Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Occupy the GOP: Art for Gov May 8

As I wrote earlier, of the four Democratic candidates vying to face Walker in the June 5 Wisconsin Recall election, my pick is Kathleen Vinehout, who has said this on more than one occasion: "If you don't like big money in politics, vote for the candidate with the least money. If you don't like politics as usual, vote for the unusual candidate."

So I'm following her advice, and on May 8 I'm voting for Arthur Kohl-Riggs, who is running as a Lincoln/La Follette progressive Republican. I love the idea of a progressive running as a Republican. This is taking the fight right to Walker himself, to his territory, his own party. This is taking the offensive position. It is nothing less than an occupation of the Republican party.

The Republican party began right here in Wisconsin, in the city of Ripon in 1854, as an abolitionist force opposed to the expansion of slavery into the western territories. The first Republican president was none other than Abraham Lincoln himself, to whom Art bears more than a passing resemblance. Obviously the party has strayed far—very far—from its noble beginnings.

Arthur is serious in his determination to defeat Walker. By running against him as a Republican, he's showing himself to be a clever, resourceful young man capable of thinking outside the box. And he is young—23 years young. In our struggle against the corporate takeover of our state, most of us thought we had no choice but to rely on the often disappointing Democratic party, but very often Democratic candidates are beholden to the same corporate forces we are fighting against and are only slightly less repugnant than their GOP counterparts.

In a way, Art's running as a Republican brings us around full circle, creates a simultaneously new and old, authentic and innovative space in which to carry on our fight. Voting as a Democrat in the primary means choosing among four candidates—all of them good, none of them perfect, none of them eliciting the fervor of the day-after-day winter protests of February and March 2011 nor the dogged determination of the campaign to collect recall signatures.

To my mind, right now, voting against Walker is paramount. And Arthur is giving us a chance to do just that, quite emphatically, on May 8 as well as on June 5. And given that my positive feelings about the four Democratic contenders aren't anywhere near as strong as my negative feelings toward Walker, what I really, really want is to vote vehemently, adamantly against Walker.

Arthur has developed what he calls a living platform—living, because it will grow and take shape as he responds to the concerns of the people. The one thing that has incensed me most about Walker has been his refusal to listen to the people of Wisconsin. He and his cronies in the legislature have treated us with utter contempt. The people of Wisconsin need a governor who will listen to us and identify with us, who will bear in mind and heart the present and future well-being of the people of Wisconsin.

John Nichols writes:
Arthur Kohl-Riggs runs in the Wisconsin Republican tradition, a radical tradition that embraces labor rights, human rights and democracy. That's what Wisconsin Republicans believed in for far longer than they have embraced the boilerplate language of contemporary conservatism—as espoused by Scott Walker.

"I am a Lincoln-La Follette Republican, a real Wisconsin Republican," says Kohl-Riggs. "Scott Walker is the fake Republican."

Arthur wrote a great piece for the Cap Times this week in which he says, "I love Wisconsin for what our state has historically valued and for how tirelessly we will fight against those who do not have the people’s best interests at heart."

You can see Art's interview with Wisconsin Eye here and his interview with Channel 3 News here.

Arthur's campaign is fun. Think of it—fun! The tag line at the top of Art's web page says "Art for Gov: Not currently the subject of an ongoing John Doe investigation!" A couple of the homegrown, grassroots campaign posters I've seen show Arthur dressed in top hat and bow tie, clearly evoking a young Abe Lincoln, literally running, with a tag line that says "Arthur Kohl-Riggs 'Running' For Gov." It's not that he's not serious. He is in earnest. But the wise know it's best in a sustained fight against evil to nurture a healthy sense of humor, which requires perspective and humility, guards against discouragement, and keeps enthusiasm and optimism fresh and vigorous.

I'm delighted that Arthur has stepped up to challenge Walker directly on his own political turf. At worst, he may help us to keep Republicans from "messing around" with the Democratic primary. At best, we give Walker the boot a month early.

For my part, I'm completely fed up with the corporate takeover of our state. I've had enough of big money in politics, and politics as usual makes me utterly ill. The thought of voting in the Democratic primary on May 8 smells a lot like politics as usual to me. Whereas every time I think about voting for Art on May 8, I smile.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We Belong to the Earth.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hizzoner Da Mayor versus Occupy Madison

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin threw a hissy fit yesterday about Occupy Madison, which he is determined to evict and close down—end of story—at the end of the month. And boy howdy was Soglin ever on the defensive. When it was suggested that the site didn't cost the city anything, he said, "That is one of the most narrow, selfish statements I have ever heard." Really, Mr. Mayor?

