Monday, December 5, 2011

Advocacy for Victims In Peril

I awoke this morning to this news on my facebook feed:

Justice Department officials informed service providers around the state this month it plans to cut grants from its Sexual Assault Victim Services program by 42.5 percent this year.

My wife has spent time as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). A SANE's job is to collect evidence in cases of sexual assault. You've seen the end product on CSI episodes - the rape kit. She's there to begin the official record for use in a court of law. Victims have a choice as to how far they want to proceed in this examination. They can choose to skip the exam, or they can choose to have the SANE collect as much evidence as possible. They can choose to prosecute, or simply seek therapy. How does a victim make an informed, rational decision in the hours after an assault, sitting in a hospital room?

On hand in each case is an advocate. The advocate is a trained volunteer who works with the victim to begin the healing process. Sometimes the advocate spends time teaching the victim about her rights in court. Sometimes she helps the victim navigate the bureaucracy in seeking further psychological help. Other times she just listens.

These advocates are not paid, but the organization that runs the advocacy program does have a paid coordinator and a skeleton crew of staff. They run as lean as they can, and the volunteers are to be commended for their community service. If you ask me, there ought to be more dollars committed to this type of advocacy. Nothing can change the fact that a terrible crime has been committed, but a loving community can go a long way toward recovery. Sometimes all it takes is one positive face. Advocates know this - that's why they volunteer.

WCASA is the organization in Wisconsin that works with social services, law enforcement, and the medical community to aid victims of sexual assault. The article quotes their interim director:
"These are disastrous cuts," Pennie Meyers, interim executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said in a statement. "(The cuts) will serious imperil our members' ability to meet the needs of sexual assault survivors."
Thankfully the cuts have not passed all the way through committee.

The cuts aren't final yet. The Department of Administration must approve them. Then it must submit them to the Legislature's finance committee, which would automatically approve them unless a committee member objects. That would prompt a hearing.

Lena Taylor and Robert Jauch, both members of the fab 14, are on the committee. This means there will be at least one public hearing. I'll be keeping close tabs on this issue as it moves its way through the process. I hope you will, too.

An engaged citizenry can provide bad legislation a quick death. This is about more than just a specific issue, though. I'd like to think I could send someone to Madison that would have the common sense to at least leave this program alone. In a perfect world, we would increase funding for victim advocacy. I'm looking forward to turning over the senate. I'm really looking forward to taking the governor's office back. As bad as things like this seem, they also serve as fuel for us as we brave the cold. Each signature adds forcefulness to our voice. Keep volunteering! Keep fighting! Wisconsin will be ours!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

They're Running Scared

It's been a wild ride this first two weeks. I have to say, I always knew we would do well, but the announcement of 300,000 signatures on Monday just about knocked my socks off. I'm so proud of each and every person I've met in this process. The effort displayed, even for something as simple as finding a place to sign, is beyond moving. To see this happen organically like it has is simply amazing.

Right now they think there are 10,000 Ohioans in Wisconsin collecting your signatures - even though so far I know for a fact that the vast majority of signatures have been collected at stationary locations. You have to find a place to sign right now, in the spare ten minutes of your day between the bajillion other things you have to do in your busy life. And you know the people you're working with. If you're like me, you're meeting neighbors and making friendships that will last a lifetime.

There's something brewing, though. There appears to be a direct correlation between our success and their anger. The better we do, the more frightened they get. We see reports every day of harassment, attempted destruction of petitions, physical altercations, and this, which is beyond scary.

It's been great to see the courage in the faces of our volunteers, and the overwhelming willingness to sign petitions. Tonight I spoke with 4 young women who were vehemently opposed to Walker's radical agenda against reproductive rights in Wisconsin. In about two seconds, an ordinary dinner conversation turned into a frank discussion on the state of money in politics. There's a false morality Walker and his allies seem to carry with them every step of the way, even as they come in and essentially give publicly owned resources to the private sector.

I sometimes wonder if that hunger for the moral high ground is rooted in a need to over-compensate for the severely immoral social and economic policies this group routinely carries out. I mean, sure, you're making life harder for poor people, but you're making it easier for them to live Godly lives. You can rest easy knowing that, while you took their money, at least you saved their souls!

The biggest reactionary piece of news I saw this evening was the following article from the Journal-Sentinal regarding new protest rules for the state capitol:

The policy says:

Groups of four or more people must obtain permits for all activity and displays in state buildings and apply for those permits at least 72 hours in advance. The policy requires permits for 100 or more people outside the Capitol. The policy does provide some leeway for spontaneous gatherings triggered by unforeseen events.

 Groups holding demonstrations could be charged for the costs of having extra police on hand for the event. Costs associated with a counterprotest could be charged to that second group.

The costs would be $50 per hour per Capitol Police officer - costs for police officers from outside agencies would depend on the costs billed to the state. The police could require an advance payment as a requirement for getting a permit and could also require liability insurance or a bond.

That's right - your family vacation to the capitol building in Madison just became a protest, and you need a permit, buddy! So, for the sake of argument, let's say you're a great planner, and you call in advance to get the permit. If you have a group of four or more and they decide you're planning on protesting, you could be charged 50 bucks a cop prior to coming to visit your lawmaker.

I've been to rallies where I supported my lawmakers, and I've also been to rallies opposing them. I've also come to a couple just to see what was going on and I'm sure my head would be counted in an official number. What this really means is, if you're coming to pay any attention to your lawmaker, positive or negative, you're demonstrating. The only reason a family of four will be able come to the capitol building from now on will be to admire the architecture. Come to think of it, maybe that will be my next reason for showing up!

On nights like this, I look forward to getting this administration out of power. Any show of anger from the opposition makes me fight harder. Any ridiculous-all-caps-misspelled facebook comment calling me a UNION THUG compels me one step further. You can call me what you want - if being concerned about 65,000 people getting dumped off of Badgercare makes me a union thug, then slap a union label on my forehead and call me Jimmy Hoffa. If I have to choose between an organization that stands up for working people and an organization that beats them down, it's not really a contest. Keep up the fight, folks! We're going to right this ship, one signature at a time. Wisconsin will be ours!