Ungerrymander Us!

In Wisconsin, as in other states, democracy is being gerrymandered to death, and now is the time for us to put pressure on the Wisconsin legislature to put an end to partisan redistricting.

In 2012, Republicans won just 46 percent of the votes cast in Wisconsin Assembly races, whereas Democrats won 53 percent. And yet 60 percent of that body are Republicans.

Also in 2012, Wisconsinites cast 43,020 more votes for Democrats than Republicans in U.S. House races, but statewide we are “represented” by five Republicans and three Democrats.

In neither case could you call the election results a mandate. And yet, Republicans are so secure in their gerrymandered little seats that they can openly fly in the face of what the majority of Wisconsinites want. Rather than being concerned with the needs of the majority, the Republicans continually pander to the needs of the corporate backers whose big money put them in office.

According to Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism,

In 2012, after a secret and expensive redistricting process, Republicans increased their dominion over the Legislature despite getting fewer total votes than Democrats. They like the current system so much they haven’t even allowed public hearings on bills, AB 185 and SB 163, that would turn this task over to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.

In response, media editorial boards across Wisconsin have launched a campaign urging citizens to contact GOP legislative leaders. And records obtained by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism show that many people are doing so.

And we should, too. Because we seldom have the mainstream media on our side, but in this case we do, along with eight lobby groups such as Common Cause in Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. And we should make every effort to take advantage of that.

Even the Wisconsin State Journal published an editorial whose headline says it all:

EARTH TO GOP: HOLD A HEARING NOW

What’s happening here is that the Wisconsin media and citizens lobby groups are attempting to shame the shameless WI GOP into action. Regardless of the outcome, this is a project I want in on.

Here are the people to contact:

1. Your state senator and representative. If you’re not sure who they are, you can find out here. If you know who they are but need their contact information, check here for the senate and here for the assembly.

2. Senator Mary Lazich, chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs: sen.lazich@legis.wisconsin.gov

3. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos: Rep.Vos@legis.wisconsin.gov

4. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald: sen.fitzgerald@legis.wisconsin.gov

5. Representative Chad Weininger, newly assigned chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections: Rep.Weininger@legis.wisconsin.gov

It may seem like there’s some work involved here, but it’s trivial compared with all that stands to be gained and all that has been lost. Besides, how many opportunities do we have to weigh in on the right side of history?

What’s So Bad about the Forced Ultrasound Bill?

I came across an interesting comment last week in response to my post about the shameful aborted debate in the Wisconsin State Senate on June 13. The commenter, whom I commend for having gone to the trouble of actually reading the forced ultrasound bill (SB206), asked what was so horrible about it. The perplexed commenter thought it didn’t sound all that bad. After all, the more invasive form of the procedure, vaginal ultrasound, was not required, and an exception was included for cases of rape or incest.

My body, my choice

Dear perplexed commenter, I’m so glad you asked.

The bill specifies that the technician performing the ultrasound “provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat.” Most abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy, during which time it is usually not possible for a fetal heartbeat to be detected using any means other than a vaginal probe. So essentially the stipulation that a fetal heartbeat be detected and confirmed to the pregnant woman is the same thing as requiring a transvaginal ultrasound.

So the assertion that this bill represents rape by the state is a valid one. Please note the irony of the current state law requiring that the physician certify that the woman is not being coerced into having an abortion, while stipulating that she be forced to have a vaginal ultrasound. Apparently the GOP figures that coercion is bad unless they’re the ones doing the coercing.

The exclusion in cases of rape or incest may sound good on paper—until you consider that the vast majority of cases of rape and incest go unreported. Rep. Mandy Wright (D-Wasau) spoke on Thursday about her own experience of having been raped repeatedly by a cousin when she was eight years old. She began by apologizing to her parents for sharing this family secret. “This has been kept private with my family for good reason. It was not reported. There’s a reason that only 19 percent of rapes are ever reported.” So the rape exception actually applies only to reported rapes, and given that such a small percentage of rapes are reported, it’s not much of an exception.

