This last Saturday was Abe Lincoln's birthday (and my belated grandmother's, who always joked she was soon going to be nearly as old as Abe Lincoln. She almost made it, passing away at the age of 89 back in 2004). This post is in the spirit of unity, which for me is a running theme this week of Valentine's Day, Abe Lincoln's Birthday, my grandma's birthday, and recent political turmoil.
A hundred and fifty years ago President Lincoln faced much greater adversity than we do today. The nation was distinctly divided and enemies made within our own shore. Today's political climate often feels this way as well: Conservative vs. Liberal, Left vs. Right. However, we often find that there is much more common ground when we open ourselves as individuals representing these parties to discourse. With the recent "Budget Repair Bill" proposed by Wisconsin's newly elected Governor Walker, some Conservatives are realizing the value of unions, and "tax and spend" Liberals know that somewhere we will have to give up some social services, or pieces of what has created the comfortable and stable standard of living Wisconsinites have grown to know and love throughout our progressive history.
I love Wikipedia as it is the resource of the people. Since truth is what is accepted as being so, Wikipedia is the resource that the majority holds as being true, despite any Joe Schmo being able to go in and edit it. Wikipedia defines politics as "a process by which groups of people make collective decisions." So many people turn and run at the mention of politics or political issues, but that is wrong. The people that (some of us) we elect make decisions from the collective values of the people as a whole. These are the decisions that pertain to ALL of us. We all benefit from paved roads, sewer and water services, police and fire protection, and public education. I've heard so many people say, "I'm retired, my kids aren't in school anymore. I'm sick of paying high property taxes" or something of the like. In these conversations I find a huge disconnect with people from their communities. Don't they see that the physician that stitched up their hand last week after the nail gun incident was publicly educated? Don't they see that the mail carrier who brings them their blood pressure medication from Advocare is a public servant as well? What about the guy who picks up the garbage at the end of the driveway? We all work for a living. We all benefit from strong public education that minimally enables us to fill out the application for our employment.
Currently in our state-wide budget crisis educators are the target as we not only benefit from a state retirement plan, but our salaries come out of property tax pools (as well as some other government programs). My district has over 3,000 employees that benefit from our union-negotiated benefits and wages, but also turn around and invest that right back into our community. Walker wants to cut taxes, but for whom? His personal history is that of a business man and Milwaukee County Executive. I wonder what his truth is and where his values lie in connection (or disconnect) with the values of Wisconsinites as a whole (for those who need a reminder, Wisconsin has a history of strong schools and a progressive spirit). His actions speak much louder than the words tens of thousands of people shouting in the streets this week in support of public employees. I hope our legislators realize their check in power when it comes time for them to decide.
Today teachers and public servants are uniting to protest the usurpation of our rights to collectively bargain and the overall degradation of the services we provide to society as a whole. I feel stronger in unity with them, and hope the connection we make with the rest of the public is electric.
So often teachers give the perception that we are whiny and "get three months off." I had the enlightening experience of filing my taxes last night with my soon to be ex-husband. Without any attempt to publicly defame him (he does that well enough on his own) he asked the tax preparer how much money I made in 2010. She told him flat out that he made nearly $10,000 more than I did, and I also had more tax withheld from my check. For those of you who know little of my ex, he is an immigrant machine operator in a private company without even a diploma that had been recognized in the U.S. yet in 2010. He didn't have any more questions for her after that. This really put things into a personal perspective for me, as to how public sector employees compare with private sector in terms of wages.
My grandmother valued unity with family above all else in her life. She never had money, but worked hard. Sometimes three jobs when her children were growing up. She also valued unity among working class people. Honest Abe Lincoln needed unity among the people in his presidency or the nation would crumble into chaos. As he famously said, " A house divided against itself cannot stand." This took a monumental effort to bridge a huge divide in the principles of our nation. On Valentine's Day I felt unity and connected with people I care for (which is what Valentine's Day is about - Saint Valentine uniting couples in the face of adversity). I hope you did too. I hope you find unity today easily, and if you don't, look for it. Sometimes it takes standing on a corner picketing with hundreds of others dressed in red, working out with a friend, or getting home and hugging your loved one and knowing exactly what they are thinking without saying a thing at all.