Fear

Gun guy

Gun rights activist at a rally at the Wisconsin Capitol.

Over the weekend, a group of right-wingers held a rally at the Wisconsin Capitol to stand up and speak out for Second Amendment rights. At least a couple gun rights groups organized the event. Not that anyone is trying to take away the right to bear arms, but with the recent elections of Democrats Tony Evers to the governorship and Josh Kaul to the Attorney General’s office, the ralliers were afraid of reports that both men want to pass red flag gun laws and universal background checks. Red flag gun laws allow a court to temporarily take away firearms from someone who a judge decides is a possible threat to themselves or others. Currently all gun sales from licensed dealers require background checks, but private purchases, such as those at gun shows or between individuals, do not. Universal background checks would require background checks on all gun sales. These are two things they are afraid of right now.

Because of the involvement of Three Percent United Patriots in particular, left-leaning groups in Madison decided to hold a United Against Fascism counter protest across the street from the permitted rally. The Three Percenters have been defined as an anti-government militia group and have said they will defend their right to bear arms with armed resistance against any attempts to take away that right. Some of their members nationwide have been arrested for various plots. They were noticed by the general population when they provided security for the alt-right Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, in which a woman, Heather Heyer, was killed by one of the right-wingers when he drove a car into her.

When I got there I saw a handful of the gun rights advocates gathered on the Capitol steps and a large group of counter-protesters gathered across the street, as well as a fairly large police presence. There were somewhere between three dozen gun rights activists and about 250 on the other side. Many, if not most, of the gun rights activists were displaying handguns and other weaponry, which can be intimidating, but the strange thing was I did not feel intimidated at all. When I was taking pictures of one of them, it struck me when he looked at me that he was just a scared boy, that while they display guns to intimidate and scare others, they are the ones who are afraid.

It is because of fear that they were there. They fear their government, they fear their beloved weapons being taken away, they fear their fellow citizens who are tired of mass shootings and constant gun violence, they fear the left, they fear that someone is going to hurt them, so they carry these weapons not just to intimidate others, but to protect themselves from all of the horrible threats against them and their lifestyle. To me, it seems sad to live one’s life in that much fear. Wearing camouflage clothing and military gear while carrying guns may make them feel personally safer, but it can’t take away the underlying fear.

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Forward

Scott Walker. Photo by Callen Harty.

And so it comes down to this.

The Wisconsin Legislature, in an all-night lame duck special session, voted early this morning to weaken the power of the incoming governor and attorney general. While a bill to change an election date in order to favor the more conservative Supreme Court candidate failed to pass, the ones that were really the crux of protests and concern over the last week were passed by both houses. In the Senate one Republican, Senator Cowles, voted against. One more Republican would have been needed to vote against in order to prevent passage of the bills.

Now they go to the desk of Governor Scott Walker to sign or veto. Though he hasn’t specifically stated his intentions, he has indicated in the last several days that he would likely sign whatever the Republican-controlled legislature might send him. Never mind that over 1,400 people showed up at the Capitol to register against the bills and a handful registered in support, or that at the committee hearing hundreds testified against the bills and only one lone person spoke in favor. Never mind that virtually every media outlet in Wisconsin editorialized against the lame duck session and any bills that would take power away from the incoming governor. Tony Evers was elected in part on certain promises that these bills make it impossible to fulfill. The will of the people will be thwarted if Walker signs them into law, and it is more than likely that he will.

Let’s face it. Neither Scott Walker nor the Republicans in the statehouse have given any indication over the last eight years that they ever listen to Wisconsin citizens or care what anyone else wants or thinks. Their only concern has been pushing through their ultra-conservative agenda and staying in power or increasing their hold on it.

Let’s also face the fact that Scott Fitzgerald and Robin Vos are not fooling anyone when they say they are just trying to make sure that the three branches of government are co-equal. And they forgot the fourth branch–the moneyed interests that prop them up and support them, and give marching orders. If they were truly concerned about co-equal branches of government, they would not have allowed the governor to have the power he had over the last eight years. They would not have waited until he lost his re-election bid to suddenly realize the importance of making everything co-equal. This is dairy country, but it’s not only the farmers who can smell bullshit a mile away.

