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Wisconsin/Idaho: Two battles, one war

This column was distilled from a short speech I made last week at a local rally to support the Wisconsin protesters ...

Two weeks ago, I overheard a disagreement between two men. One objected to the way Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was force-feeding people his agenda, especially since Walker hadn't had the courage or integrity to run on that agenda in last year's election when the citizens of Wisconsin could have freely judged for themselves whether they thought it was a good idea or not.

(This, of course, is a phenomenon we here in Idaho have encountered recently: Political leaders just smart enough to know what they have planned for us could never pass the test of the ballot, so they drop it on us like a bad stink once they think they are securely in office.)

The other man was all for Walker's agenda. He seemed to resent the union people like a D student resents a valedictorian. "They get paid vacations," he argued. "Why should they get paid vacations. Or dental plans. Or pensions. Or weekends off. Or collective bargaining. I don't get anything like that on my job."

His reasoning--"Why should they get more than us?"--and he never once indicated that he understood that the tax breaks Walker and so many like him handed out to corporate backers is a glaring example of somebody getting far more than us and of us having to compensate for the gouge left behind by those tax breaks.

But the pro-Walker guy was asking the wrong question, anyway. The question he and all working people in America should be asking is not, "How do I bring those union people down to where I am?" But, "How do I raise myself up to where those union people are?"

I was born into a union family. The proudest thing in my father's life was his journeyman status and what he accomplished to earn it. He was loyal like a soldier to his union. He trusted the people who administered it, and when they called strike, he walked, because he knew they wouldn't take such an action without good cause.

Dad fought for his union. In return, he fulfilled a better life than he would have ever expected when he was young. Because he was a union man during the heyday of union activity, he had the home of his dreams, the ability to help his four kids through college and the comfort to die knowing that the medical bills from his dying wouldn't erase everything he'd spent his life working for.

He understood that the future of his union and the future of his family were inseparable, that the fate of his union and the fate of his country were the same. He understood that where goes organized labor, so goes America. My dad would be here with you now, fighting this assault on our America.

In the present fight, our worst enemy is memory. Were the recalls in Wisconsin of those conniving Republican Senators and the conniving governor held today, they would be out of office before the snow melts. Were the recall of Tom Luna held today, he would soon be out looking for work.

But the law says we have to wait. Two days after she started, Nancy Berto had thousands of people ready to sign Luna's recall petition before she learned she had to wait until mid-April. Walker's recall petition has to wait until next January. It's the law, and isn't it convenient that politicians came up with laws imposing mandatory waiting periods on recall petitions for politicians?

So in Wisconsin, here in Idaho, or anywhere else these saboteurs are undermining America's workers, the question is: Will we still be angry enough when the required time has passed to do what, right now, we know needs to be done? Will the tens of thousands of Idahoans who are repulsed by Tom Luna's sneak attack on our school system still be so repulsed a month from now when the petitions go out? Will the Wisconsinites so repelled by Scott Walker's strong-arm ambush of working men and women still feel the outrage come next January?

However it turns out, we must not be deceived into believing it is just about what a teacher deserves to earn for his or her work, or whether a computer screen can guide our children into the future as well as a dedicated human presence, or even whether a coalition of working people have the right to bargain with one voice. This is about a coalition of the wealthy--the corporate, the powerful­--coming together with an organized intent even as they would deny workers the same right. It is increasingly clear their ultimate goal is to strip America of anything and everything they don't as yet have their hands on. Their vision does not include you or me. It does not include the teachers or the students, the workers or the work, the sick or the poor or the wellness of America in any shape or form, from the classroom to the crumbling infrastructure, to the unemployed, to the nurturing arts of NPR and PBS, to the mothers who rely on Planned Parenthood for their health, to the fathers who can no longer afford to insure their families against either physical or financial devastation.

Their vision is about one thing only and it is to be gained at our expense. If we forget what we know right now, if we let our passions cool and our commitment ebb, then the future will belong to them. In Wisconsin, in Idaho, we've just seen the beginning. And believe me, the best is not to come.

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