The Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Kiss. Photo by Callen Harty.

Kiss. Photo by Callen Harty.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”–1st amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Freedom of religion means that you have the right to practice whatever religion you choose (if you choose) and that the U. S. government will not impose any particular religion upon you. It does not mean that you have the right to discriminate against others you may disagree with, for religious reasons or otherwise. It does not mean that you have the right to impose your religious beliefs upon others; in fact, it specifically says that there will be no law establishing a particular religion. There is no need for any kind of “restoration of religious freedom” act in any state. Everything we need as a nation is right there in the first amendment.

Proponents of these laws will argue that forcing them to bake cakes for same-sex weddings or similar kinds of circumstances infringes upon their religious and moral beliefs and that their religious freedom needs to be protected. I call bullshit. If I come into your store and ask for a wedding cake for my gay wedding that does not impinge upon your religious freedom. You are still free to go to church on Sunday and Bible study on Wednesday and my business hasn’t harmed your free exercise of your religion in any way. Some would say that their religion considers homosexuality a sin and that baking that cake for me is in some way supporting that sinful lifestyle. I call bullshit again. I was raised in a Catholic household and I have countless Christian friends and all of them will tell you that according to their beliefs we are all sinners, that there are no human beings who are perfect and do not sin. So if you can’t serve me a cake for what you consider to be my sin then you can’t bake cookies for the adulterer or bread for the thief. You can’t make scones for the man who does not honor his father and mother or candies for the woman who takes God’s name in vain.

No matter how you spin it these acts like the one in Indiana are clearly a gateway to discrimination and nothing else. Even if that were not the intent of the authors of the bills you can bet that it will be the result and it won’t stop with discrimination against the LGBT community. I can imagine Muslims being refused service next, and then pagans, and on down the line. I can imagine store windows with signs listing what kinds of unbelievers are unwelcome. Now I don’t necessarily want to do business with a store owner that hates me that much anyway and have always done my best to put my dollars where my beliefs are. That is why I am happy to see so many companies talking about boycotting Indiana and other places that pass such legislation. Governor Pence can pretend all he wants that the bill is not about discrimination but about religious freedom, but look again at the first amendment. That provides all the protection that has ever been needed. The new law needs to be rescinded.

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The Real Danger of Ted Cruz is Scott Walker

United States Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

Ted Cruz became the first officially announced candidate for President on Monday when he delivered a speech before a captive (literally) audience at the ironically named Liberty University. He is one of the most strident, intractable candidates I can recall in my lifetime and his ultra-right-wing views would be scary if I thought there were a chance that he could win his party’s nomination, let alone the presidency. There really is no danger of him doing either.

The real danger of Ted Cruz, as well as several other potential candidates like Rick Santorum and Ben Carson, is not an implausible rise to their party’s nomination, but what they do to the rest of the field. They keep pushing the entire field further to the right. Even so, the last couple days I have seen pundits say things like this quote from David Ludwig in The Atlantic, “After less than two years in the Senate, Cruz has positioned himself to make waves on a Republican debate stage in 2016 and to compete as a more conservative alternative to Jeb Bush or Scott Walker.”

This is the real danger of Ted Cruz. Donald Trump makes everyone look smarter. Ted Cruz and the other radical right-wingers make Jeb Bush and Scott Walker look liberal, or at least like some kind of centrists when they are not. Walker in particular is a far right Tea Party Christian conservative, both fiscally and socially. Candidates like Cruz and Carson only serve to make Walker look less conservative when in fact his views are aligned much closer to them than to most of America. Or perhaps I should clarify that by saying that the views of his corporate sponsors that he regurgitates back as laws are closer to Cruz and his ilk. I’m not sure anyone knows what Walker himself stands for, other than less government and more business, but even much of that appears to be favors for political support. He also stands for himself. He once told a college friend that he was going to be President and his entire life and career seems to have been shaped toward that goal.