The highly visible Occupy encampment is located on the 800 block of E. Washington Ave. and currently houses about fifty women and men, which is, according to residents, as many as have lived there since the site was first occupied. The project is both innovative and empowering to its residents. The costs to the city have indeed been minimal, especially considering that the public service costs Soglin complains about would likely be incurred on behalf of the residents regardless of whether they were occupying the site on East Wash., sleeping in window wells, or staying at one of the city's shelters. Unlike the Occupy encampment, the shelters limit the number of nights people can stay and require that they leave during the day. So every morning they're back out on the streets, with no place to keep their things and few sources of support. But the Occupy encampment is different. It is run for and by those who live there and has come to mean a great deal to them.

And it's not like the Occupiers are asking for all that much. They'd like an extension so they can stay on the East Wash. site until the end of June (just two more months), and then they'd like the city to help them find another location. They're asking for a modicum of support so that they can continue helping and empowering themselves.

Fortunately, Occupy Madison has some friends on the Madison Common Council. In a meeting tonight at 6:30pm (second floor of the City-County Building), the council will consider a resolution to extend the Occupiers' permit until June 30. Soglin called yesterday's news conference to register his vehement objection to the very modest resolution.

By Soglin's own admission, the needs of Madison's poor have multiplied in recent years. "'When I left office in '97, 28 percent of the children enrolled in Madison Public Schools came from families living at or below the poverty line,' Soglin said. 'That number is now 58 percent ... as poverty and homelessness grows, the base for funding it shrinks." So in other words, the needs are greater while resources are fewer. Should we not then explore new ways to meet those needs, especially ones that cost little and empower those who need help?

And those who need help could be any one of us at any time. An alarming number of us are one major medical bill away from poverty and homelessness. When the city turns its back on the homeless—or even just some of the homeless—it's turning its back on all of us. This is a conversation about who we are. Are we a city that cares for its image more than for its residents? Are we more concerned about our reputation than our people?

Soglin squawked that "'it is highly irresponsible for anyone to suggest that this city's response to homelessness and poverty is anything less than stellar. We cannot be everything to everyone,' he told the news reporters, homeless people and housing advocates who packed the conference room next to his office for a news conference Monday afternoon.'"

Wouldn't a really "stellar" response to homelessness include pursuing low-cost opportunities to improve and broaden the services offered? If Soglin gets his way, Madison will lose a great opportunity to help some of our most vulnerable neighbors, to empower these Madisonians to help themselves and others in similar circumstances. Now what exactly are you calling narrow and selfish, Mr. Mayor?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wisconsin Recall: Vinehout's the Real Deal

I spent most of Wednesday afternoon reading up on Kathleen Vinehout, in part because she’s the Democratic gubernatorial challenger I find most compelling, in part because a blogger I very much respect has come out solidly in her favor, and in part because that evening I would have the opportunity to ask her any questions that arose in the course of my reading.

I find Vinehout compelling because I believe she’s the candidate who has demonstrated the most support for the Wisconsin movement and has most strongly stood up to the Fitzwalkers. And she has a lot of respect and enthusiasm for what she calls the renaissance of democracy that is transforming the political landscape of the state. She has broad appeal because of her strong connections with rural and small-town Wisconsin. No one can call her a Madison or a Milwaukee Democrat.

Vinehout's credibility is enhanced by her having been one of the Fighting Fourteen who left the state last year to slow Walker’s railroading of the Wisconsin people. If the senators hadn't responded so quickly, the Wisconsin movement might not have been able to gain the momentum that it did. Their leaving was pivotal in galvanizing the people to stand up and make themselves heard. The senators' bold action bolstered us, because we knew we had strong advocates in the legislature.

Vinehout spoke at the Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo in 2009, and I remember that she was stirring and articulate and really got my progressive blood pumping. So I went to hear her speak at Wednesday night’s Drinking Liberally meeting at the Brink Lounge in Madison knowing I was going to hear a dynamic and persuasive speaker, and she did not disappoint. She exuded energy and optimism and was friendly and approachable.

