Marching for the rights of all

Mr. Sillypants here, erstwhile author of the somewhat irregular blog post.  Today is a day when I somehow realize that I’ve been touched by something of great significance, a set of experiences which already seem to be gathering power deep inside.

Ms. Plum, my beloved, is a dedicated high school educator, a person who has taken on the substantial yoke of teaching young minds, enduring the frustrations of the public school system with the hope that she can, somehow, instill global awareness, cultural sensitivity and a small measure of personal responsibility and humility into the lives of her students.

One of the things I often smile about is the fact that Ms. Plum is often quite dismissive about her qualities as a teacher.  Pressed to describe her teaching style, she will say she is “a passable teacher.”  Yet, when we meet one of her students on the street, they will often voice their exuberant praise for her blunt, honest, challenging style – – – recently, one told her that she was “the best thing that happened to her in high school.”

Right now, Wisconsin is a living political battlefield.  If you don’t believe me, tune in to MSNBC for a few minutes in primetime.  15,000 rallied at the Capitol yesterday; today, it was 30,000; tomorrow, the number will be even greater.  The issue – – – Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has introduced legislation which effectively eliminates the ability of public workers to negotiate.  This has started a firestorm which grows by the minute; the more time passes, the stronger the protests become.

Today, Ms. Plum did some advocacy of her own.  “Let’s go down to the Capitol,” she said, “it’s important.”  I knew this was important, yet I was somewhat surprised by the fire in her belly.  So, Blueberry, Ms. Plum and I boarded a public bus and traveled down to the Wisconsin State Capitol, to join with 30,000 others to speak out against this terribly misguided bill.

Truthfully, the experience was much more powerful than anything I could have imagined.

Perhaps it was the mass of people, peacefully protesting in a unified voice.  Perhaps it was a group of firefighters who are actually unaffected by this bill, yet showed up to march through the Capitol building, led by blaring bagpipes playing a particularly powerful rendition of “America, the Beautiful,” as the rest of us applauded.  Perhaps it was the continual roar of the crowd in the Capitol rotunda, calling for the defeat of Governor Walker’s bill and the return of our proud democratic process.

This photo barely catches the power of the moment.  We could barely get close enough to the throng to get an adequate view of the crowd; what no photo could possibly represent was the way our hair stood on end as the repeated roars went up from the crowd, calling for equity, for responsibility, for preservation of the rights which many have given their lives to obtain.

Even Blueberry joined the effort:

I cannot remember how many times students of Ms. Plum were sighted at the Capitol, protesting this bill, participating in the process, flexing their global awareness, their cultural sensitivity, their personal responsibility.  Each of them would see Ms. Plum and would smile broadly, happy to join with their teacher in this effort.

Waffles, in his own way, put a stamp on today’s events.  After marching with hundreds of fellow high school students, he had the opportunity to stand up for his fellow students, for Ms. Plum and her fellow educators and (most importantly) for himself and his conscience.  He was able to stand in session, before a microphone and spoke, quite eloquently, in opposition of this bill.  In a particularly powerful moment, Waffles pointed out that, as a high school senior, he would likely be unaffected by this bill; after all, college is on the horizon.  However, he called for lawmakers to consider all those who would be hurt by this legislation.  In short, he spoke out for the needs of others.

Ms. Plum and I, listening to a live internet feed, felt a lump in our throats and tears gathering in our eyes.  This is the ultimate legacy, the hope that those who we love will take up the gauntlet, speaking out for the rights of others in their own voice, with their own convictions and their own hearts.

We cannot take credit for those who join the fight for equality.  It is the individual choice of each person who becomes part of this effort.  Yet, when students of Ms. Plum decide to show up and protest, when Waffles answers the bell, speaking on his own in a powerful and passionate way for the rights of others, well, it is a moment when we realize we are very lucky to be in this place at this time.

Thank you for the people of Wisconsin and the people everywhere who speak out for the rights of others.  You remind us what is right and good in the world.


14 responses to “Marching for the rights of all

  1. Why is it unfair to expect teachers to pay the same amount into their pension fund as public sector workers? Why do they deserve to pay less for their health insurance premiums? I can understand that they are upset about this “take away,” but the fact is that they have had unfair advantages for years and now it’s time to level the playing field. The problem with collective bargaining is that bad teachers are lumped in with good teachers and, therefore, get the same benefits. It seems that good teachers wouldn’t be afraid of being treated as individuals and reaping the benefits of their good work, while the bad teachers would want the protection of the union. It is also ironic to me that these teachers who are so very dedicated to our children will be calling in sick so they can protest at the Capital. I guess their dedication ends when they are asked to make any real, albeit fair, sacrifice. I am sure we all want the state’s budget balanced, but nobody wants to take a hit (even a small one like this) for the greater good.