Pregnancy presents substantial difficulties for many women, and there are still medically problematic pregnancies that endanger the life of the woman. Imagine that just being pregnant was posing an immediate danger to your life, and yet, to procure a necessary, life-saving, perfectly legal abortion, you would have to have this unnecessary, invasive procedure in which the technician must “provide a medical description of the ultrasound images including the dimensions of the unborn child and a description of any viewable external features and internal organs of the unborn child; and provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat.” For many women, this would amount to state-mandated torture.

Pregnancy poses significant dangers especially for young adolescents. Imagine a young girl already traumatized by rape, who then becomes pregnant as a result of that rape, and who is further traumatized by having to publicly report her rape. And then she would be traumatized—and violated—yet again by being forced to go through the ultrasound procedure prescribed by this bill. In the words of Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains), “what you’re doing [by passing this legislation] is cruel, absolutely cruel.”

Rep. Sondy Pope. Photo by Leslie Amsterdam 

Rep. Pope spoke on Thursday about her personal experience:

I don’t like talking about personal stuff, because it’s personal. I went through five pregnancies, and I have one child. My husband and I went to the doctor for my second pregnancy, and … he said, “Here’s the deal. This baby’s going to be born sooner or later, but you’re not going to have a live child. Now, I can admit you tomorrow morning, and we can get this over with. Or you can wait until nature takes its course. And I’ll give you a few minutes to decide what to do.”

Abortion. We’re talking abortion. That was the procedure that I could choose. Or just walk around like a time bomb waiting for this child that we so desperately wanted, to be born and die. Women don’t want to grow up and have abortions. These are not choices that we like. …

I’m appalled, just appalled, that you feel your morals, whatever your church dictates to you, has got to play out in my life. That’s disgusting. The only amendment that didn’t get offered today that should have was that a legislator be in the room. Some places, some decisions do not belong to you. You can’t have them. You just can’t. You can’t hurt people this way. You aren’t immune to it. Someday your daughter, your sister, maybe your wife is going to be faced with something like this, and then maybe I hope you remember this. Because what you’re doing is cruel, absolutely cruel.

Another troubling aspect of this “not-so-bad” bill is that it requires that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the doctor’s clinic. As Harriet Rowan points out on PRWatch, this is “an onerous provision for clinics located in less-populated areas of this mostly rural state. Opponents see the provision as a blatant attempt to close a Planned Parenthood facility in Appleton, the only abortion clinic in Wisconsin outside of Madison and Milwaukee.”

Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) wrote in the Cap Times yesterday:

Women used to die from abortions. Women used to become sterile from abortions. Limiting access to abortion does not end abortion. Instead, it makes it unsafe for women, as it was in the days before Roe v. Wade. Wisconsin is moving so far backward that it’s not “if” women are going to start dying, but “when,” especially considering Sen. Mary Lazich’s, R-New Berlin, words during the debate on the ultrasound bill: “I think we ought to be doing a lot more. You’re probably going to see a lot more laws from me … this is a small step today.” Women of Wisconsin should be alarmed that these direct attacks will continue.

All in all, the forced ultrasound bill is meant not only to discourage women from having abortions, regardless of their circumstances, but to victimize and shame those who seek an abortion, to limit their access to the extent that some will choose dangerous, life-threatening options rather than jump through the hoops prescribed by the GOP.

This bill, dear perplexed commenter, is nothing short of an assault by GOP lawmakers on the women of this state. They seem to think that they know better—better than women, better than their doctors, better than their families—what’s best for Wisconsin women. And they believe they have the right to violate women in this most personal of ways to try to influence a private decision that is none of their business.

WI GOP to WI Women: Sit Down and Shut Up

Along with many others, I was shocked by what transpired in the Wisconsin State Senate last Wednesday. The clearly unhinged State Senate President Mike Ellis abruptly cut off debate about a very controversial—and not-especially-popular—ultrasound bill that had been introduced on June 4 and had had only one public hearing less than two days later.

Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison), the longest-serving state legislator in the country, said: “I’ve been in the Legislature over 50 years, through different majorities and different minorities, and I have never experienced the abuse of power by the majority party that I experienced today. The arrogance shown by the Republican Majority today is unprecedented.” Given what Sen. Risser has already witnessed from this legislature, that is really saying something.

