Senator Sheila Harsdorf
When I took our newest batch of signatures into the office in Hudson last week, I was given some surprising news. “You weren’t even on their radar,” the field manager explained.
“What do you mean?” I wondered.
“Your district. District 10 wasn’t expected to have a successful recall. Not even close.” (The Democratic Party went for all eight republican senators who were eligible for recall, but Harsdorf was seen as unattainable.) “I can tell you this now because we have enough” (signatures to submit) “but they apologized to me for sending me your district. I am in awe of you guys. This is an incredible thing to be a part of.”
a trailor parked at today's rally
speakers at the rally
We needed 15,744 signatures for the entire district for a successful recall of Senator Sheila Harsdorf. Madison has 22, 350 (not counting the stacks many of us handed in today). We were told that the republicans will not even waste time contesting this many – 142% of the required amount. My husband was asked to announce the news at a special rally in Hudson, WI today. It was a thrilling moment for our boys and me as we cheered him on from the front row.
No matter what pitfalls lay ahead for us – today we celebrate. The people in our district stood against corruption. We stood against a state government that has become “of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations.” Today, the voices of 22,350 have been recorded loud and clear…1625 from our own community.
I have not only collected people’s signatures these last few months; I have also collected their stories. Let me tell you a few of them now.
“Wanda” is a woman in her late 80’s who lives in an assisted living facility in our town. My 3-woman canvassing group was inadvertently let into a secure facility when a grocery delivery man walked out. We began collecting signatures before a few residents became angry calling us “crooks” and yelling “get out of here!” We apologized and left immediately. But before that, we “rescued” 5 signatures from home bound folks residing there. When I knocked on Wanda’s door, she yelled, “come on in!” I cracked the door a few inches and quickly gave her my spiel. I wanted to give her a chance to ask me to leave.
“Hi there. I’m with the committee to recall Senator Harsdorf for her tax cuts to major corporations while cutting funding for the most vulnerable – like Senior Care.”
“I’ve noticed that. Come in.”
I immediately noticed the stack of dishes covering every inch of counter space. Women in my generation would’ve quickly made apologies for the “mess.” I admire that women of hers are more concerned about being friendly to the guest than wasting time worrying about appearances. She reminded me of my grandmother. Then I noticed the piece of steak on her otherwise empty plate. Her pill bottles, labeled for every day of the week, were resting beside her meat. I gently moved the empty chair so that it didn’t interfere with her pair of breathing tubes. She had a tube in each nostril and they both hooked up to a sizable oxygen machine nearby.
When I sat down she began to tell me that she is on Senior Care and worries about how she will afford to live. She also was complaining that she wasn’t able to vote in the state Supreme Court race the week before because she was in the hospital.
“And now that I’m home, I can’t leave my room.”
“If I hadn’t come here today, would you have had access to this recall petition?”
“No. But the thing is, I can’t even sign it. My cataracts is so bad that –“
“Oh that’s not a problem. I can fill in everything that you dictate to me. You just have to sign your own signature.”
“Yeah. Seriously. We’ve had to do it before for elderly or disabled folks. It is ok.”
“No one told me that.”
After we finished with the petition, we talked for twenty minutes. I sensed that she didn’t receive many visitors. She explained that she was a widow and that her husband would’ve been appalled at what was happening in our state. She told a moving story about how peaceful his death was because the spirit of her granddaughter had made it easier for him by “tickling his feet” like he used to do for her before she passed away. It was a beautiful moment for me. One that made my eyes twinge. I felt deep peace and resolve for my role in this struggle…fighting for people like Wanda who just claim the right to live out their final years with their memories and without struggling to survive. They deserve that.
That same day my tiny crew gathered signatures in the low income apartment buildings in our town. I change my “pitch” depending upon the quick glance of the person answering the door. One apartment I remember well. A boy who appeared to be about 8-years-old answered the door. I asked him if a parent was home.
“MAAAAAAAH!” he yelled as he galloped inside.
The tired looking young woman came to the door. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
“Hi there. I’m with the committee for the recall of Senator Harsdorf for her support of major tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest while removing the poorest citizens from Badger Care insurance and eliminating $550/student in our district –“
She put her hand up, nodding.
“Oh, so you know all of this.”
“Yeah, already signed. I’m getting hit on two fronts. Lost my job last year - went back to school at the tech and now tuition’s goin up.”
“Yeah I heard about that, too. Isn’t Walker recommending a 30% tuition increase?”
“Somethin like that – yeah. Plus, me and him got Badger Care. I think he gets to keep his.”
“What does that mean for him if you get sick though?”
But I am not convinced that this mother or Wanda will actually vote in a recall election. The next step is voter education and ensuring access for elderly and the poor. We are far from finished.
The last few months we had been fortunate to be part of a movement that few people in this country are able to experience any longer - the power of common people. We are common people. We aren’t funded by anyone. Hell, my husband and I still refuse to become registered democrats. We simply want to be moved by the spirit within us. And the last three months we have been moved – with a sense of right and wrong about our governor and our senator.
You see, I refuse to allow my grandmother’s Senior Care to become depleted without a fight. I refuse to watch my father struggle to pay medical bills when Badger Care insurance is ripped from him. Our district is the birthplace of Senator Gaylord Nelson – “Father of earth day” and modern recycling. I refuse to watch the landfills pile high with garbage when our Governor removes the mandate and subsidy for recycling. I refuse to back away from the obligation to care for our veterans who have risked their lives only to come home and have their senators and governor balance the budget upon their backs. I refuse to allow worker’s voices to be silenced in the workplace. I refuse to watch our children lose the quality of their education through the Walker/Harsdorf plan.
But modern society compels us to stay in our homes and the “god of comfort” beckons us to feel indifferent. Fighting the lies within oneself is the toughest battle. Once you awaken - hit the streets with us and you’ll find that you’ve already won. Welcome to the fight my friends. And as we say in Wisconsin – “Solidarity!”