I believe that underneath it all Walker is as conservative as any of the right-wingers who spout nonsense like Carson’s views on homosexuality–he said he believed it was a choice and cited prisoners as his evidence. Walker is perhaps just as or even more conservative than Cruz and Carson, but he is very good at hiding his views. No one knew before he was elected Wisconsin’s governor–at least no one in the public–that he was planning on stripping public workers of their collective bargaining rights, a law right out of the playbook of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a group of government and business buddies that drafts laws for legislators to take back to their states and enact into law to help businesses make more money. Walker was a member for years when he was in the Wisconsin Assembly.

Walker also hid his support for so-called “right to work” laws that undermine private unions by making it illegal to collect money from non-union members at a union shop, essentially giving those employees all the benefits of union membership without the responsibility. He proposed a right-to-work law when he was a state legislator back in the 1990s. As governor he never mentioned that. He simply was quoted as saying that it wasn’t a priority for him and that he didn’t expect such a bill to reach his desk. In 2011 he even said he had no interest in doing anything to private unions and that he believed they were partners in getting the economy going. Once the bill inevitably hit his desk he signed it almost immediately. The only reason there was a delay at all is that he was visiting (or what most of us call campaigning) elsewhere at the time.

Several times Walker has dodged questions that might give a fuller picture of his views. The most famous example is his refusal to answer a question on evolution when he was visiting Great Britain. That was followed a short time later by a refusal to elaborate on whether he believed Barack Obama to be a Christian. Both non-answers essentially answered for him, but did not provide quotes that anyone can use against him. If nothing else he can be a shrewd politician.

However, Walker does have a record that can be examined. His entire political career shows him to be both fiscally and socially conservative and sometimes extremely so. He has opposed abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, supports a personhood amendment that would define life as beginning at conception, and has supported a pharmacist’s right to refuse to fill contraception prescriptions for religious reasons. Walker hides his opposition to marriage equality these days by deflecting attention away from it and stating that we should be talking about the economy rather than equality, but he has been a long-time opponent of marriage equality. In a 2005 press release he said, “Many years ago, I concluded that we must change the Wisconsin State Constitution to say that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. My belief in this position is even stronger today.”

Those are two of the more volatile social issues. The Wisconsin governor also believes in drug-testing welfare recipients, something that has not worked in any state that has tried it. He has cut funding for public schools from elementary through the university while working to expand school vouchers, essentially moving toward a privatized, profit-based school system in Wisconsin while claiming it is about “choice”. While we don’t hear much about it he has said that we should replace Obamacare and he also refused federal money from the Affordable Care Act for Medicaid. Aside from what he has already done to gut unions he is also opposed to raising the minimum wage for workers. He has consistently been against working men and women while supporting tax cuts for corporations and big business, pretty much furthering his hero Ronald Reagan’s discredited trickle-down economic theories.

The reality is that Scott Walker is as much of an ideologue on the Affordable Care Act as Ted Cruz, as extreme on abortion as Rick Santorum, and as anti-gay, anti-marriage equality as Ben Carson. He is simply not being noticed for his far-right positions because the press focuses on his “heroic” battles against the unions and those other candidates are always out there loudly and proudly proclaiming their extreme views. In the meantime Walker diverts attention by answering tough questions with responses like, “Folks are concerned about the economy. Let’s talk about that.” It doesn’t stop him from advancing his agenda or signing draconian laws, but gosh, he sure seems like one of us. He shops at Kohl’s and rides a Harley. He must be a regular guy.

Most of the other candidates don’t seem like regular guys. They seem like clowns at a bizarre circus (albeit more like American Horror Story than Barnum & Bailey). It has been reported that Ted Cruz’ father said that Ted will one day be one of the “anointed kings” who will be in power during the end time redistribution of wealth. A side note here–isn’t “redistribution of wealth” supposed to be anathema for Republicans? Scott Walker has been redistributing wealth in Wisconsin for five years now, from the hard-working laborers on the front lines to the already rich corporate overlords he serves religiously. The difference is that Cruz would do so at his father’s bidding whereas Scott Walker does so believing that he is following the bidding of his father in Heaven. Most of us pray, but most of us do not believe as Walker does that God speaks directly to us and tells us whether we should take a job, marry someone, run for Governor, or run for President.

