By Karen Vieth
I recently sat at an MTI Crisis Committee meeting, looking through a picture book of protest signs from February. The sights and sounds flooded back to my memory as I examined not only the signs, but the faces of the people compiled in the book.
The pictures brought back memories of that first full day spent in the Capitol. We sat beneath a wall speaker while attendance was being called in the Senate. A murmer grew among the crowd when we realized that the Wisconsin democrats were missing. People clamored to their technology, searching for the significance of this event. The vote could not happen without the 14 senators who had fled.
It was on this day that I first heard the all important chant, “RECALL WALKER!” I’ll be honest, I grabbed my cell phone and began my own search for information. Could we recall? What did it mean and what would have to happen? As I gathered more information, I became more and more excited. And as this information spread, so did the intent to recall. Walker would have to wait, but in the meantime, there were some senators we needed to dismiss. It was our government, our right and our responsibility. The RECALL chants grew louder as the crowd asserted their right to take back our state in the name of the people whom the government was no longer representing.
The people were inspired and I became anxious to do this work, though at the time I had no idea what that even meant. In the days ahead, the teachers went back to school, but continued to assemble at the Capitol in their free time. People stayed inspired and continued to rally, though certain aspects of our professional and personal lives slowly crept back to normal.
Eventually, the school year drew to a close and I packed up for the summer. I remembered my own personal commitment to this recall effort, so I didn’t go home on that very last day. Instead, I grabbed a sign and marched myself back down to the Capitol. I was greeted by other MTI members and many new friends. At the top of State Street, I joined the Solidarity Sing Along. The songs and the power of the people’s voices gave me strength and renewed energy to begin my summer of protest, or so I thought at the time. As I left the square, I was assaulted by a lime green flyer. Okay, maybe assaulted is a little harsh, but that was what it felt like at the time. The person behind the flyer was asking me for something. He was asking me to volunteer.
My mind was on overload. Wasn’t I already doing enough? I had missed four days of work and pay back in February. I had attended all of the rallies. I always voted. And here I was singing my heart out on the last day of my incredibly strenuous school year. What more could I do? The work he was asking me to do was not in my comfort zone. Going door to door or making phone calls to people was surely work to be done by someone more knowledgeable than myself. My knowledge of the government was limited to Political Science 101, which was taken long ago in my undergraduate years. With this attitude, I took the flyer and made my quick escape. I took the flyer home, but did my best to discount it. It wasn’t meant for me and I was doing enough. These thoughts did not come from selfishness, but out of my own misconception that it was somebody else’s work.
That flyer sat at home on my kitchen table for a little less than a week, before I grew restless looking at it. The protests continued, but nothing seemed to be changing. On a whim, I found a friend to go with me and signed up for a Recall Roadtrip. I was completely terrified and seemingly unqualified, but I felt determined to be taking action. For the sake of my friend, I feigned confidence and off to Baraboo we went to canvass for Fred Clark.
Since that first day of knocking on doors, I have learned more than I can possibly convey in this note. I learned that the work that needs to be done is out in the recall communities. I learned that we are all qualified to do this work. It only takes an openness to conversation, a willingness to do the work and the desire to save the state that we love. Above all else, I have learned that volunteering is the only way this work will get done. I have met people at the doors who are disenfranchised, scared and misinformed. There have been people who disagree with me and I have encountered those with great passion. I have learned about our state and politics not by watching the news or listening to speakers. I have grown this understanding by talking and listening to the voters of our great state.
Through all of this, the Labor Temple has become a special place in my heart. I am MTI. Since February, I have come to understand the meaning behind that. But, I am also We Are Wisconsin . I didn’t know that until recently. We Are Wisconsin is more than just a place to volunteer, it is a family of Union brothers and sisters, non-profit organization, and members of the community. When I am doing work for this great organization, I am doing work for myself and for my state. It is work that needs to be done to guarantee each win in the Senate.
Democrats and Republicans alike can throw money at these campaigns. Anyone can put up a yard sign. And of course, the people can continue to rally. But none of these things are going to win these elections. The elections are only going to be won by getting on the phones and identifying voters who haven’t yet been reached by either political party. Each phone call made brings us closer to a win. Victories will be attained knocking on forgotten doorsteps. What happens out in these recall districts will determine the fate of our state. It will not be an easy victory. It can not be left to optimism or hope. There is too much misinformation being spread, just as there are too many voters being overlooked. It is up to us to rectify that and it cannot be done without volunteers. As far as political activism goes, voting is no longer enough. Staying in the safety of Madison will no longer work. I see that more clearly now than ever before.
As I think back to those chants of RECALL in the Capitol dome and remember all of those determined faces, I can only hope that energy will be turned to the work that needs to be done. Each time I pull into the parking lot for a Recall Roadtrip or walk into the phone banks, I continue looking for those familiar faces that should be packing the house. We should be busing people out into the recall communities by the hundreds and waiting in line for our turn at the phones. It is the only way to win this war. We have something that the other side does not. The power is in the people.
We are MTI
Come to the Volunteer Action Center
at the Madison Labor Temple
1602 S Park Street, Room 104Contact the center at 608-206-9451
or Kevin Gundlach at firstname.lastname@example.org sign up online at http://bit.ly/danecountyvolunteerPhone bank hours are Mon – Fri: 3 PM – 9 PM
Saturday: 11 AM – 6 PM
Sunday: Noon – 9 PM
Carpools leave to recall districts 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM Saturdays and Sundays. (also Mondays and Tuesdays during GOTV)