I was so appalled—not just by what was being done (which was no surprise), but by how it was being done—that I felt compelled to be at the capitol the next day to witness what would happen to the bill in the State Assembly. Before heading up to gallery, I went to the Solidarity Sing Along at noon in the rotunda to bolster my spirits—it always has that effect.

Toward the end of the sing along, I stopped singing and put tape over my mouth to signify having been silenced in the way this bill was being rammed with lightning speed through the legislature. Just putting the tape over my mouth brought me to tears, because it drove home the indignity of being silenced, of being excluded from discussion of this intensely personal issue.

Capitol Police in the west gallery of the Assembly.
Photo by Leslie Amsterdam

When I arrived in the south gallery, I saw more than half a dozen capitol police in the west gallery. A couple were in the south gallery as well. Clearly the intent was to intimidate. Then I saw that the spectators with tape over their mouths in the west gallery were being told to remove it. Apparently taped mouths constitute a “public display or demonstration.”

That’s me on the left. Photo by Rebecca Kemble

It was maybe 10 minutes or so before a red-jacketed page (who I strongly suspect likes her job) told those of us in the south gallery that we had to take the tape off our mouths or leave. We were handed a small sheet of paper (about 2-1/2 x 4 inches) with type too small for me to read listing the Assembly Gallery Rules. One of my friends wryly pointed out to the page that reading the rules violates the rules, as reading printed materials is prohibited.

Rep. Melissa Sargent
Photo by Leslie Amsterdam

Meanwhile, on the Assembly floor, discussion began about AB216, which prohibits the state health program from covering abortions and allows religious organizations to deny contraception coverage. Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) spoke about a woman who had had eight children and then was told that having another child would endanger her life. So for the sake of her family, and in consultation with them and her physician, and after having sought and received dispensation from the Catholic Church, she procured the contraception that would prevent a life-threatening pregnancy. Under AB216 that woman would not have been able to procure what she needed to protect her life. At the end of her testimony, Rep. Sargent revealed that the woman in the story was her grandmother.

I listened (with glee, I confess) when Rep. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland) said, “I do not see vasectomy anywhere in this legislation. I don’t hear anyone talking about denying a man the right to have that procedure covered. … I’m not sure why we are so focused on women. … I’m waiting for the day when we can have your anatomy on trial.”

During this and the often moving testimony of other Democratic legislators, many GOP representatives were talking, milling around, or just absent, as though nothing of any significance was happening. A confab of representatives was huddled next to the Speaker’s podium. As a first-time visitor, I found it confusing and chaotic. While minority leader Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) told about a college friend who was raped, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer, whose job it is to see that decorum is maintained, was laughing and joking around with other legislators. When Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) pointedly asked the Speaker if he was listening, he shrugged, as if to say “What’s the big deal?”

Finally, Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison) requested a roll call because, you know, “this is important stuff.” Apparently, it’s not enough for GOP legislators to ram through their anti-woman legislation with lightning speed. They have to do it cavalierly, without even pretending to care how it will affect the women and families of this state. It reminded me of a rape victim being laughed at and dismissed by her rapist. Seriously.

When Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood) described the bill’s author as “seriously out of touch with the reality of women,” a small smattering of applause broke out from some of the spectators in the west gallery. This unseemly outburst was quickly stifled by Speaker Kramer with a bigger outburst of his own. Stopping the assembly proceedings so that he could castigate the evildoers, he ordered that an entire row of spectators be removed from the gallery, not just those who had clapped, but everyone in the second row, including Rep. Bewley’s husband.

Sara Andrews being removed from the gallery in handcuffs.
Photo by Leslie Amsterdam

Sara Andrews committed the same unforgivable transgression as Rep. Bewley’s husband. She complied when told to remove the tape, opting then to put her hands over her mouth. She didn’t clap when others did because she knew it was against the rules. But having committed the grave folly of sitting in the second row, she was told she had to leave by the Capitol Police. Feeling she was being unfairly treated, she replied that if they wanted her to leave they would have to arrest her. And they did. I watched in disbelief as she was taken out of the gallery in handcuffs. I started to have that unreal feeling, like I was in a waking nightmare. I think it was at that point that I started shaking.

