I don't know just when it was that I fell in love with the people of Wisconsin. When Tom and I first moved here in 1991, we went to visit the beautiful Capitol building and took the tour, like we were a couple of tourists. It really is such a beautiful building. We stood outside on the balcony, way far up on the dome, and looked in one direction at Lake Monona and in the other direction at Lake Mendota. Then we looked at each other, giggled, and said, "We live here!"
Not surprising that we should come to love living in the only city in North America built on an isthmus, especially seeing as how we came from south of the border, where the landscape was dominated by corn and soybeans. I was totally jazzed to live somewhere where people actually came on their vacations.
Even though we hadn't migrated all that far, we did have to adjust to a new culture and some new lingo. We learned that East Washington is never called that. It's East Wash. And the thing that you get a drink from in the park isn't a water fountain; it's a bubbler. We went through a fairly long phase of giving and receiving multitudinous obnoxious cow gifts. We became big fans of Lou and Peter Berryman. And we were blown away at the first local election we experienced, in which the Democrat won by a wide margin, followed by the candidate from the Labor-Farm Party, trailed a long way by the Republican. I can't remember which election that was, but it made a deep impression on me. Something along the lines of "I don't think we're in Kansas (or Illinois) anymore."
We still revel in living here, but not so much because of the scenery or the quirkiness or the politics. We've come to love not just Wisconsin, but Wisconsinites. They are smart, and hearty, and strong. They don't mind having a good laugh at their own expense. They are not vain, nor are they ostentatious. Not sophisticated or pretentious. And I'm not just talking about the people who live in Madison. The people in rural communities all the way up to the northern hinterlands are straight-talking brook-no-fools people with a lively sense of humor. They're fair-minded and honest and just good folk.
Much of what I've been feeling since Walker gave his draconian life-altering budget speech earlier this week is something akin to a mama bear defending her threatened cubs. I am fiercely angry, filled with outrage, disbelief, and righteous indignation. How dare they go after the very core of what it means to live in Wisconsin?
A big part of what makes Wisconsin wonderful is how brilliant and creative Wisconsinites are. And of course, Wisconsin schools are a huge part of what shapes those wonderful people. And they're under serious threat. Wisconsin's children are in danger of not being nearly as well educated as their parents and grandparents are. Education is a huge factor in determining quality of life, and Wisconsin's great schools are a big part of what makes this such a great place to live, even for us childless couples. There's nothing like being surrounded by bright people whose brilliance has been and still is valued and nurtured.
I can hardly believe that there are people in our state legislature and the governor's office who don't seem to value that, who make light of it, who deprecate our teachers and don't even consider that they have "real jobs" (according to State Senator Glenn Grothman). I'm filled with horror that somehow these weasels have found their way into our cow barn, as it were. But it also seems that in their overreach, they have poked a sleeping giant, a sleeping giant who isn't going to go back to sleep anytime soon.
So, people of Wisconsin, you rock! You rock the house! And you're right--that beautiful Capitol, it's your house! You are what really makes this a great place to live, and I am so proud of you for standing up for what's right and fair and not giving in and not backing down. I'm proud of you for your commitment to assembling peacefully in spite of extreme provocation. Every time I've been to the square in the last two weeks, it's been as much party as protest. People are so friendly and kind and caring. I always leave wishing I could invite you all home for dinner.
So sing along with me and Lou and Peter (to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean"):
They're trying to stifle our voices.They're trying to keep us derailed.They'll find it's not easy to do, though.McCarthy once tried it and failed.Bring back, bring back, oh bring back Wisconsin to me, to me.Bring back, bring back, oh bring back Wisconsin to me!
For the video of Lou and Peter rocking out on the square, click here.
And another loving tribute, more eloquent than I, here.