    • Anony – Ms. Plum here. “Fair” is a matter of opinion. And I guess that’s the crux of the struggle, to determine a ‘fair sacrifice.’ I’m not opposed to the hard work of balancing the state budget. I get it – this is hard hard work. But I’m not all that interested in the arguments surrounding the budget – per se. Concessions are going to have to be made by EVERYONE. This isn’t about teacher greed (and reductionist arguments about bad teachers). Here is the real purpose of our action today: Governor Walker didn’t come to the table asking us (public workers) to make concessions. He proposed to outlaw fair bargaining with the exception of straight salary bargaining – – a strategy that will allow the Legislature to eliminate benefits without discussion and fair negotiating. And, the salary bargaining is proposed to be limited only to cost of living increases (which I personally haven’t had from my school district in many years – as if that’s going to happen any time soon!). Workers are protesting the virtual elimination of a right (collective bargaining) that our ancestors, our national heroes, fought and died to preserve for us. People died for this right. They gathered, they protested, they strategized, they staged protests – to guarantee our rights as practiced by our Unions. Democracy works likes this – – negotiations are necessary. Standing up for ourselves is necessary – inpsired – democratic – and freedom loving. I’d suggest that standing up for ourselves demonstrates our dedication to our students – we are standing FOR the PEOPLE and thus, FOR the children.

  2. Wow, what a beautiful post. Love it.

  3. People fought and died for the “right” to own slaves, too, so that argument doesn’t hold water. Collective bargaining isn’t a “right,” either. Public sector companies have had to reduce benefits for employees who get far less than WI teachers do. My company hasn’t given increases (cost of living or otherwise) for three years. Their argument is that it’s better than laying people off. I agree. I am thankful to have a job. As a WI taxpayer, I don’t appreciate my tax dollars providing benefits that are better than ones I have for myself. Wisconsin elected a Republican Governor because they are want this kind of reform.

    You are right. “Fair” is a matter of opinion. You seem to think it’s “fair” for teachers to get more than the majority of Americans while others foot the bill. I disagree.

    Even FDR was against collective bargaining. He wrote in 1937: “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” He recognized that government can never be just another employer, and that empowering labor unions to negotiate wages and benefits with public officials would inevitably result in abuse.

    Read more:

    • Anony, clearly we are going to disagree….on a whole slew of points. I *could* match you point for point – I *could* go off on a discussion of the Civil War and why it was fought (I totally disagree with you – but I don’t want to host a teaching moment here) I *could* quote the National Labor Relations Act, and find point for point ALL SORTS of non-partisan articles that suggests the Govenor is cooking the books for an assault on Unions. I want it to be OK to agree to disagree without casting charges as broad and vilifying as “teachers don’t care about our kids!” I’m pretty sure we can stay on our sides of the fence – but better to talk than to silence the voices.

      I appreciate your point of view, I really do. I recognize that many people feel as you do (I count some as friends). I’m satisfied with my decision to engage my rights in this democracy by losing days of pay, having a note of insubordination put in my file, and joining my colleagues to fight this bill. Personally, I’d rather have my Legislators doing the talking – – but until they do, I’ll keep showing up. I do believe we all have something to learn from each other. Truly.

      I’ll leave you with Eleanor Roosevelt’s words of wisdom: “You in the unions do not yet represent all of labor. But I hope some day you will, because I believe that it is through strength, through the fact that people who know what people need are working to make this country a better place for all people, that we will help the world to accept our leadership and understand that, under our form of government and through our way of life, we have something to offer them…”

      • I don’t appreciate the condescension. I’d hate to force you into educating me on the Civil War. My point was that other people fighting and dying for a cause does not make that cause just or right. I do agree to disagree with you. No more from me.

  4. I stumbled upon your blog a couple of months ago, as I one day hope to adopt from Ethiopia. I am a teacher who lives in Madison and commend you for this post. “What do we teach our students if we stand by and let the democratic process fall to the wayside? What do we teach our students if this bill passed and many great educators leave the profession? What do we teach our children about the right to form a union or not? What do we teach our children about our values if we say nothing?” Keep up the fight.

    • Kate, I’d love to meet you 🙂 I have a crew of teacher friends and we have a lovely cadre of adorable children – so you’d fit right in! Thanks for commenting. And, I agree. My son, who is a senior, told me today he has more of a sense of civic duty, citizenship, and government after this week. He’s sleeping in the Capitol tonight. He’s our future – he’s the potential of our children – no matter their political points of view.