After two hours of holding my hands over my mouth and crying on and off, I had to leave because I had another commitment. I’m not sure how much more I could have endured in any case. When I left, they hadn’t started talking about AB206, the ultrasound bill. However, since then I have watched videos of what occurred after I left. One of the most moving videos was that of Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Middleton), who described the painful experience of deciding to terminate an unsuccessful pregnancy. She concluded: “Some decisions do not belong to you. You can’t have them. You just can’t. You can’t hurt people this way. … What you’re doing is cruel, absolutely cruel.”

I’m so proud of the brave fighting women legislators of Wisconsin—Senator Kathleen Vinehout, Representatives Chris Taylor, Melissa Sargent, Sondy Pope, Mandy Wright, to name only a few—and so grateful to them for sharing their painful, personal experiences, especially in front of a legislature that is so obviously unmoved and indifferent. They stood up and spoke on our behalf, for the women and families of Wisconsin, at no small cost to themselves, so that others could see what this bullying legislature and governor are doing to us and the contemptuous way they’re doing it.

Add to that not only the circumvention of all but the most minimal public input, but also the quashing of even the mildest form of public protest imaginable. Our silent objection to being silenced—putting tape over our mouths—was forbidden. Our role has been relegated to that of passive, voiceless recipient. Is it any wonder that many of us feel that GOP legislators are abusing the women and families of this state, not only by forcing those seeking a legal abortion to get an unnecessary and invasive medical procedure, but also by excluding us from the legislative process, even when it concerns us so very personally and directly? Even the state’s medical professionals have not had any input. While our voices are silenced, this is the loud and clear message of the Wisconsin GOP to the women of the state: Sit down and shut up!

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Many thanks to Leslie Amsterdam and Rebecca Kemble
for their excellent photos!

Nondebatable!

The Wisconsin State Senate today passed a bill requiring that Wisconsin women seeking an abortion undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound procedure, after which the physician must give an account of the number of “unborn children” present, the characteristics, dimensions, and location in the womb. Because, of course, women are too ignorant to know “what they’re carrying in their womb and what they’re doing” unless it’s rammed down their throats. Senator Mary Lazich (R) has proclaimed that “it’s time for women to know the facts.” Because how could we possibly “know the facts” about what’s happening in our own bodies without her and her Republican colleagues forcing them on us?

Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D) pointed out that not a single one of the constituents in her district asked for this bill or expressed support for it. She related the concerns of a couple of her constituents, one of whom pointed out that only 16 percent of rapes are reported, that one in six women in the U.S. will at some point in their life experience rape, and that that comes to more than 400,000 Wisconsin women.

Senator Lazich dismissed Sen. Vinehout’s “theatrics” (before proceeding with her own) by pointing out that the bill exempts rape and incest. Does it also exempt unreported rapes? Because those are the rapes Sen. Vinehout was referring to. In case you forgot, that’s 84 percent of rapes.

Here’s how it went down:
 

For those who don’t have the stomach to watch the video (and believe me, I don’t blame you one bit—watching it over and over again to get all the juicy quotes was truly nauseating), let me describe to you the “very cold, cold procedure and what happened, and the cold environment” in which democracy was dealt yet another death blow in Wisconsin.

Your voice and the voices of many of your legislative representatives were dismissed and discounted. After Senator Lazich’s animated testimony, Democratic senators tried to continue, but they were silenced. Senate President Mike Ellis came completely unhinged and shouted while slamming down his gavel so hard that it broke: “You’re out of order! Sit down! You’re not recognized! The question before the house is nondebatable. Call the roll!”

So that’s how democracy dies in Wisconsin. At least it was with some drama and the perfect symbolism of a broken gavel. And once this bill passes, we will have to live with it “day after day after day after day” for the rest of our lives. The women of Wisconsin will have to “live with this trauma” of having our voices silenced, of having our knowledge and judgment questioned, of having unnecessary medical procedures forced upon us by a legislature that refuses to hear our voices or even consider our concerns. “And it’s time for that to end.”

