I spent the last two months of my life outside. The unpredictable Wisconsin spring has weathered me. I feel more like a tree than a man. Through the blowing snow and bone-chilling wind my wife, my coworkers and I became fixtures downtown, so that those who wanted to could sign a petition to recall our state senator, Sheila Harsdorf. We also weathered more than snow; We learned how to brush off the terrible things that strangers would yell at us: "Get a life," "Get a f#*king job," or "Get out of our town." I learned a lot about myself during this struggle, and a lot about what it means to stay grounded, confident, and focused on a cause. It's rare that we are given a cause so black and white. When we are, it fills you with such an axious feeling of urgency and responsibility, yet it's strangely peaceful.
So, when we finally were told we had enough signatures, I can't really describe the feeling. It wasn't what I thought. There were moments of peaceful disbelief. But they were quickly followed by another level of anxiety that comes when you realize that now you're truly committed...and so close to something that the outcome could potentially be crushing.
Then, I got a call from one of the people in charge of the recall effort. She told me that we were having one last rally to announce the news. She told me that because my town had been such a leader in the effort, she wanted me to announce the news and the number of signatures to the media (a number I wasn't even told until I got to the rally). This was the culmination of so much hard work and emotional hardship by so many people. I was terrified, but I tried not to sound like it on the phone (my wife could tell...she always can, and always knows how to calm me). I started writing that night, and to my surprise, it just poured out. These were the thoughts I had silently contemplated all of those days outside, holding my sign and talking with people who came to sign. I felt like I had to speak for them and tell their story, too. To me, it was a huge responsibility.
I showed up to the parking lot outside of the government building to find news vans already there and a quickly growing number of invited guests. Shortly, a woman in the bed of a pickup truck gave a brief intro and then introduced me. I lept up into the truck. She held the bullhorn, as I spoke into the microphone:
"Four months ago, I was talking to a coworker saying how I had finally reached a place in my life where I was truly happy. I felt completely rewarded for the job I do with at-risk youth and loved where I worked. That was four months ago.
Then, about three months ago, I heard the news, like all of you, of what the governor was trying to railroad through the Senate and that our senator was going to vote right down the party line. I had some naïve hope that cooler heads and sanity would prevail. And I kept waiting. Then, I watched 100,000s of people descend on Madison to ask, beg, and yell…to be heard. My family was among them. But it didn’t matter. Senator Harsdorf, Governor Walker, and the Republicans never had any intention of listening. They never had any intention of compromising. I knew when I took the bus down to Madison that I would be joining the battlefront. I just didn’t know it would be the bus taking me back home. My wife and I went into the bagel shop near here, where we met several of you for the first time. We took a sheet and spent 2 hours getting 10 signatures. All we kept thinking was how we only had 60 days to do this, and this wasn’t working.
So, my family and I (the well-funded union machine you’ve heard of) spent $83 on some signs and a canopy, borrowed a table and chairs and set up shop in the wind and snow…to give the people of District 10 one more chance to be heard. And the people of our town came to us…over 1,600 of them. The stories I listened to the most were the ones from devoted Republicans who came to sign. The police officer who said he’s voted Republican for 20 years and had driven by our booth for 4 days debating whether or not to stop. He said he finally decided to sign because, “wrong is wrong.” He and the others reminded me that this isn’t about parties…it’s about right and wrong. I even talked to a Tea Partier for about 45 minutes one day (I with my Recall Harsdorf sign and he with his Walker for President sign). Even he agreed with me that cutting veteran’s benefits and tying all public workers’ wages to inflation was wrong. I said to him, “If our Senator could even talk as long as we have, I probably wouldn’t be recalling her.” Because we can find a middle ground if we’re willing to try, which is usually where the truth is found.
But from the very start, Senator Harsdorf and Governor Walker have only divided the people of this district and this state to attain their goals, from pitting public against private workers to her false and insulting division between public workers and taxpayers. Last I checked, we’re ALL taxpayers in this state. We are not some outside group that our Senator can keep ignoring and denigrating for her political benefit. I’m proud to be a teacher. I love what I do. But thanks to Senator Harsdorf’s political spin and false divisions, we and our families have been called “parasites,” “free loaders,” and worse. Now, Senator Harsdorf and Governor Walker further insult and ignore half of the population of Wisconsin by inferring that there are two parts to the state, Madison and the rest of Wisconsin. In the State Supreme Court election, the vote in Polk, Burnett, and St. Croix Counties was virtually deadlocked. Her own county voted for Kloppenburg. But Senator Harsdorf still ignores all those voices and keeps hiding behind her talking points. Her divisiveness is not only false, it’s offensive.
Some of our opponents we’ve met over the last 3 months have often asked, “Why are you doing this?” So, let me be very clear tonight why we did this:
We did this because we don’t want Washington politics in Wisconsin. Because we need politicians who are more loyal to the people of their state than their party, who are brave enough to vote their conscience, who can sit down and compromise like my six and three-year-old boys know how to do, and who will come out from behind their talking points and have a REAL discussion with the people. We need someone who won’t just worry about Wisconsin’s budge, but also its spirit.
And you’re right, Senator, we did this because we’re backed by special interests. I’ll tell you ours, if you’ll tell me yours. Ours are the hard workers of this state, who find meaning in serving others and who deserve more than to be demonized by you for political gain. Ours are the poor children you’re going to take off of BadgerCare, our elders who you’ve voted to take off of SeniorCare, the poor who will be removed from Medicaid and Medicare, my alternative students who could lose the one program that gives them a second chance and that often stands between them and a dark future, all the students who will no longer be able to afford college and who won’t be able to support themselves even if they can, and our veterans who you raised money by promising to increase their funding only to turn around and cut it in this bill. Those are our special interests. Who are yours?
And finally we’re doing this because the people in your district are sick of being dismissed and ignored. Senator Harsdorf, you ignored us in Madison, you ignored our thousands of calls, emails, and visits. Well, we stand here tonight with 22,300 signatures, none of which are signed by “outside agitators”. You can’t ignore us anymore. I know you still won’t listen. But, finally, you’re going to have to answer for your choices that put your political games before the lives, careers, and pride of so many people you represent."