Most people even in Wisconsin don’t know about Walker’s religious and political fanaticism because he deflects questions or hides many of his views from the general public. He does share those views in coded political speech that some listeners understand perfectly well, and he does advance his agenda one way or the other. Those outside of Wisconsin know less about him, except for how he looks compared to the blowhards making names for themselves as rabid right-wingers, those like Cruz who isn’t afraid of standing by what he believes with the full force of his personality. Walker looks rational compared to those who put their opinions out there whether they are liked or not and who stand by those views even at the potential expense of their political careers. Walker would never do that. He has always taken the long view of his career, with every moment geared toward the aspiration of becoming President. It was a goal he envisioned long before he ever started to pray for guidance about whether he should run. Interestingly it is a prayer he still claims is unanswered although he is clearly already running and although his whole life has pushed him along that road.

Except for his die-hard supporters nobody really believes that Ted Cruz has a chance at winning the highest office in the land, but at least Cruz is honest. The unvarnished extremism of Cruz and the others make Walker look palatable, and that is the real danger of Ted Cruz and the current collection of right-wing crazies in the potential field of Republican candidates.

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An example of the devaluation of women in our society. Photo by Callen Harty.

An example of the devaluation of women in our society. Photo by Callen Harty.

Recently boys at Sun Prairie, Wisconsin’s high school were found to have created a bracket that resembles the ubiquitous March Madness brackets created for the NCAA college basketball tournament. The difference was that the bracket was designed for boys in the high school to rate girls in the high school.

The school principal came out with a milquetoast response to the bracket, indicating in a letter to parents that they’ve asked students to destroy the brackets and that the school would not tolerate such behavior. Apparently a similar thing happened last year and some students were suspended, but so far this year no one has been reprimanded in any way.

Some of the girls in the high school had a much better response, calling out the brackets for the inherent disrespect and sexism that they displayed. Imagine being one of the girls left off the bracket and what that might do to your self-confidence. High schoolers are often already unsure of themselves and uncomfortable with their bodies or how they might be perceived by others. The creation of the brackets was both thoughtless and cruel.

I absolutely agree that this kind of thing is disrespectful to female members of the student body, but one has to wonder why the boys who did this did not consider that and check themselves.

It’s because there is a greater underlying issue going on here, and that is the way our society treats women in general. Think about it. These kids are encouraged to elect prom and homecoming queens, the result of which is usually the winner of a popularity contest and often based on who is considered one of the prettier girls in the class (based on culturally accepted definitions of beauty). We live in a world in which we still have Miss America and Miss Universe contests in which women are judged primarily on their beauty and bodies. Don’t tell me that the social issues questions they answer really factor very much into the decision on winners. We even have beauty contests for toddlers that are celebrated on reality television shows.

All over media women are elevated for beauty over intelligence, thin bodies over emotional integrity. Models are as important (or morseo) than women with doctoral degrees. Female anchors have to be pretty rather than erudite, whereas male anchors do not have to be handsome. Women are devalued in so many more ways. They get paid less than men on average for the same positions. They are viewed as sexual objects rather than as whole human beings. The list could go on for pages upon pages and still not be complete.

I’m not saying that these things justify these boys’ behavior, but there is a deeper underlying problem here that needs to be fixed. Until we get to that, until we treat women as equals and respect all people for their inner beauty and strength rather than exterior beauty we will still have boys filling out brackets that rate girls on unrealistic expectations of beauty. We will still have a society that devalues women in so many ways that the message clearly gets through to the next generation to come along. That is even more unacceptable than what these high school boys did.

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A Gift

Scene from the play "Invisible Boy". Photo by Callen Harty.

Scene from the play “Invisible Boy”. Photo by Callen Harty.

Over the last several years I have spoken to a lot of groups about child sex abuse. Typically I relate my own survivor story and then open it up to questions and answers. I am not clinically trained or a therapist in any way. I am an expert on surviving child sex abuse because I have lived it. I have spoken to groups as small as a handful and as large as hundreds. I do it for a couple reasons–I want other survivors to know they are not alone and I want to educate the general public about abuse and about issues surrounding healing from it.