I called and wrote a letter to Scott Walker imploring him to veto these bills, because I have to take whatever action I can. As a citizen who cares about my state I cannot just concede. I have to do something, anything, in an attempt to stop this power grab. I have to do what I can to return Wisconsin to the open, honest government I grew up with in my beloved Badger state. But I am also no fool. I expect Scott Walker to veto these bills about as much as I expect Robin Vos to send me a gift of popcorn for Christmas. I expect Walker to send a caring response to my e-mail as much as I would expect Santa Claus to return a letter and tell me I’m getting a new car this holiday season.

Still, I try, because I fervently believe that justice will ultimately prevail. Though not likely, I can dream that Scott Walker will surprise all of us and remember his roots as a minister’s son and do the right thing. Perhaps Tony Evers and Josh Kaul will sue and win, or get an injunction that will stay in place long enough that Walker can’t sign the bills and Evers will have a chance to veto them in January. Or maybe, and this is far more likely, it’s about the long haul. Maybe people will remember the last eight years and this most recent disregard for Wisconsin voters in the next election. Maybe Republicans will lose enough seats that the laws can be reversed by a more sensible legislature at some point in the future. In the meantime, I will protest, write letters to those who are supposed to represent me, vote, write blog posts, talk with others, and do whatever I can to move our state in the direction of its motto-Forward. Together we will, at some point, march forward again.

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Letter to Senators on Lame Duck Session

Respect Our Vote

Respect Our Vote. The Overpass Light Brigade with a message at Wisconsin’s Capitol, December 3, 2018.

Right now in Wisconsin, Republican leadership has proposed a slew of legislation that would effectively undermine the duly elected Governor and Attorney General, among other things. There are five Republican Senators who have not committed to vote for these bills and if even two of them defect from their party leadership the bills cannot pass. Today I sent the following letter to each of them:

Dear Senator,

When you are elected to a Senate seat you are elected to represent the people in your district, but in a larger sense you are elected to do what is right for all of Wisconsin’s citizens. The people of Wisconsin elected Tony Evers as Governor and Josh Kaul as Attorney General, among other statewide offices won by Democrats. Currently, the Republican leadership is trying to push through multiple bills that take away power from both of those offices, among other last-minute attempts to consolidate power and sneakily slip through other things like a tax break for households that make over $200,000 a year. That is not a break for most Wisconsinites. Likewise, the power grab behind most of this legislation is not what’s right for Wisconsin.

I am sure that you understand that Wisconsin’s citizens are considerably smarter than the Republican leadership believes. Everyone sees through the flimsy reasoning that they are giving for the necessity of these bills and for pushing them through in a special lame duck session with little to no time for citizen input or even for Assembly and Senate representatives to fully read through them. Nobody is being fooled by any of it and voters will remember this come election time.

Wisconsinites have a history of supporting open, clean, honest government. When Victor Berger was elected to Congress as a Socialist in the early 1900s and Congress refused to seat him and called another election, the people of this state elected him again with more votes. There were many citizens who acknowledged that they didn’t like him but voted for him the second time because–whether they liked it or not–the citizens of the state had elected him. The same thing happened with Scott Walker’s recall election. Many voters were quoted as saying they hadn’t voted for Scott Walker in the first place, but voted for him in the recall election because they didn’t believe it was right to recall him just because some people didn’t like his policies. We are an independent and stubborn people and we will remember who did the right thing and who caved in to party leadership.

Please note that along with many Wisconsin residents I am not a Republican or Democrat. I am an independent voter who will vote for the candidate, not the party. In one election several years ago I voted for four different parties. I will happily do what I can to help unseat any legislator who votes for these lame duck bills and will also do what I can to support those who vote with the majority of Wisconsin’s citizens rather than the majority party. I believe that you know that these proposals are not good for Wisconsin and I fervently hope you will consider your conscience and do the right thing. Please do not let us down.

