Auxiliary Member Jessica Coleís Day in Wisconsin
My husband, Anthony Dimond, is the Wisconsin State Legislative Board Chairman for the BLET. As his wife, I am called on to help him with this job occasionally, and I enjoy this side of our married life very much. Itís always wonderful to feel like one has helped to make a positive difference, and when I can help him with things that impact the safety of rail workers, I feel that I have done something that matters.
These past two weeks in Wisconsin have had a different, angry, outraged sort of feeling though. Governor Scott Walkerís infamous Budget Repair Bill not only seeks to cut the pay and benefits for State Employees, but also seeks to take away their collective bargaining rights for most categories of employees. It is, plainly, a Union Busting measure, although proponents of the bill would argue that this measure is necessary to save time and money.
As if the bill isnít bad enough, the manner in which it has been introduced, and the outrageous methods being used to try to push it through the legislature have created a social storm in the state, the likes of which have not been seen since the Vietnam War protests of the 60s. Walker introduced the bill only three days before it was to be voted on, leaving virtually no time for debate or committee review. Whatís worse is that the Assembly then called a vote scheduled for 5:00 pm several minutes early, so as to leave the opposition unprepared to vote! Conveniently, the Democratic oppositionís microphones were turned off, so that they could not be heard or recognized.
These events created a virtual storm of passion within the working class. What started as a Budget Bill became a Union Busting Bill, and what started as a Budget Issue became a Civil Rights Issue due to the conduct of some of the Republicans in the State Legislature. The challenge to the working class was raised. That their right to collectively bargain was threatened was bad enough, but when their right to speak and to be heard was stomped on, the masses responded to the call magnificently.
I have been to Madison twice with Tony to help with the protests and with serving free food to demonstrators. What stands out in my mind from my experiences is the common decency with which all of the thousands of protestors I encountered conducted themselves. They were polite, mannerly, clean, orderly, and friendly. Their faces were good working class faces, full of character and common sense. Angry and worried faces, but faces full of decency and solidarity for their fellow man.
Many an urban legend has circulated on Facebook about how filthy the Capitol in Madison became, and about how lawmakers and Capitol staff had to wear bullet proof vests for fear of their own safety amidst the angry masses. Having seen it with my own eyes and having stood in the midst of it, I can tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone I encountered was peaceful, orderly, and downright polite. The support shown by various unions, and even non-union people who resent what Walkerís bill seeks to do, was, and is, magnificent.
In closing, I have to apologize to all of my fellow citizens for being too oblivious for too long to the evil that has descended upon our beautiful State of Wisconsin. I knew I didnít agree with Walker when I didnít vote for him last fall. I knew I liked Walker even less when he began trying to run the office by telling our outgoing Governor Jim Doyle what to do before Walker was even inaugurated. Doyle may have been on the way out, but he was still Governor up until Inauguration Day!
I knew Walker would do scary things with the State Budget, but I never expected such an assault on State employeesí collective bargaining rights, and I certainly never expected the ensuing circus of shutting off oppositionís microphones and calling votes early! Suddenly, I am not merely quietly irritated and frustrated and half in the dark about whatís going on! I am suddenly so mad at the injustice against free speech and American values that I can hardly imagine what these people can be thinking?! And I believe MANY of the protestors in Madison feel the same way. The bill is bad enough, but the assault on the basic American values of free speech and democracy is totally unacceptable. I will not stand for someone not to be heard, including someone with whom I disagree completely. Let all voices be heard!
I close with a quote from the 1995 movie The American President that captures my feelings precisely. ďAmerica isnít easy. America is advanced citizenship. Youíve got to want it bad, because itís gonna put up a fight. Itís gonna say, ďYou want free speech? Letís see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil who is standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.Ē
BLET Auxiliary Member-at-Large