There is one night that stands out for me in a different kind of way. I was invited to speak to a small group. Normally at some point during the introductory part of a speaking engagement I will give a trigger warning and let people know that parts of the story may be difficult to hear, particularly for those who have been abused. I let them know that if they need to step out of the room it is okay, that I won’t be offended, and most importantly that their self-care is first and foremost. On this day it turned out to be a two-hour session and during it I talked in some detail about my abuse and about the effects that it had on my life: alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, self-hatred, suicidal tendencies, and more. The group of half a dozen men and women listened intently, asked really good questions and made insightful comments. A couple of the men in the group ended up talking about their own childhood abuse and bravely shared their stories.

At one point with about a half-hour to go in the session one of the other men got up and stepped out of the room. Throughout most of the evening he had been mostly quiet. He had asked one or two questions but in general seemed to be taking it all in, although I had noticed him looking down at the floor with his head in his hands several times. After about ten minutes one of the other members decided they’d better go check on him and make sure he was okay. They came back shortly and said he was going to be fine. I said something about being sorry if something I said had triggered him, but was told it was all okay.

The session went about another ten minutes. Overall it felt like it had been a very good evening. There were some powerful moments of sharing, questions that brought up some really good things to talk about, encouragement, support, and love. I thanked them for their time and they thanked me for mine. The group stayed in the room to wrap up as I headed out the door.

When I stepped out into the hall the man who had left the room earlier was standing there. I reached my hand out to shake his hand and thanked him for coming. He quietly said, “Can I talk to you for just a moment?” This happens a lot when I do these events. A person will be reticent to share their reaction or their own story in front of a larger group, but will want to reach out to me individually. In those moments I have heard some hard stories, I’ve been thanked and hugged, and sometimes there is more real sharing afterwards than in the rest of the event. I told him I’d be happy to talk with him.

He very gently said, “I want to thank you for coming here tonight and sharing your story. As an abuser I don’t get to hear that side of it and I needed to hear it.” He then paused for a moment and said, “I’m sorry from all of us.”

I was incredibly moved at that moment. I looked at him and said, “That was a really brave thing for you to do, to open up to me about that. I really appreciate it and I thank you for trusting me with it.” I could see in his eyes that he felt as if he had wounded me personally and that there was deep remorse for whomever it was that he had abused. I understood that I was a surrogate for that person in that moment. I asked if I could give him a hug and we embraced–a deep, meaningful hug that was filled with pain, shame, forgiveness, compassion, and an elemental human connection.

I had never had this kind of thing happen before. Oddly enough during the session I had been asked the question by one of the other group members whether any abuser had ever talked to me after one of my speaking engagements and I said no, that had never happened. They asked what I would do if an abuser talked to me and asked for help. I answered that having done this for several years I had a lot of contacts and that I would put them into contact with someone who could help them. I said I would do whatever I could to make sure they got whatever help they needed.

Also during the meeting I had talked at one point about how perpetrators are thought of as monsters and there is a myth about stranger danger when in fact most abuse is perpetrated by someone close to the victim. I had looked around the room and pointed at each of the people and said an abuser doesn’t look like a monster, he looks like you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and me. In retrospect I’m sure that was difficult for him to take in at that moment.

The other thing I tend to talk about is forgiveness. While not all survivors can or want to get to a place of forgiveness it is something that was important for me in my healing. I thought about how it seemed as if the universe had put everything into place in order for this man to be able to move a step forward in his own process.

I stepped back from the hug and looked at him and said, “I want to check in with you about this. Is it something you are still dealing with? Are you seeing someone about it?” I wanted to be assured that he wasn’t still perpetrating and that if he was that he would do something to change that right away. He assured me that he was getting help and that it was something in the past and he was doing his best in the world. I told him that was good and thanked him again for sharing before I left.