Addendum: For those Wisconsinites who wish to contact one of the Senators who may be convinced to do the right thing, they are: Senators Cowles, Fayen, Olsen, Petrowski, and Testin.

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The Boys at the Top

Shame

Wisconsin Capitol/Shame. (Photo by Callen Harty)

When we were kids in small-town Wisconsin there were always some of the popular kids who could get away with all sorts of things. They were athletes or their parents were rich or held important positions in the town, so they were used to being on top of the world and getting what they wanted most of the time. On those occasions when a game of some sort was played and the popular boys lost, they would suddenly change the rules of the game to change the results. A big score for the underdogs would suddenly turn into a penalty for a loss and no amount of arguing could change the new reality that the rules had changed.

For those kids who could change the rules on a whim, playing games was never about competition, sportsmanship, getting to know other people through the games, or even about valuable life lessons as most coaches would say. It was about winning. The big lesson of the Green Bay Packers’ Vince Lombardi–“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,”–was drilled into their heads and they took it to heart. Of course, they only heard that one quote and they took him too literally. Lombardi was a moral man who would not tolerate anything but the best effort from his players. He expected them to win with hard work, heart, and playing by the rules. He might take advantage of the rules, but he would not change them after the fact in order for his team to win. That kind of win would be meaningless to him.

But immature boys don’t understand the nuances of someone like Lombardi. Popular boys don’t understand that they won’t always be the winners. Bullies don’t understand that they can’t push others around to get what they want for their entire lives without some kind of comeuppance. They may continue to try the tricks they learned as children, but there will be times when they lose, when things don’t work out exactly as they had planned–even when they are the ones with all the power. It’s the nature of life. Still, they will continue to try–because for them winning is the only thing, at any cost.

In the recent mid-term election, Wisconsin ousted Scott Walker, one of the darlings of the Republican right wing, from the governorship, replacing him with Democrat Tony Evers. In addition, Badger citizens elected the first African-American Lieutenant Governor, a new Attorney General, State Treasurer, and returned Tammy Baldwin to the Senate, a sweep by the Democrats of the five statewide races that were held. Republicans held onto the State Senate and Assembly.

After the election, the Republican legislators who have held power in all branches of the Wisconsin government since Walker was elected in 2010 and took power with a “divide and conquer” strategy in 2011, were stunned. For the first time in eight years they suddenly did not hold every branch of government and the Governor-elect was talking about trying to undo some of the harm that they had done to the state.

But the leadership of the state Republicans are boys who were used to eight years of absolute power, eight years of pushing through every bill they wanted against an opposing party that couldn’t stop them because of numbers, eight years of changing the rules to win, to get what they wanted no matter what. They are the boys who pushed through bills in the middle of the night, who cut off public hearings, who passed laws giving the governor more power so that they could get even more of what they wanted. The reality is that it really wasn’t so much about what they wanted, and definitely not about what Wisconsin citizens wanted, but about what the American Legislative Exchange Council–ALEC–wanted. ALEC is a conservative lobbying group for various industries that writes boilerplate laws that toadies like Wisconsin’s leadership push through state legislatures around the country. They own these guys.

These boys, who are so full of themselves and the power they have held for so long–have decided, just like the pre-pubescent children playing games in my youth, that they want to change the rules so that they can keep winning. It is not about what’s best for the state or its citizens, but for the bullies and their overlords who supply them with money for their next campaigns. And they are so confident of their power, their right to win, their destiny, that they don’t even pretend that they are looking out for anyone but themselves.

In recent days, they have called for an election date to be changed, even though county clerks across the state have said that it would be a hardship and cost the state millions of dollars. The leadership publicly announced that they believe it will give a conservative Supreme Court Justice a better chance at winning reelection. He was appointed by Walker, but now has to win his seat. They believe the Democrats may not turn out in as many numbers with the changed date as they will for a Presidential primary, which would have been held the same day. They have suddenly had a surprising epiphany and realized that maybe they gave Scott Walker too much power and they should now take back some of the power that they mistakenly gave to him. They also want to take away power from the Attorney General and give it to themselves. And more. This is a naked grab for power, a move so blatant that nobody in the state is fooled by it at all.