It’s time for those whom Senator Lazich and Senator Ellis purport to represent to know the facts about how their senators are carrying on in the state capitol in their name and what they’re doing when they reelect these legislative bullies over and over again. “If you have a loved one that’s thinking about” voting Republican, “for crying out loud, you want them to have full information. … You want them to know what’s going on” in that legislative body and “what they’re doing and that they’re not going to be able to change that for the rest of their life. They make that decision. It’s over. It’s over in a few minutes, and then later on they can live with the fact that” with that one decision in the voting booth, they supported the death of democracy in Wisconsin.

Compassion and Hubris: The Dalai Lama Speaks to the Wisconsin Legislature

Yesterday afternoon the Dalai Lama spoke to the Wisconsin state legislature.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speaking to the Wisconsin
State Assembly on May 14, 2013. Photo by Leslie Amsterdam.

Before His Holiness ever spoke a word, he laughed—not a nervous giggle, but an all-out “I’m so happy to be here” laugh. Such an infectious, hopeful thing—to laugh. It was disarming, and delightful. His Holiness is sometimes difficult to understand, as English is not his first language, but the language of laughter is well understood by those who listen with their hearts.

He spoke about his appreciation for democracy and the trust that the people of Wisconsin have put in their legislators, about the importance of humility and “transparency that brings trust.” He spoke about how all human beings are the same, whether they are world leaders or homeless. “Mentally, emotionally, physically, we are the same. Everyone wants happiness.”

While some of us were transfixed, hanging on every word either in person or via Wisconsin Eye, others were less than enthralled. A number of Wisconsin representatives appeared to be asleep or using cell phones.

Some legislators apparently sleeping and using cell phones
while the Dalai Lama is speaking. Photo by Dawn Morris-Henke.

According to one observer, “the ones who fell asleep (or at least appeared to be asleep) [were] Tranel, Marklein, Pridemore, Tittl, Hutton, Bies, Nass, Tiffany, and Knodl. It was hard to tell with some of them, but Tranel was definitely asleep. Nerison, who sits next to him, shook him awake at one point.”

The sheer hubris and blatant disrespect shown here for a man revered throughout the world is breathtaking. This boorishness reflects poorly on us all. A schoolteacher with a gaggle of children listening to any public figure would not tolerate such behavior.

This—while His Holiness spoke of humility and compassion—was a disgusting display of the exact same contempt these legislators regularly show the people of Wisconsin.

According to a press release from Representative Melissa Sargent entitled “A Day of Highs and Lows in the State Assembly,” on the very same afternoon Wisconsin lawmakers

  • Tore down the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches in an abuse of power and an assault on our democracy.
  • Attempted to destroy local control of all landlord-tenant agreements.
  • Destroyed the Milwaukee County Board.
  • Honored a leader who is best known for war and destroying the middle class of a nation.

“The bills we voted on tonight cast a dark cloud over what should have been a beautiful day for the state legislature,” stated Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison).

“His holiness, the Dalai Lama spoke to a joint legislative body. He told us of his appreciation of our democracy and said ‘transparency, that brings trust … there is no room for cheating other people.’ I wish that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle could have brought the citizens of Wisconsin transparency or trust in their leadership. Instead, everyone was cheated with these bills passed tonight.”

And here is what Representative Chris Taylor had to say on her Facebook page about this afternoon’s legislative onslaught:

200 years of an independent judiciary trashed by Repubs today. They passed a bill that a court’s injunction to prevent an unconstitutional bill from going into effect can be lifted by the mere act of filing an appeal. Clearly aimed at Voter ID and Act 10. If they don’t like the rules, and 200 years of separation of powers, they’ll just make up some new ones!

The people of Wisconsin deserve real leadership that is compassionate and wise. Instead what we have is contemptuous hubris displaying one wanton power grab after another.

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Many thanks to Leslie Amsterdam and Dawn Morris-Henke
for permission to use their photos.

