wisconsin is on my mind

I heard something interesting on NPR this morning on the way to work…

Sidenote:  I often start conversations these days with “I heard something on NPR…”  NPR is wonderful.  But I digress.

I heard a brief bit this morning about the Wisconsin governor recall election.  A woman who lived in Milwaukee, apparently the poorest city in that state, spoke.  She talked about how painful it was to hear ads saying Walker has created jobs in the state while there are so many people who have still not been able to find a job, or who are struggling to pay their bills.  A business owner from an affluent village just a short way away from Milwaukee then spoke.  He talked about how Wisconsin had been on its way down to join the likes of Illinois, apparently one of the poorest states in the nation, and he agreed with Walker’s decisions to cut government spending and state workers.  In this business owner’s opinion, Walker had indeed created jobs, and had created an environment in which more jobs would be created.

So who is right?  Is Walker a savior or a scoundrel?

I tend to think the latter.

I know it’s not that simple.  I’m not actually a fan of unions.  I worked in a union culture once where a huge gulf existed between those who worked incredibly hard and those who worked hard at doing as little as possible.  It seemed to me that the former’s hands were tied by the union regulations, and the latter were protected from any corrective discipline.  Later I spent time in the school system of a big city, and I saw both extremes: creative teachers who needed the protection of tenure to survive a bad administrator, and exhausted (and sometimes just inept) teachers who used their tenure protection to miserably hang on to their jobs even though they had given up trying to connect in any way with the kids.

I know that it was oppression and abuse and corruption which created the need for unions, but I also know that unions and union-members are not free of corruption themselves.

Hard working (but admittedly privileged) white men are raising their voices more and more openly to express their frustration with social programs and taxes.  They truly believe that a growing number of lazy, unskilled, unintelligent people (“users” as Ayn Rand calls them) want to leech off their wealth.  Some of these hard working white men are men of integrity, insulted by accusations that they are greedy and power-hungry.  They are tired of being asked to pay for the past sins of slavery just because they had the misfortune of being born white and male, and they don’t understand why the poor — specifically black African Americans — aren’t able to rise above their circumstances, like Will Smith did in “Pursuit of Happyness.”  Florida’s Marco Rubio is their champion.

So, it seems, may be Scott Walker.

But…

I wonder if Scott Walker has ever walked a reservation.  I wonder if he has ever listened to Arundhati Roy’s “Come September” speech.  I wonder what might happen to his thinking if he were given the gift of truly knowing what it is like to live in poverty, to struggle to climb that invisible but insurmountable retaining wall between the projects and the suburbs, between the renter and the home owner.

What does any of that have to do with Walker’s actions in his short term as governor of Wisconsin?  I believe there really are two different realities, growing farther apart.  Scott Walker has education, housing and insurance — the three legs that hold up the American Dream.  He couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to grow up with the challenges that many in poverty do.  And I see no evidence that he has taken steps to learn anything about worlds other than his own.  I believe that his innocence/ignorance helps him make the decisions that he has made, and I believe that it helps make his supporters feel good about those decisions.

How do we bring these realities together?  I wish I knew.

Wisconsin polls close in about an hour and a half as I write this.  I’ll be watching closely the news about the election results.  It sounds like it’s a closer race so far than the recent North Carolina Amendment One vote… I hope the results are not as depressing.

With hope, closing with a fun picture of a real grassroots effort!

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