There will be citizens at the hearings already scheduled for Monday (after the hundreds of pages of text of the bills were released on Friday). There will be protesters at the Capitol all day Monday and Tuesday (when the vote on these bills is expected). However, the numbers will likely not rival or even come close to the tens of thousands who showed up in opposition to Scott Walker’s sudden push to strip union workers of their rights back in 2011. And the opposition will likely fail. These boys in power have not listened to protests, citizens, newspaper editorials, Democrats in the legislature, or anyone but their moneyed backers for eight years and they have the numbers to pass whatever they want and the Governor-elect does not have veto power until January. Scott Walker is still the governor and can sign whatever they pass. Though he calls himself a Christian and a moral person, he has not yet shown that he has the conscience to veto such unbridled power grabs.

What bullies like these boys don’t understand, though, is that these kinds of unfair bending and breaking of the rules usually come back to bite one in the ass at some point. The popular kids, the powerful boys, don’t always win. During their eight-year reign of power they passed a bill to change Wisconsin’s recount laws, Walker signed it, and that law prevented him from asking for a recount in the election that he just lost. Somehow, some way, karma makes itself known. Somehow, in some way, the boys in power at this moment in time, will lose their power, their popularity will wane, and they will not be remembered fondly when history writes their story.

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Letter to Attorney General-Elect Josh Kaul

Capitol

Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison. Photo by Callen Harty.

Dear Attorney General-Elect Kaul,

Back on August 21, I sent the e-mail below urging an investigation of clergy abuse in Wisconsin to both the current Attorney General and the Dane County District Attorney. I did not hear back from either of them about this issue. Since Pennsylvania released its report on clergy abuse in the Catholic Church, at least nine other states have decided to launch investigations (Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, and Wyoming). It is past time to do so here in Wisconsin. Our children and adult survivors deserve no less.

As a survivor and an activist in the survivor community I have heard too many stories of childhoods destroyed by molesters. It is far more damaging when the perpetrators are trusted adults such as priests, teachers, scout leaders, and others. I would be happy to speak further with you about this or any survivor issues you may wish to discuss. Thank you for your attention. Below is the e-mail I sent back in August:

Good afternoon,

With the recent release of the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania implicating more than 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 children (and likely far more), it seems that it is time to open a similar investigation here in Wisconsin. The Diocese of Milwaukee has already been in the news for the abuse of dozens of young people, but the same lens has not been applied to the Diocese of Madison. What the Pennsylvania Grand Jury (and others in New York and elsewhere) have shown is that there has been a culture of church superiors accepting and covering up crimes and improper behavior by priests under their authority. In every jurisdiction in which there has been an investigation or Grand Jury, evidence has shown crimes committed and covered up.

Throughout the world there have been cases of child molestation in Catholic and other churches for decades. This is bad enough, but in most of these cases the crimes have been covered up and priests moved to other parishes and allowed to continue preying on innocent children. There have been at least 11 cases of Madison diocesan priests being publicly accused of sexual abuse. In the most recent case, that of Father William Nolan, the church was less than forward about what it may have known about and when. It is time to make sure that any crimes that have been committed that are still within the statute of limitations are prosecuted to the full extent, including the crime of withholding information and covering up the crimes of others.

I don’t know what the process is for convening a Grand Jury, but am assuming that it must start with a District Attorney or the Attorney General of Wisconsin. I am copying both the Wisconsin Attorney General and the Dane County District Attorney on this e-mail and am pleading with one or both of you to embark upon this path of justice for any victims that are out there and still holding onto their secrets. The more time that passes the likelier that perpetrators will not be brought to justice due to statutes of limitation.

I am an adult survivor of child sex abuse (not by a priest) and know the pain and scars that can result from this. I recently read about a Cardinal in New York holding children culpable by stating that by the age of seven they know right from wrong. I also saw and responded to a letter written by Madison’s Bishop Morlino that laid the blame for all child abuse in the church at the feet of Wisconsin’s gay population instead of looking inward and cleaning house. It is time to make sure that house is clean.

