One year later: Recalling the Recall

17 January 2013
Dear Solidarifriends,

Today is an important anniversary for Wisconsin.

One year ago today, it was just about this cold and this sunny when we delivered over a million signatures to the GAB.  The energy in the air in Madison that day was thrilling: seeing the results of our combined efforts, our shared concerns, our mutual frustrations and fears, so neatly boxed up and presented to the government was a symbol of the possibility of civic action, the real power of democracy.  It was a day that gave us hope not just in each other and the power of working together, but in the possibilities of dissent, the possibilities of working within the system to ensure that our government is truly of, by, and for, the people.

Mike Tapia
When thousands gathered at the Monona Terrace to celebrate, the diversity and range of people present was staggering: I talked to northwoods housewives and Madison lawyers. Farmers, small business owners, professors and artists.  Trade workers and students. Retirees and librarians. Unemployed parents and a couple of people so wealthy you almost wondered why they were lefties. And tons and tons of teachers, every one of whom always says the same thing: this was never about the money. It's about making sure our schools work. Making sure we're allowed to teach.   It was a humbling, gratifying, exhilarating day, and one I will never forget.  When I was asked to be one of the people who held up a zero in the 1,000,000 that was brought out on stage to announce that we had met and exceeded our signature collection goal, I felt supremely honored.  My face hurt from smiling the next day. And when I asked some of those people to share their stories, I was humbled to receive entry after entry cataloging the myriad reasons regular people volunteered in this effort.  "Democracy in a Box: Stories from Wisconsin" is probably the best thing that ever came out of this blog, next to the Brian Williams letter, I guess.

What happened next, as we all know, was less exhilarating.  Almost immediately, the partisan politicking began and with the initial goal checked off our list, the momentum died down a bit as we waited out democracy to see where the recall election would lead us, waited til it was time to go knock on doors to get out the vote (which we did - and how!).  There was debate about candidates, debate about process, a sense of urgency and excitement to get to the election.  But mostly there was the bottomless coffer of out-of-state funds against which we were ultimately powerless.  We did our best. We lost. We learned.  

I always joke that while I play an optimist in my capacity as a community organizer, I'm a pessimist at heart, but it's true. I don't have a particularly rosy view of the state of political affairs or our hopes for changing them, which is why I fight so hard.  (It's also why I'm not a Democrat, but we can save that debate for a different post.)

But I can honestly say that even though we lost the recall election, we made significant victories in building solidarity, awareness, and networks of committed people who are now working locally together to move their communities forward, keep them informed, and do what they can to protect them from the draconian assault on the public good that is the corporatist agenda. We sent a message to Wisconsin and the rest of the country that, if nothing else, we need to speak up, speak out, and act, when those that have been entrusted the power to serve us all are so blatantly coerced into serving the few.

It's been quite a year.  And a year well-spent.  With victories well-earned and defeats well-learned.

Let's use those lessons to take even more productive actions as the Governor and his supermajority reveal their next budget.  Let's speak out together to support fair funding for our schools, to protect our environment and respect our treaties with the people who were here first, fight for full implementation of federal healthcare benefits that will help Wisconsin families get the medical treatment they need, ensure that our civil and constitutional rights are being upheld that we remain free to petition our government at our Capitol without being harassed, intimidated or subject to unconstitutional rules of "decorum." Let's use these lessons in the April 4 elections to ensure that our Supreme Court regains some semblance of dignity and justice and that we make sure every parent and every citizen in the state knows what's at stake in the race for Superintendent of Education.  Let's take our local races seriously and do whatever we can to make sure that the people who hold local office - whatever their personal politics - work to represent the interests of all constituents, not a partisan agenda.

Citizen action works.  Let's work together.

Happy Anniversary.


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