It was no more than a minute or so of connection, but it had a huge impact on me. I started crying almost as soon as I got out the door. I felt strongly that it was a moment of grace, that it was a gift both for him and for me. I have never gotten an apology from the person who abused me and at this point in my healing journey I no longer need it. It might be nice, but it is not necessary. Still, this man offered that for him and it touched me deeply. I believe I gave him forgiveness in my response, which I’m guessing is what he needed at that moment. My only regret is that I didn’t talk to him a little bit longer. I feel like I should have talked to him about the need to forgive himself. It is critical in order for him to continue his movement forward. I hope that with his therapist he gets there. In the meantime I’m glad I was able to be some small part of his journey.

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Some Thoughts on Tony Robinson

A friend of Tony Robinson at the candlelight vigil held in his honor on Willy Street in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

A friend of Tony Robinson at the candlelight vigil held in his honor on Willy Street in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

Last night I stood in the middle of a street and cried for a young man I never knew.

The tears were for Tony Robinson, a 19-year old unarmed African-American who was shot and killed by police officer Matt Kenny on Williamson Street in Madison, Wisconsin. The Willy Street neighborhood is like a second home to me as I have worked at Broom Street Theater a couple doors down from the shooting since 1983 and I’ve lived in the neighborhood in the past.

Last night there was a candlelight vigil in front of the house where Tony was shot five times by the police officer. The vigil made the horror of what happened so palpable and so real for me and others. To listen to one of his best friends try to speak through a profusion of his own tears to describe what a great friend Tony was and how much fear he now has for his own safety could not fail to touch even the most hardened of hearts. Several of Tony’s friends took the microphone and talked about how special he was–how he always made them smile, how he preached about the value of hard work, how he could bring someone who was down back up again–and it was clear from their trembling voices that it was not only Tony who was lost but that they all lost a part of themselves and their own innocence along with him.

We can talk about politics another time. There will be plenty of discussion about the racial implications of the killing and there had better be some really basic discussions about race, class, and other issues that face our community and our nation. Anyone who doesn’t think that there is racism in this country is either fooling themselves or simply unwilling to face reality. Racism didn’t end with the abolition of slavery. It didn’t end with the ending of Jim Crow laws or with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. It didn’t end when we elected our first African-American President. It has not ended yet and every day for black citizens of this country is a challenge to overcome it. We must talk about it, because it played a part in this shooting. It laid the groundwork for this to happen. We must engage in some basic work and some real conversations about it. We can’t let this moment pass into history without doing so.

But the vigil last night was not about politics. Last night was about the young man who died and the family and friends he left behind. The gut-level, most basic reality of what happened is that a young man’s life was lost before he had a chance to fully become whatever he may have been in this world and that many, many more lives were impacted deeply by it. The officer’s life and his family are likely to never be the same either.

So last night I cried in the street.

I cried because I bore witness to the pain of those left behind. I cried because I know that this happens every day in this country, and that my fellow citizens kill each other, too. The night that Tony Robinson died a young woman was killed at a party in Milwaukee. I cried last night because I was ashamed of what my white brethren have done to my black brethren. I cried because I never got a chance to know Tony and there was nothing anyone could have done to help him. I cried for my city and my country. And I cried when I heard other young men and women talk not of retribution but simply of their love for their friend. This is all that we need to live for in the time that we have–to love and be loved–and based on the testimony of his friends Tony Robinson clearly lived.

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It’s About More than Money

Wisconsin State Senate. Photo by Callen Harty.

Wisconsin State Senate. Photo by Callen Harty.

Wisconsin is in danger of becoming the 25th “right to work” state by early March, with hearings held today, a Senate vote coming later in the week, an expected Assembly vote at the beginning of March, and an assured signature from the governor as soon as possible after that.

It’s possible to convert one of the Republican Senate votes so that it doesn’t pass and one would think that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin would be doing everything they could to make that happen and to educate the public and encourage contact with legislators.

One would think.

Instead, I got the following e-mail today from Mike Tate, chairman of the state party:

“It’s today, Callen.

“The state Senate is set to take up legislation that would make Wisconsin a right-to-work state. They’re attacking our state’s working families. We HAVE to fight back before Scott Walker and his GOP allies succeed.

“But we can’t fight back alone. We need your help. We have to raise $5,200 before COB today if we want to keep the pressure on the GOP to stop them from passing right to work legislation.”