My understanding is also that Grand Juries are secret, so I understand there may already be something in place or you may not be able to share with me if you do convene one. I simply ask that you consider doing so if it hasn’t already been considered.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Heart Beat

 

It has now been ten years since I was put in the back of an ambulance and rushed to the University of Wisconsin Hospital with what proved to be a 100% blockage of my left coronary. It happened in the middle of an opening night performance at Broom Street Theater, and I finished that scene and my last scene and the story made all the local newspapers. Between the theater and the hospital I was given three hits of nitroglycerin to open the blood vessels more. When I got there a social worker stopped by to ask about end-of-life issues and whether I wanted to donate body parts. I told them they probably didn’t want my liver from previous abuse, it was likely they no longer wanted my heart, that my vision and hearing were going, but that if there was anything left they could have it. They didn’t laugh.

Somehow I knew I was going to be okay that night, but it was still scary. My father died of a massive heart attack at the age of 41. I had already outlived him by ten years at that point, and twenty now, but my heart was severely damaged. The doctors told me that I had survived a life-threatening event. They put four stents in to help the blood flow better and when it was all done I was told that going forward I would be living on 60% of my heart’s capacity.

In that first year or so afterward I was a perfect patient. I joined a fitness club, lost fifty pounds, stayed on my regimen of drugs, and did everything I was told I should do. My cardiologist even noted on one visit that I was a “poster child for heart attack recovery.”

But it’s been ten years and I didn’t remain a perfect patient. I couldn’t afford to keep up the club membership, the Mediterranean diet sort of slipped through the cracks, I gained pretty much all of the weight back (although I’ve dropped twenty pounds back off again), and at some point I went off the drug regimen. I don’t have a good excuse for it. There was a moment when I needed to refill prescriptions and didn’t have the money for it. Then I justified it because of all the commercials on television that enumerate the horrendous side effects of so many drugs (including some heart medications that caused the pharmaceutical companies to be sued). And being the good Catholic boy, I was embarrassed and ashamed to contact the doctor to get going on the drugs again.

That all changed several weeks ago when I went into Urgent Care because of an ear ache and severe dizziness. It ultimately turned out that was from a couple infections, but because of the symptoms I described one of the doctors ordered an EKG and they found an irregular heartbeat and once again I was put into the back of an ambulance and raced to UW Hospital and Clinics. They kept me overnight and did blood tests, more EKGs, a stress test, and more. They indicated that things seemed okay when they released me and told me I passed the stress test, and scheduled a follow-up with my cardiologist.

What they didn’t tell me and I didn’t find out until I met with my cardiologist a couple weeks ago was that I “passed” the stress test, but that the results were not normal. He explained that I had ischemic cardiomyopathy, which essentially means that my heart is not pumping out as much blood as it should. After my heart attack it was pumping at about 41 percent (normal is about 50), but the stress test showed me averaging about 31 percent with a low at one point of 26 percent. To determine the severity of it, the doctor ordered an echocardiogram, which gives a more accurate picture. The echocardiogram is scheduled for next week. Treatment can range from a drug regimen and lifestyle change to stents to pacemakers or bypass surgery, depending on severity. Because he didn’t schedule the echocardiogram until three weeks out and our next appointment together is three months out, I figured that he’s not overly concerned about it, but it’s still a bit scary. He did get me back on the drugs to start.

The thing is I’m not a young buck anymore. I’ve outlived my father by twenty years now, but I still have those genes. The heart attack should have been warning enough about caring for my body and yes, I am feeling guilt about not continuing with my self-care the way I started. I also understand that I cannot change those choices from the past, except to be better in the future. I still have so much to do in my life and there is no guarantee no matter what I do that I will live any longer than today. There is no guarantee for any of us about life expectancy. But watching my diet, following doctor’s orders, and doing what I can to live as healthy as I can certainly improves my odds that when it is time to go I will have done what I need to do in this life, lived it as fully as I can, and leave with no regrets. So today, on this tenth anniversary, I rededicate myself to myself and to a long and healthy future.