She began with the story of how the fourteen senators were able to leave the state. Senate minority leader Mark Miller called the senate clerk at 11pm on Feb. 16 to verify the number of votes needed for a quorum on a budget bill. After confirming that twenty senators were needed, the clerk told Miller that on the following day a state trooper would be assigned to each one of the Democratic state senators, presumably to make sure they didn’t attempt to leave the building before the vote. Talk about heavy handed! Miller called Vinehout and the other senators first thing the next morning, thus enabling them to get away before Papa Fitzgerald's state troopers had them hemmed in.

Vinehout affirmed her support for public education and public school teachers, her determination to see collective bargaining reinstated for public employees, and her belief in the critical importance of affordable health care for all. When asked why we should support her candidacy, she cited the breadth of her experience as a public health nurse, college professor, and organic dairy farmer as well as her six years as a state senator.

She emphasized that "we must be the change we want to see in the world," that "we are the ones we've been waiting for," and that it's up to us to fix this horrible mess we're in. She said that if you don't like politics as usual, vote for the unusual candidate. And if you don't like money in politics, vote for the candidate with the least money.

Questions have been raised about Vinehout’s bona fides in relation to safeguarding women’s reproductive freedom, and my reading suggested that perhaps those questions will be the ones that will dog her most during this short, intense primary season.

One woman asked Vinehout Wednesday night why she is against abortion. Vinehout confirmed, though, that she believes abortion should be “safe, legal and rare” and that her legislative record confirms that belief. When asked later what she meant by "rare," she said that providing good health care for all women, access to birth control, and good sex education would have the effect of making abortion rare. I asked about her amendment to a 2008 bill (that didn't pass) that would have permitted a pharmacist, on the basis of conscience, to refuse to fill a prescription for contraceptives “if the pharmacist ensures that the patient will have access to the contraceptive elsewhere.” I asked why a pharmacist’s conscience should trump my ability to procure my contraceptives without costing extra money (for transportation), delay, and inconvenience.

She responded that the Wisconsin constitution has a stronger conscience clause than the U.S. Constitution has, and she wanted to ensure that the bill did not violate the state constitution, which as a senator she is sworn to uphold. She also said that a year later a bill was passed that requires pharmacies to dispense contraceptives without delay, while allowing an individual pharmacist to decline to dispense contraceptives for reasons of conscience provided that another pharmacist at that location can fill the prescription immediately.



A few minutes after she was done with the question-and-answer portion of her presentation, Vinehout came over to our table to talk to me and another woman. I asked her then, "but what about that amendment?" Even though it ultimately didn't become law, the wording still concerned me. She conceded that the amendment was problematic and that in fact she had borrowed the language from Illinois legislation that had been supported by Planned Parenthood of Illinois. (I haven't verified this.) She added that she was involved in writing the legislation that did pass the following year and that she prefers its language. So the 2008 amendment was probably not her finest legislative moment, but I was satisfied that it didn't indicate a desire to restrict women's reproductive freedom or a lack of support for women's right to control their own reproductive choices.

So I was—and am—satisfied with Vinehout's answers to my questions. I believe that as governor she will be a strong advocate for women's reproductive health and freedom and, most important, will be responsive to the will of the people. I arrived Wednesday night leaning in Vinehout's favor, and I left feeling real enthusiasm for her candidacy. She's not riding in on a white horse to save us, which is a good thing. She'd be the first to assert that it's we the people who will save our state. But I think she can help us do that, and I believe she's the real deal.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Reading Up on Vinehout

Here’s some of what I read yesterday in my effort to learn more about Kathleen Vinehout, who is one of four primary candidates challenging Scott Walker:

Biography from Vinehout’s website.

Giles Goat Boy, "Wisconsin Recall: For Me, It's K.V.," April 3, 2012.

vacilando, "I went to see Kathleen Vinehout Candidate for WI Gov," April 4, 2012.

Judith Davidoff, "Vinehout’s progressive stripes questioned over birth control bill." The Daily Page, February 9, 2012. I was especially struck by the first comment (from Andy Olsen), and asked Vinehout directly last night about the wording of that amendment and what “elsewhere” meant.

Ruth Conniff, "Sen. Vinehout would be a strong contender for governor in the Wisconsin recall election." The Daily Page, February 9, 2012.

NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin’s press release, March 12, 2008: "Sen. Vinehout Breaks Campaign Promise to Women: Vinehout Leads Effort to Allow Pharmacists to Deny Women Birth Control."