That was followed by several links allowing me to instantly donate money to the cause and then a signature of “Solidarity, Mike”.

I was so irritated I hit reply and sent the following response:

“Dear Mike (or whomever reads this for him),

“Must you use every bill that comes up, every event that occurs, every possible angle there is in order to continue raising money? What do you do with all that money? I would think you could use it to actually fight the things that you use as excuses to raise more money.

“Perhaps you could occasionally send an e-mail to those on your lists that serves to educate the public about the nuances of a bill or how to get in touch with their legislators.

“You say that Republicans are attacking working families, but you don’t say how. Maybe there are people who need to understand the issue better. You put in bold letters that we have to fight back, but you neglect to mention what the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is doing to fight back. You note that you need to raise $5,200 before the end of the business day in order to keep pressure on the Republicans over this, but you don’t tell us what you are doing to put pressure on them.

“I wish you would please quit appealing to our emotional responses to bad legislation in order to raise more money and instead tell us what you are doing to fight bad legislation. If I knew that you were at the Capitol today protesting with my brothers and sisters, or that you were meeting with one of the handful of Republican senators who could possibly be convinced to vote against their party, then I might be willing to send you a check without you even having to ask.

“The only communications I ever get from you are pleas for more money in order to fight the evil Republicans. I will not be sending you a check until I know what you are doing with the money (other than throwing it at hand-picked candidates who have no realistic chance of winning) and what you are doing (other than campaigning) to seriously fight the draconian actions of the governor and legislature.

“I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels this way. Your requests for donations would be far more effective if they weren’t the only things you ever sent. Mix it up a bit. Tell us what you are doing for us. Show us concrete ways that the money will be used. Maybe then my first reaction would not be to hit the ‘trash’ button on my computer.”


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On the Budget and “Right to Work”

Protect Workers' Rights. Photo by Callen Harty.

Protect Workers’ Rights. Photo by Callen Harty.

I know someone who voted for Scott Walker for governor of Wisconsin three times–his first election, the recall, and his most recent gubernatorial win. She is not a big fan of unions even though her husband is a union employee. Despite her husband’s union status she thought that Walker and his cohorts did the right thing four years ago with Act 10, a bill which stripped public employee unions of the right to collectively bargain. Of course, her husband is not in a public employee union, so I don’t believe she was thinking of the larger picture when Act 10 was passed. A devotee of Martin Niemoller she is not.

But now they are coming for her. Now, Walker and his Republican allies in the State Legislature are going after the unions again–this time by scheduling an emergency session to fast-track a bill making Wisconsin a “right to work” state. Now she is angry. Walker’s union bashing antics are going to affect her more personally this time around. Now she is talking about taking off work so she can go to the Capitol to protest. Now she is upset with Scott Walker for this latest action (even though she made it clear she still supports much of what he has done over the last several years). It’s possible that people like her may now join those who fought Act 10 in a desperate bid to stop “right to work” from coming to Wisconsin.

Even with new fighters against this latest attack on Wisconsin the battle against the bill may still not have a chance and Scott Walker may fare well no matter what happens. The Republicans apparently have the votes in the Senate to pass the bill. The Assembly is so overwhelmingly Republican there is no question of its passage in that house. Walker has already promised to sign it, regardless of all of his public statements about it not being right for Wisconsin at this time (and those statements were despite the fact that he himself introduced a “right to work” bill in the Assembly back in 1993). If it passes there could be legal battles but the Wisconsin Supreme Court is controlled by conservatives who could easily beat back most challenges. It looks like win/win for Walker and his allies. On the opposing side there is talk of a general strike, but almost everyone has to be on board with that and it is not an easy thing to pull off. It can be done, but it would take a lot of work, and it may not have much of an effect. Check that. It would have an effect, but it may not change anything in the long run. There is also talk of protest. If tens of thousands of union members and allies come to the Capitol again and the bill still passes then Walker has scored another talking point about how he fought down the evil unions in 2015 after already defeating them once back in 2011. If nobody protests and the bill just glides through to passage then it looks like nobody has the will against him anymore. Either way he looks good to those like the Koch Brothers who support his time machine ride back to the nineteenth century days of the robber barons and poorhouses.