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Yes, This Is Who We Are

Ripples

Ripples. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

Aside from the ubiquitous thoughts and prayers, the refusal to consider any kind of gun control at all because it’s always too soon to talk about it, and the flags once again lowered to half-staff, there is another thing that comes up every time there is a mass shooting–the refrain, uttered with no sense of irony, that “This is not who we are.”

Thoughts and prayers do not bring back the dead.

We still need common sense gun laws.

The American flag should simply remain at half-staff in shame.

And, yes, absolutely yes, this is who we are.

Not everyone, of course, but who we are as a nation, as a people so splintered it seems almost impossible to build any kind of bridge to find common ground.

Despite what we are taught, we are not a melting pot where all the ingredients are mixed in nicely. We are a gun-crazed, violence-filled cesspool of people who hate other people. We are angry, greedy, jealous, narcissistic jerks who always have to be right and who lack compassion or empathy. We are white people who hate and mistrust people of color and we are people of color who hate and mistrust white people. We are Christians who hate Jews who hate Muslims who hate Christians. We are straights who hate gays and gays who hate straights, men who hate women and women who hate men, cisgender folks who hate trans folks and trans folks who hate cisgender folks. We are a nation of immigrants who hate the Native people who were here first. We are a nation of immigrants who also hate the immigrants who are still coming for a supposed better life. We are a sad, pathetic nation of sorry losers who despite all indications to the contrary think that we are the greatest nation on earth.

This is who we are.

We are not the greatest nation on earth. We were never the greatest nation on earth. We committed genocide on the indigenous peoples of this land, we captured and enslaved people from another continent, we have been at war pretty much endlessly with one enemy after another since the founding of the republic. We are killing the earth that nurtures us and we are killing each other. We idolize profits more than prophets.

This is who we are.

When in one week a right-wing fanatic sends bombs to more than a dozen people with whom he disagrees, a white supremacist shoots two African-American people in a grocery store while stating that “whites don’t shoot whites,” and an anti-Semite kills eleven worshippers in a synagogue–including a 97 year-old woman who survived the Holocaust–we cannot say, “This is not who we are.”

It is who we are.

We are a nation of covert wars, assassinations, random killings. We are a nation of cities that count their murders every year in the dozens and hundreds. We are Las Vegas, Pulse Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, Columbine, Fort Hood, Aurora, Oak Creek, and more. We are also now, ironically, The Tree of Life.

This is who we are.

But it is not who we have to be, because we are also first responders, volunteers, life savers, pacifists, rabbis, ministers, priests, doctors, nurses, peacemakers, and countless people who give of themselves every day to make their communities, this country, and the world a better place for all. We are also those who donate blood when mass shootings happen, those who raise money to care for others, those who take care of others before themselves.

This is who we can be.

As a society we need to learn to put ourselves in the shoes of others. We need to understand what it must be like to be in such dire circumstances in the country of one’s birth to choose to leave it and go to an unknown promised land for the hope of a better life. My ancestors did that. Along with about a million others they left Ireland and its potato famine behind to avoid being among the million who died of starvation and disease during the famine. Others leave their places of origin for political reasons in countries where they might face imprisonment or death because of who they are or what they believe. The Hondurans walking through Mexico will walk more than a thousand miles to get to the U. S. border. Who would do this unless they felt they had no choice? We must try to see the world through the eyes of others.

It is who we must become if we are to survive as a nation, if we are to be more than just a footnote of history. We will become the greatest nation on earth when we learn to love one another, when we become empathetic, when we have compassion for the least of our brethren and live that compassion in our daily lives. We will become great when we come to terms with our privilege, when we offer food and shelter to the poor, when we find forgiveness for those who have hurt us, when we seek forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, when our conscience is our guide and when love is the beacon that leads us into a better tomorrow. We will become great when our moral compass points at our own souls and we see that we are heading in the right direction–homeward–to that place of love that resides within each of us.

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