This Bright, Shining Moment

So here in Wisconsin this week we won some and we lost some. Seems like the stuff we won was pretty big, but the stuff we lost isn’t exactly small potatoes either. Thanks in large part to gerrymandering, both branches of the state legislature are once again under Republican control, although I hear tell that Democrat Jessica King has not conceded in the 18th Senate District.

We’ll have to be more vigilant than ever against Walker’s dirty tricks and the yet-to-be-enacted portions of the ALEC agenda. I’ve heard folks mention right-to-work legislation and mining as two serious threats to the state’s Common Good. Amy Goodman says “now the work of movements begins,” but here in Wisconsin, the Uprising that began last year must take a deep breath and continue to work against the plundering of our precious resources for the benefit of the 0.01%. In other words, very little has changed on a statewide front. The fix is still in, and the fight is still on.

On the national front, though, the news is pretty damn good. If you’re unimpressed by what happened on Tuesday, listen to what Rachel Maddow has to say about it. We have banished the ghoulish specter of a Romney/Ryan/Rove takeover. The anti-woman politicians took a well-deserved whooping, while more women are being sent to Congress than ever before. Marriage equality and marijuana legalization made significant steps forward. A larger proportion of young people, blacks, and Latinos voted than in 2008. It was a great night for diversity all around. These aren’t just victories to be celebrated. They’re opportunities to be pounced on.

The really good news this week is not what we have accomplished, but the opportunities that are now open before us. We have some serious political momentum to capitalize on, and we must not let it go to waste. We progressives should feel empowered by Tuesday’s election results. Here’s what I hope we’ll do with this bright, shining moment:

Just Say No to Right-Wing Extremism. And say it loudly and repeatedly. We have had way more than enough of the hatred, paranoia, ignorance, and fear-mongering of the factually challenged rabid right. I don’t care how the Republican party attempts to reframe itself. This nastiness has got to go. It has no place in our national discourse. It is a hindrance to everything that needs to be done for the Common Good.

By “just say no,” I mean call what’s unacceptable unacceptable. Speak up. You know—in a civilized way. Don’t just nod politely. Silence = assent. Practice in front of the mirror if you have to, but say it. Calling out a friend, an acquaintance, or a family member on their hate speech, misinformation, or fear-mongering can be as simple as asking them a question about what they really mean, what they really believe. Press them. Have a serious conversation. Don’t just let it pass. It’s time to take back the reins of our public discourse, one conversation at a time if need be. On the people you encounter every day, you are likely to have far more influence than you realize. This is true activism. Bear witness to the truth.

Push Hard Against Obstructionism. The bullying and tantrum-throwing in Congress must cease. The work of the People has been put on hold for far too long. The right-wing agenda of ensuring a single-term presidency for Obama has failed. I hear tell that Harry Reid intends to pursue filibuster reform. This is no easy task, especially given the colossal dysfunction of Congress. But a multifaceted, noisy push from the People might be enough to make all the difference. If Senator Reid really goes after filibuster reform, let’s back him up and give him as much boisterous support as we can.

Push Back Against the Big-Money Robber Barons. Overturn the absurdly named “Citizens United.” Tax the rich. Close the loopholes. Regulate Wall Street and the banks. Make this—again—the land of opportunity, not just for the very few, but for all. Strengthen the middle class and give a helping hand to the disadvantaged. Support the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and keep up with what’s happening with big money in politics.

Advocate for Peace and Civil Liberties. Push back against the NDAA, the drones, the kill list, and war without end. Part of the reason the Obama Administration gets away with these assaults on civil liberties is because we let him. People aren’t paying close enough attention. Progressives are focused elsewhere. So shine a bright light. Let Obama and Congress know, let everyone know, that these assaults on fairness and decency are utterly and altogether unacceptable and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Go Green. Sign up for emails from 350.org and Clean Wisconsin, read them, and participate however you can. This is our one and only planet, and it’s clearly in dire distress. We must—all of us—do what we can to mitigate the damage we’ve already done with our greedy, careless ways.