Vinehout writes a weekly column and has them available on her website dating back to December 2007. I skimmed some of these and found them engaging and enlightening. The one I got the biggest kick out of is titled "Smaller government equals one-man-rule?" which is dated Feb. 16, 2011, the day before Vinehout and the 13 other Democratic state senators left the state to allow time for the people’s voice to be heard in response to Walker’s draconian "budget repair bill."

Thanks to Karen V. for directing me to some of the above links.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Show Me What Solidarity Looks Like

Political life in the United States has become so noxious and hostile that extreme partisan polarization, name-calling, smears, and schoolyard taunts have become commonplace. Thanks in large part to our collective addiction to the miraculous medium of television, our attention spans rarely amount to more than a minute and a half. We expect every issue to have two very clear-cut equal-and-opposite sides, and only two. "You are either with us, or you are against us." In other words, quit with your pesky questions and jump on the god-damned bandwagon. People on one side seldom speak to anyone on the other side in anything more than sound bites. Stark divisions make much more entertaining TV than reasoned discourse. Because commonality doesn't sell, we have allowed ourselves to forget that there are things we hold in common. Important things.

It is within this toxic political context that we come to a pivotal moment in the course of the Wisconsin uprising. We have marched and protested; we have mobilized the grass roots; we have collected and submitted more than enough signatures. So now what?

The last thing we need is for Wisconsin's upcoming recall election to fall into the dreadful, deadening pattern of politics as usual. The barroom brawl that now serves as our political "discourse" has already been dramatically altered by our civil, peaceful uprising. We have already accomplished so much. But we aren't anywhere near finished yet. In fact, we're really only just getting started.

Many of us are disappointed that neither Russ Feingold nor Peter Barca are running for governor. Jessica Vanegeren wrote in the Cap Times last week of a "palpable lack of enthusiasm among many voters for any of [Walker's] potential opponents."

It's time to carefully examine the merits of those opponents: former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, who has garnered several union endorsements; state senator Kathleen Vinehout, who was one of the courageous Wisconsin 14 who fled the state to give the people time to understand and react to Walker's budget bill bomb; secretary of state Doug La Follette, the longest-serving Wisconsin state official; and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, who ran a close race against Walker in 2010.

Maybe none of them is quite the hero we were hoping for, but maybe that's a good thing. No one person or politician is going to fix this for us. No one is riding in on a white horse. We are the ones we've been waiting for.

It's time once again to muster our courage and blaze a new trail, to renew our commitment to better governance for the people of Wisconsin: equal access to good education and good health care; renewed commitment to collective bargaining and workers' rights; and transparent, open government that is responsive to the Wisconsin electorate. These are the the issues that stir our passions.

Those of us who have participated in the Wisconsin uprising are not going to agree on who is the best candidate. Not until after May 8 (the date of the primary), that is. After May 8, all of us must solidly get behind the candidate we have collectively chosen to replace Walker. Over the course of the next five weeks, there will be much that we do not agree on. But we do need to agree on how we're going to conduct ourselves. Our-way-or-the-highway isn't going to cut it. If you're for Falk and I'm for LaFollette, that doesn't mean that either of us is betraying the movement that we're so deeply invested in. That's not to say that valid criticism of any of the Democratic candidates is off limits. Of course it's not. But rather than win-at-any-cost personal attacks, those criticisms should be civil, respectful, and substantive.

We also need to remember that, contrary to what the mainstream media are reporting, the push to recall Walker et al. hasn't just come from liberals and progressives. Many who consider themselves conservatives have been deeply offended by the Fitzwalker assault on the state; some not only signed the recall petition but helped to gather signatures. Just because the mainstream media has ignored them doesn't mean that we should too. This is their movement as well as ours.

In a column in today's Cap Times, Ed Garvey rightly issues a stirring call for solidarity: "The success or failure of the uprising turns on solidarity in the ranks. After June 5, Scott Walker will be finished as a national leader of the right-wing tea party or he will become a hero to the Koch brothers. The stories told to your grandchildren decades from now will end on a high note or you will be forced to explain how we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."

But let's be clear about what solidarity is and what it isn't. Solidarity does not mean uniformity. What we need now is something virtually unheard of in today's political climate: reasoned and respectful public discourse. We can—and must—raise questions and discuss our inevitable differences without attacking each other or questioning each other's motives or commitment.

Let's continue with the trailblazing and show the rest of the country what solidarity looks like. Let's keep it classy and honest and renew our commitment to what binds us together: a deep and abiding love for the people of Wisconsin. We have come so far. We still have a long way to go. Let's do this. And let's do it right.