An Open Letter to Madison Mayor Paul Soglin

Madison, Wisconsin mayor Paul Soglin. Photo by Callen Harty.

Madison, Wisconsin mayor Paul Soglin. Photo by Callen Harty.

Dear Mayor Soglin,

Let me start with a simple question: Who are you? What happened to the Paul Soglin I thought I knew?

You just vetoed a unanimously passed amendment that would have added Madison’s homeless population as a protected class in the city in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations. According to Channel 27 you stated that more study was needed on the cost to the Department of Civil Rights. You also noted “the impact on existing protected classes by the dilution of the impact on protecting a class where the nature of the classification is not always continuous.”  I call bullshit. Adding a protected class does not diminish any of the other protected classes (and I am in one of those). Please do not pit groups against each other to achieve your ends (whatever they may be). Did you recently veto a similar bill that made atheists a protected class? I would contend that atheism is not always a continuous state either. Just as a homeless person may find a job and housing and come out of their circumstances an atheist could convert to any of the world’s religions at any moment. A homeless person being relieved of their circumstances would take them out of the need for protection, but those who stay homeless still need the protection the amendment would have offered.

What is your deal? What is your issue with homeless citizens? A couple years ago you suggested that you’d like to see all of them shipped out of the city. To become someone else’s problem? What kind of resolution is that?

You need to get your humanity back.

A short while back you tried (and it wasn’t  the first time) to have an ordinance passed that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for homeless people to sleep around the City/County Building and also to face possible arrest for loitering in or around the building. A couple days ago you started snapping pictures of the people around the building and then called 911 when one of them took umbrage over it. Why are you so afraid of these people? Seriously. What is your deal? What happened to the liberal Paul Soglin (or the radical Paul Soglin who helped lead anti-war protests back in the Viet Nam days)? Did you spend so long as a financial adviser to wealthy clients that you forgot that there are poor people in the world who need help?

I can tell you this. Fining people who have no money is ridiculous. Passing laws to prevent people with no homes from sleeping in one particular place will not solve the underlying issue that they have no homes! Moving them out of downtown or out of the city does not solve the problem. It only removes them from public view or shifts the problem to another municipality or government entity.

We need to examine the underlying economic issues that lead to homelessness and try to solve those issues. Until that happens we need to treat all of our fellow citizens with compassion and understanding. Perhaps you have never been without a home. Perhaps you have never been unemployed. Perhaps you have never been hungry. Well, bully for you. But there are countless people across this entire country–a country that is filled with enough wealth to feed and house everyone–who have nowhere to rest their heads at night. You are an elected representative and in a representative government you are elected to represent all of the people, not just an elite class that is made uncomfortable by the sight of their fellow citizens using the grounds of the City/County Building as a temporary shelter because they have nowhere else to go.

Where is your compassion? Instead of snapping photos of what you consider “littering” around the City/County Building you need to sit down and talk with the people who are staying there. You need to hear their stories. You need to connect with their–and your–humanity and get off of your crusade against them. Please, look into your heart and see if you can find the young activist who cared about everyone and bring that part of your nature back to this issue. Find the compassion you lost and become as human as your brothers and sisters who sleep outside in the city you say you care so much about.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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