In 1984, Geraldine Ferraro was the first female vice-presidential candidate in U.S. history. I think she was the first female political candidate to register on my radar. I was twenty-eight years old. I was a long way from being the political junkie that I have become. I didn’t yet identify myself as a feminist. At best you could say I was paying casual attention.
I had no idea that any of it was all that important to me, but around the time Ferraro and Mondale lost the election, I had a very vivid dream. I dreamed that I met Ferraro, shook her hand, and thanked her profusely for running. I told her how important it was to me personally that she had run, and I shamelessly begged her to run again.
I woke up surprised. My subconscious mind had a more active political life than my conscious mind did. Obviously the dream was powerful enough that I’ve not forgotten it twenty-eight years later. (OMG, has it really been that long?) I had a lot more of myself invested in Ferraro’s candidacy than I realized, just for the very simple reason that she was a woman—well, a smart woman who said things that resonated for me.
Twenty-eight years later, here I am in Wisconsin, startled to find myself and my friends on the front lines of the battle for democracy. In my evolution as an activist feminist political junky, there have been candidates and political leaders I have felt a strong connection with: Russ Feingold, Tammy Baldwin, the Fab 14, the Assembly democrats in their orange tee-shirts. But absolutely no one has struck a chord with me like Lori Compas has.
She is exactly as she describes herself: a citizen candidate. Had it not been for the Fitzwalkers’ outrageous political overreach, Lori, like many of us, would likely have carried on with life as usual, in Lori’s case, being a mom and a businesswoman. But there’s nothing usual about what’s happening in Wisconsin.
Every week or so, like so many others, I find myself doing things I’ve never done before: Gathering signatures. Talking about politics to neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers. Discovering that, lo and behold, I have a voice. Who knew? By deciding to run against Fitzy, Lori took that “politics as unusual” thing so many of us are going through several steps further.
On May 23, I had another of those political firsts. I went to my first live political debate. Not super monumental, maybe, but anymore it seems like the opportunity to see one of these rapers of the public good called to account without party and mass media gatekeepers running interference is rare indeed. And this was none other than our very own Lori Compas challenging the oh-so-full-of-himself Scott Fitzgerald to account for his actions as the elected representative of Wisconsin’s lucky 13th senate district.
That debate alone was a huge victory for all of us. I loved watching Fitzy’s face get redder and redder as he worked so hard to keep his temper in check. I loved seeing him on the defensive. And I loved watching Lori calmly stand up to him and call him out. Here’s a little secret: I am easily intimidated. (Don’t tell anyone, okay?) So when I see someone—anyone—stand up to an individual who not only is powerful but abuses that power, I am in awe. The catharsis is visceral. And that’s how it was for me the night of the debate. My inner child was doing a wild, happy jig.
Many of the things Lori said that night were really important and needed to be said right to Fitzy’s (red) face.
Democracy doesn’t stop when we cast our ballots. It’s a continual process. We need to watch our leaders and hold them accountable, and this right is protected in our constitution. What we’re seeing here is a pattern of abuse of power and betrayal of trust. The senator broke the open meetings law, he forced his fellow legislators to sign secrecy pledges, and he didn’t campaign on these major policies that he has imposed on our society. He didn’t tell us he wanted to divide and conquer us.
In her closing statement, Lori made clear to Fitzy that he is accountable to the people of his district. He may think he’s working for Walker. He may think he’s working for ALEC and his corporate backers. But Lori made it crystal clear that the senator is supposed to be working for the people of senate district 13.
Our discussion tonight has shown that the people of our district have never had a clearer choice between the entrenched power of a career politician and the grassroots energy of a citizen candidate. We are here tonight because the senator abused his power and betrayed our trust. He campaigned on jobs and economic development, but instead of jobs, he gave us divisive policies that polarized our state.
We didn’t ask him to roll back women’s rights, but he did. We didn’t ask him to roll back voting rights, but he did. We didn’t ask him to roll back workers’ rights, but he did. And in doing so, he turned neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend. He led the effort to execute a plan that was, in Governor Walker’s words, designed to divide and conquer us, his constituents.
As upsetting as these policies were, the process he followed was even worse. He shut down debate, he silenced our voices, he had absolute power, and he used it to hurt us. And last winter, twenty thousand of his own constituents told me that they could not bear this to go on. They told me it was time to stand up for what’s right. They told me they didn’t want him anymore.
I’m honored that the volunteers turned to me to serve instead, and I’ll do my best to be worthy of their trust. I will be a senator who’s open and accessible. I’ll return the focus of our district to create jobs, fund education, and provide affordable health care. I’ll help return to Wisconsin’s best traditions of cooperation and civility in the legislature, and I’ll be honored to serve as your voice in the senate.
As I said from the beginning, this campaign isn’t about one person, and it isn’t about one political party. It’s about our shared belief that people should matter more than money. It’s about our belief in open, honest government. It’s about our belief that legislators should represent their constituents honorably.
The people I’ve met during this campaign—Republicans, Independents, and Democrats—have shown me that there is so much more that unites us than divides us. This gives me great hope. I’m offering you a clear choice. I ask for your vote on June 5th.
I tried to explain to Lori (in person, not in a dream!) after the debate how much her candidacy means to me. I even tried to tell her about the Ferraro dream. But I failed to get across how much her courageous advocacy means to me. I’m doing better as I write this now, but I’m still not able to adequately express how deep and powerful my feelings are. I just know that there are many others whose feel the same. I expect they’ll understand.
So here were are on June 4. June 4, 2012. I can hardly believe it. Unlike 1984, I know exactly how much of myself is invested in what happens tomorrow, not only in the race for governor, but also in the races for the senate. And especially in the Compas-Fitzgerald race. Every fiber of my being, every corner of my mind—conscious and subconscious—is pulling for Lori. And Tom. And Mahlon. And the amazing recall fighters of Wisconsin. There’s no way I’m going to be able to sleep tonight.
Photo courtesy of Ingrid Laas