If a general strike can be organized that may have enough of an effect that other citizens end up demanding change and killing “right to work”. The other possibility is that the threat of a general strike or the impact of protests, letters, phone calls, and other actions will create enough pressure that a couple of the Republican Senators turn against their bosses and vote with the people (an unusual concept, but I’m an idealist at times), stopping it in its tracks. The Republican leadership, in fact, is clearly afraid of this one possibility, so much so that Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald admitted in an interview that he fast-tracked the bill specifically so that there would not be enough time for opponents to put pressure on Republican senators.

An interesting side note to this whole sideshow is that the Republicans do have the votes to pass “right to work”. The timing, however, seems suspect. They could do it now or they could do it during the regular legislative session, or they could even wait until after Walker has become the unchallenged front runner as the Republican candidate for President (dear God, I never thought I would hear such horrifying words; then again, it’s the Republican party and it’s often a question of which clown is the least terrifying to the greatest number of people under that circus tent). So why now? Perhaps one only needs to look at the budget. Suddenly there is no news reporting about the cuts to the University of Wisconsin or public education. There are no stories about cuts to recycling, borrowing money for highways while delaying debt payments, eliminating dozens of state jobs, rearranging the Department of Natural Resources Board, or any of the countless other awful proposals in Scott Walker’s latest budget, many of which have nothing to do with budgetary considerations at all. In fact he doesn’t seem very concerned about the financial situation of our state as he continues to give tax benefits and other gifts to his supporters. As noted he has already delayed one debt repayment to try to help balance a budget that has gone totally out of control on his watch. With that, he is “kicking the can down the road”, as so many Republicans like to say about the Democrats, and leaving the debt for others to deal with in the future. The reality is that it is not just one debt repayment. He is doing the same with the entire economy, and “right to work” is just a small part of it. What does he care what happens to our economy if he has already satisfied his corporate puppet masters and gained more Tea Party notoriety in his bid to destroy the country the way he has destroyed one state? Suddenly all of the surprising budget items and economic issues are back page news or no news at all. Perhaps that is an unfair consideration, but I don’t put anything past the villains in power in Wisconsin right now.

Those who don’t see how they will be affected by both the budget and this sudden “right to work” proposal, directly or indirectly, need to open their eyes and join the fight. They need to lose their myopic vision and see beyond their own insulated worlds. The “right to work” law will affect more than just the unions. Studies have shown that those states where “right to work” legislation has passed have a lower average wage for workers. It brings the whole economy down. The only ones who benefit are the owners and shareholders of large manufacturing facilities and those who hire men and women in the trade professions, the kind of people who donate massive amounts of money to candidates like Scott Walker who will act as lap dogs in return for the money and the perception of power. Those who suffer would include pretty much everyone else. Workers with less money to spend will not spend it at small businesses that need the income. They in turn will have less disposable income. All of that will also bring the tax base down and the state will have to cut more money from critical budget items like education just to stay afloat.

The current budget seems to be remarkably similar to 2011’s “budget repair bill”, in that it is a hodgepodge of right-wing dreams that have little to do with the budget that were snuck into the middle of a huge proposal. When the 2015 budget was released the university folks were all upset with the cuts to the UW system. Public school teachers were trying to decide how to fight cuts to public education. There were things for every special interest group to fight, so everyone was trying to figure out how to save their piece of the pie. The only thing that caught everyone’s attention was the attempted sleight-of-hand undermining of the Wisconsin Idea which was quickly withdrawn with lies about it being an oversight. Everyone wanted to save that piece of pie. The problem is we should all be fighting for the whole pie. This is the lesson of Niemoller and the lesson of the power of unions. If I only fight for the things that directly affect me then I might save those things for now–but they also might fall next. We need to look out for each other. The citizens of the state need to act like a large union. We need to fight to keep our piece of the pie, but we also need to fight to help our friends and neighbors keep their pieces of the pie as well. If we all fight individually we will lose–if not today, soon. If we all fight together we can win. At least it gives us a chance.

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