And did I mention saving the post office and standing up for workers’ rights and immigration reform?

Voting is all well and good. Yes. Do it every chance you get. But if we’re going to save democracy and save the planet, much, much, much more is required. Whatever you do, determine to be more involved, more active, better informed, better connected.

I’ve heard it said that if you don’t do politics, politics will be done to you. But it won’t just be done to you; it won’t just be you that suffers. If we fail to make use of this moment, many will feel the effects of our inaction. Nothing less than the well-being of the planet is at stake. Truth, freedom, justice, and peace are calling. If you’re a living, breathing human being, you can’t afford not to answer.

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Thanks to Occupy Marines for the Howard Zinn image.

Wisconsin Recall: We Are What Democracy Looks Like

With less than a week to go in Wisconsin’s effort to collect signatures for the Walker recall, many of us are understandably turning our thoughts to who will run against him in the upcoming election.

Honestly, the first thought that has come to mind every time I’ve considered the question is Russ Feingold. But Feingold has said repeatedly that he will not run for public office in 2012. And although I know that many politicians say one thing and mean another, I think Russ’s resolve is quite firm in this respect. In a mid-December interview with Charles Benson of TMJ4 in Milwaukee, Feingold said he feels more a part of real change now than he did as a senator.

Here’s exactly what he said: “I feel more a part of real change now than I did even as a senator.” Think about that for a minute. What Feingold is saying is that real change comes not so much from elected officials as from the people. You know–€”us.

I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter who runs against Walker. It does. And we do need to talk about that. But before we get going full tilt on that, we need to remind ourselves of something even more important: where real transformation comes from.

Think about who you were, who we were, before Walker unleashed his draconian agenda on the people of Wisconsin last February.

I didn’t know the names of any state legislators but my own. I hardly ever spared a thought for state politics. Whenever there was an election, I did my best to catch up with the candidates and the issues. But it’s not really possible to do that in just a few days. I was woefully out of touch.

When I first learned about Walker’s devastating “budget repair” bill, I firmly expected that people would be angry and would complain for a while and then continue going about their business as though nothing had happened.

But then a miracle happened.

From seemingly out of nowhere, thousands of us—hundreds of thousands of us–€”gathered on the Capitol Square. Day. After. Day. We brought with us our signs, our outrage, our indignation, our sense of fairness, our determination, our sense of humor, our hats and mittens, and our friends, neighbors, kids, and grandparents. The people of Wisconsin woke up and rose up, and anyone who was there will never be the same again.

We have sloughed off our complacency and have our sights firmly set on transforming our state into the beacon of progressive values it has long been and will be again. No politician, no candidate for governor, can do for Wisconsin what we can. It won’t be enough to elect a progressive governor. It won’t be enough to flip the state senate and the assembly. No matter how hard we have worked collecting signatures, no matter how hard we work on the recall election, it won’t be enough if we don’t continue doing the work of democracy.

better in person

I have confidence in the transformation that has taken place in Wisconsin. Our sleeves are rolled up, and they will stay rolled up. We will remain vigilant on behalf of our neighbors and our children, our parents and grandparents. We will not stop insisting that the progressive values we prize most are not compromised. All this because we have learned a lesson we will never forget:

We are what democracy looks like.

Wisconsin Set to Throw the Republicans Out

According to Andrew Feldman’s Christmas Eve opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Despite Democrats’ massive protests and their success at gathering recall signatures, most Wisconsinites did not appear to be in a ‘throw the Republicans out’ mood in 2011. If they had been, Supreme Court Justice David Prosser would be out of a job and Democrats would have won back the state Senate during the summer.”

First, not all of those who protested Walker’s draconian budget bill in February and March were Democrats. And it’s not only Democrats who are circulating recall Walker and Kleefisch petitions or signing them. Many of those who voted for Walker are more than disillusioned and disappointed. They’re furious—furious enough to work very hard on the recall effort. And the signatures are coming, not just from Madison and Milwaukee but from all over Wisconsin. Over 507,000 signatures were collected in the first 28 days—that’s 94 percent of the signatures needed (540,208) and 70 percent of the signatures hoped for (720,277)—in less than half the time allotted (60 days).

