Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Political is Personal

Today on my facebook wall:
my little brother graduates from Harvard today, boldly paving the way for all the other idiots in my family to do ridiculous things. "Uh, my brother graduated from Harvard, I THINK I CAN BUILD A BEER BONG.
I'm really proud of him. He attended public school in Minnesota where we grew up, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse with a bachelors in molecular biology. He moved out to Boston for a girl, and found employment in a research lab at Harvard. He was able to work on Parkinson's and ALS research partially funded by one of our boyhood heroes; Kent Hrbek's foundation paid for a portion of his research. Harvard gave him cheap classes as a perk, and he took advantage of it. The girl eventually moved back to Minnesota, but he stayed around to work. Today he gets his masters degree.

He now lives in Baltimore after moving there for a new girl. Mary is pretty and very nice. Pete must have used the sum of his education in deciding to lock that down. This summer the two will get married and begin a life of living happily ever after. Pete was able to find employment in another research lab at Johns Hopkins University, and will be enrolling in classes there at some point after this Harvard thing is all finished.

Congrats today, Pete. You earned it. Thanks to all of Pete's teachers, from Mr. Hoffman to Dr. Galbraith and everyone in between, for taking care of my little brother and whipping his mind into shape. If our local schools can get a Thielen through Harvard, believe me, our education system here in the Midwest is truly amazing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Lessons Learned

On Saturday I had a chance to meet with over two dozen leaders of progressive groups, mingle with hundreds of friends in our fight, and listen to some great people speak about the impact we need to have in our communities. This event was called Fighting Bob Fest.

To use a church analogy, I'd say it was more of a fellowship event for the existing congregation than an evangelical event to win new converts. Sometimes that's preferable. I will say I was exhausted at the end of the day- there's just so much to be done. It's great to meet people who are committed to the cause, though. We will take Wisconsin back!

Saturday's event was held at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls. It was rainy most of the day, but attendance was great. I sat at the booth for a United Wisconsin to Recall Scott Walker ( - sign the pledge!). Throughout the day I met folks from the Sierra Club, Veterans for Peace, The Cornucopia Institute, and The Farmers Union. The Chippewa Workers Group put on a great breakout session. Joel Raney, teacher and blogger, came to the booth and we spoke for about a half an hour about what we can do in our local area. All in all it was so uplifting. The first step in organizing is actually shaking hands and meeting each other, and this event was perfect in that respect.

The one speech is got to see was Tony Schultz from the Farmers Union. Tony is fiery. I don't have a link from his speech on Saturday yet, but here's his speech from Madison.

Tony made a good point in Saturday's speech: Paul Ryan's staff members are required to read Ayn Rand. This fact is celebrated by many. Rand advocated for the superiority of the wealthy classes, and against the have-nots, deriding them as moochers and freeloaders. She felt no sympathy for poor people as they died in the streets - it was their own fault. I think most would agree that her ideas are pretty radical. In direct contrast, anyone on the left that even hints about a Marxist or Socialist policy is run out of town, considered un-serious at best, or dangerous at worst.

We shouldn't be afraid to say what we think. And you know what? I'm done mincing words. I have some "radical" ideas myself that I think need to be shared. Here's one:

Your time on the clock is a commodity, just like a ton of iron ore or a bushel of wheat. You have as much a right to negotiate the price of your commodity as anyone in industry has a right to negotiate for any other commodity. If you want to get together with your coworkers so that you've got greater leverage, that's your basic responsibility, just like it's any business owner's responsibility to get the greatest value for his commodity. You owe it to yourself, your family, and those who depend on you to earn full value for the commodity in your possession. This point is uncontroversial.

