparents did fight for these rights, and not only did they fight for union rights, they fought for our amazing education system, our great parks, our clean water, our beautiful forests....the list goes on. We need to honor their memory and defend their legacy. Wisconsin will not be owned by out-of-state billionaires. Wisconsin will be ours.

Wisconsin will be ours and we will keep it from slipping away. This is one tiny footnote in our legacy. We will continue to do our future generations proud by standing up for what's right, this winter, all this summer, and on to the day when we roll into Madison and take our state back from the powerful interests trying to own it now.

All through history, we've seen much, much worse. Make no mistake, humanity has suffered far, far greater injustices. This is not close to the tip of the iceberg. But good men and women, while suffering setbacks, have continued to fight for what is right. We're still ahead of them. For every three steps forward we take, they may take a step away from us once in awhile. But we need to keep pressing on. And we will. We need to remain united, Wisconsin. We need to steel ourselves and get ready for a long haul.

Wisconsin will be ours.