You may recall that voter turnout for the Prosser/Kloppenburg Supreme Court race was unprecedented. The outcome was perilously close and is still considered highly questionable. When the election began, Kloppenburg was not particularly well known, and she was trying to unseat the incumbent. Even if the dubious votes that Kathy Nickolaus miraculously discovered were indeed legitimate, the election can’t be dismissed as a failure for Democrats. We sure as hell gave Prosser a run for his money—a LOT of money, come to that. And I wonder how those who voted for Prosser in April feel about his bad behavior since then.

You can hardly call the recall elections of this past summer a Republican victory. The accomplishments of Democrats, progressives, and labor organizations this summer were truly remarkable. On August 10, 2011, John Nichols told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that “Democrats and progressive groups, labor especially, took on six entrenched Republican incumbents in districts that were drawn to elect Republicans and that, in some cases, have elected Republicans steadily for more than a century. So, this fight was played out on the turf of conservative Republicans. With that reality, you saw two Democrats win.” Recall elections targeted six Republican senators and three Democratic senators. Democrats held on to all three senate seats and successfully recalled two Republican senators.

In August, Ian Millhiser pointed out how truly remarkable those achievements were:

All of the Republican state senators who were eligible for recall in [2011] were Republicans who held on in 2008 despite the fact that they had to stand for election during a Democratic wave. Likewise, all of the Republicans who were elected in 2010 only because they were fortunate enough to run during a Republican wave were immune from recall. Come 2012, however, all of this changes.

In 2011, we were only just getting started. Some of the battles we have already fought were at least as challenging as the ones that await us in 2012, if not more so. We set very high goals for ourselves, and that we didn’t attain everything we went after doesn’t mean that the victories we did achieve count for nothing. Our accomplishments thus far are formidable and cannot be dismissed or discounted.

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Feldman is quite correct that unseating Walker will be a daunting challenge. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating how angry Wisconsinites—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—are about Walker’s actions. Feldman is also right about the need for Democrats to “create a bold agenda that does nothing less than revive Wisconsin’s progressive tradition.” But for my part, I am inclined to believe that Wisconsin is indeed in a “throw the Republicans out” kind of mood.

Legislature’s Website Deliberately Giving Wrong Answers on “Who Represents Me?”

The Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature passed absurdly gerrymandered legislative redistricting maps earlier this summer. The changes are being challenged in federal court and have a better than average chance of being found unconstitutional, but even if the flawed redistricting plan is upheld by the courts, it is not set to go into effect until the November, 2012 general election.

If that’s the case, then why did the legislature’s web page change recently to list the future districts (which the courts will very likely not allow) as “current” districts?

Here’s the image that popped up when I entered my address on the “Who Represents Me?” function linked on the legislature’s home page:

So, am I currently represented by Sondy Pope-Roberts, as listed under the “Current” district maps? Well, no. My representative is Kelda Helen Roys. What they list as “previous” is actually the current map.

This is an intentional effort on the part of Republican legislative leaders to confuse constituents. But why? The most obvious explanation for this deliberate slap at the integrity of our democracy is that four Republican Senators are facing recall elections. Petition circulators are ahead of their goals in collecting signatures in all four of those districts. The website has been configured to mislead potential petition signers and confuse the volunteers who are collecting the signatures. Plain and simple.

The Republicans first tried changing their own redistricting law a few weeks ago to make it effective immediately but moderate Republican Dale Schultz sided with Democrats and stopped that plan in its tracks. The Republican leaders also tried twisting the arms of the Government Accountability Board to get them to declare that the recall elections should happen in the “new” districts. The GAB said no.

Now, they are filing and withdrawing various lawsuits and changing lawyers to try to get some court somewhere to approve their attempt to change the rules in the middle of the game. So, until they can find a judge to give them the nod, they have decided to flat-out lie to their constituents.

If you are a resident of Wisconsin and you use the official government website to find out who represents you in the Wisconsin legislature, it’s quite possible you will get the wrong answer. On purpose. Go ahead. Try it.