You know where I first understood this idea? I read Das Kapital, by Karl Marx. As a historical document it's fascinating, and as a critique of the free market, it's got a lot to offer. The problems he addressed were real. The scales were tilted against the powerless, as they are today. Solutions were Marx's real problem, and it's what we've got to guard ourselves against - the only thing worse than no solution is a bad one. While I don't share Marx's vision of abolishing capital, I like the idea of getting a fair price for my commodity. I also think we are all owed a fair share of the profits we create. I think we all deserve a chance to have our voices heard at the ballot box. Political power shouldn't be limited to rich people. I'm not going to hide from sharing these ideas. We need to be out for new solutions to mend this discrepancy.

Scott Walker is not providing us with new solutions. He's removing the solutions we created earlier - solutions that have turned Wisconsin into the great state you see before you today. We established the right to collective bargaining, easy access to the voting booth, BadgerCare for farmers and our poor, and excellent schools for our children. I don't think most of us ever thought we'd have to fight these fights again. But here we are. I'm so glad to know that there are so many others out there willing to fight.

Saturday was a wonderful time to hear from all kinds of people, from all stripes, about the solutions they are employing to right the balance of power. We're all in this together, farmers, teachers, cops, nurses, and yes, software salesmen! Keep fighting! Wisconsin will be ours!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fighting Bob Fest!

Today I had the pleasure of attending a gathering to promote progressive causes, featuring several speakers and progressive groups throughout Wisconsin. The gathering was held in honor of the great Wisconsin progressive, "Fighting Bob LaFollette." They have Fighting Bob Fest down in his hometown every year, but this year we were treated to our own version.

Right now I'll keep it brief. In the coming days I'll write up a full description for the folks unable to attend. There were so many valuable lessons learned today, and it will take some time to sink in, and even more time will pass before I'm able to articulate things fully.

I regret that I haven't been posting for the past couple of weeks. Life has been busy, and a few things have taken the front seat for awhile. I hope no one will mistake the absence of posts here for apathy. I continue to be so very impressed with the level of understanding our neighbors have on local issues, and I'm convinced that Wisconsin will be ours if we continue to fight for it.

More to come!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Big News in LaCrosse!

So, tonight, this happened:

Dem wins Wis. Assembly seat previously held by GOP

Associated Press - May 3, 2011 11:05 PM ET

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Democrat Steve Doyle defeated Republican John Lautz for the Wisconsin District 94 Assembly, flipping a seat held by Republicans for 16 years in a race that focused attention on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's plan to curtail collective bargaining right for most public employees.

With 92% of precincts reporting, Doyle won 54% to 46%, based on unofficial results in Tuesday's special election. The race flips a GOP Assembly seat for the Democrats, who remain in the minority.

The seat was previously held by Mike Huebsch, who Walker picked in January to serve as secretary of administration. Huebsch was first elected in 1994.

The district covers rural La Crosse County and parts of Monroe County.

This is huge for us. I'm so proud of the state-wide solidarity we're showing in this effort. His days are numbered. Soon we will take back the Senate. Keep fighting, Wisconsin. Keep working hard. Good people in every corner of this state are stepping up to fight back - when you see people in La Crosse and Monroe County stepping up, remember their fight, and work hard in your town. Every victory we win locally is a win for everyone in our state. Doesn't it feel good to know that sympathetic brothers and sisters live around every corner, coulee, hollow, valley, and hilltop in Wisconsin? We can maintain this joy with hard work, smiling at the billionaires as we keep our money here, instead of letting it flow into their pockets.

We hold all the cards here. We are a machine, well organized, thoughtful, happy, and strong. Our power is limited only by our own willingness to show up to elections, hearings, town meetings, and neighborhood events. Remember, history is written by those who show up. We will show up whenever and wherever we can. It's that easy. We can make Wisconsin a state where the middle class is the special interest group politicians have to worry about. Politicians, let it be known: If you want to win an election in Wisconsin, you've got to come through us first.

Not every battle will end in victory. Sometimes they will take a step from us as we move forward. But if tonight is any evidence, we've got them on the ropes. They spent a ton of money in that district - I don't know the totals - and we still won. Keep showing up, keep working, keep talking to your neighbors, keep yourselves informed about the issues, and before you know it, Wisconsin will be ours!