  5. Anony, I didn’t mean to be condescending – and I can see how it came off that way. I did start a whole response that was a point/counter-point with a long section about the Civil War….any way, I wasn’t intending offense.

  6. Anonymous, if you are still listening – – – your posts seem to be the “pot calling the kettle black.” There is a lot of condescension in your posts, as well.

    Equating the misery of those who fought for right to own slaves to the struggles of those who worked for the right to form a union for the rights or the middle class is not only ridiculous and misguided, it is inflammatory.

    I support the rights of anyone who protests peacefully to make their voice heard. (Perhaps you’ve heard of this – – – it’s called “democracy,” and it has a long and storied history, with scores of support from Democrats and Republicans alike.) You and I may disagree with me on how a budget should be balanced; you and I may also disagree with how resources are distributed among the have’s and have-not’s. I actually support your right to disagree with me; I would also suggest you do a little reading in the archives to realize the authors of this blog and those who are regular readers and contributors also support your right to disagree.

    Frankly, if you’re pissed that the public employees in Wisconsin have better benfits and income than you do in your private sector job (a claim which I actually find quite unlikely), then you have the right to get the requisite training and apply for an amazingly lucritive public sector job. Good luck with that.

    I love this blog, because it promotes a global perspective, a humble introspection and a call to be a better human. This centers around the issues of the adoptive family, but it is larger and more profound than that. It calls for us to be a force of good in the world.

    Before you start judging the authors and fans of this forum for supporting the rights of the middle class, perhaps you should do more reading and introspection yourself.

  7. jsbach – I didn’t mean to be condescending either. Re-reading my post, I’m not sure what you thought fit that criterion. I also said nothing against people peacefully protesting. That’s what freedom is about. As I stated previously, the slavery example was in reply to Ms. Plum’s statement that people had fought and died for her to have this right. My point was that people fight and die for many causes, that does not make them “rights.”
    I have a dear friend who is a teacher and, by her own account, she makes 55K per year, works 6 hours a day for 9 months out of the year and gets numerous days off and Christmas/Spring break off every year. She has been offered other jobs but sees that she has it too good in her teaching position.
    It is my understanding that the protest is about public employees being asked to contribute more to their pension funds and insurance premiums, approximately to the same amount as the rest of us. The other issue is collective bargaining. I agree with FDR that collective bargaining inevitably leads to abuse.
    I enjoy my current job, so getting the “requisite training and applying for an amazingly lucritive public sector job” is of no interest to me. I just don’t sympathize with public sector employees to think they are entitled to more than the rest of us.

  8. Awesome post. What a great example you all are setting for your family, for your students and your community. I stand united with you from my state! 🙂


  9. I just found your blog through a friend and wanted to add my voice to the chorus supporting you. I’m a teacher in Indiana and public education is under attack here.

  10. Anonymous (if that is your real name . . .), it’s a shame that you feel the desire to minimize the sacrifice of those who work for equality, especially those who lost their lives in that effort.

    As far as that enjoyable job – – – congratulations, truly. It is truly a blessing to have a good career. I hope you realize that many of the things you undoubtedly appreciate in your job were obtained through the work of collective bargaining, including your weekends off and holidays, your healthcare and retirement benefits. I guess that’s the “abuse” of unions you’re speaking of.

    I, too, know people in education. In fact, I happen to have five close friends who are all public educators, high school and middle school teachers here in Madison. They work long hours, including countless evenings and weekends, time spent away from their own families so they can grade, plan, call parents, reach out to students, coach, tutor and advocate for better education. I know this because I have seen their efforts, I have observed that they work much more than I do in my job, for much less money and fewer benefits. They teach because they feel the call to be a positive influence in the lives of students; all of them stay in teaching because of this call even though the private sector offers better pay and better benefits.

    If your friend truly works 6 hours per day for only 9 months per year – – – well, I’ll just say such a job is, in no way, representative of things here in Wisconsin. In fact, it isn’t representative of any public school job I’ve ever come across.

    Finally, your understanding about the protests here in Madison is completely inaccurate, so much so it is laughable.. The 40,000 people who marched on the Capitol today did so because the legislation in question takes away the opportunity for public employees to have a voice for negotiation. The bill effectively destroys the democratic process.

    You state that you understand “the protest is about public employees being asked to contribute more to their pension funds and insurance premiums.” If that were truly the issue, I doubt that this story would make national news, night after night, and draw increasing crowds, day after day. This fight is about the ability to negotiate for the fair treatment of employees.

    If you truly are against the right for collective bargaining, then I challenge you to give up all of the benefits you enjoy in your job which grew out of these efforts. If you can’t support the rights of the middle class to negotiate, you don’t deserve to enjoy the fruits of their efforts.

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