Anyone who has seen the ad being run by Progressives for Change (Wisconsin Workers Ad) will agree that it is one of the most incredibly moving and inspirational ads ever run by progressives, in Wisconsin or anywhere else. There they were, average working people, protesting in a gentle snowfall, speaking unscripted words from their hearts. When I saw it for the first time, I had two thoughts: 1) the Democrats should run this ad nationally; and 2) where have I seen the secretary before?
Follow me below the fold.
That face. I knew I'd seen that face. Then, I received an email from my friend Kim, asking me if I'd seen Kris in a new ad that was running on Wisconsin television stations. She reminded me that I had met Kris this past summer, when Kim (a cancer survivor) and I had gone to a Relay for Life benefit cookout. Kim had introduced me to Kris, a fellow cancer survivor. Ah, yes! I did remember talking to her that day, under a tent, dodging raindrops, eating a brat and some potato chips. No fuzzy hat and no snow flakes.
When I first saw the ad, I thought that the "just a secretary" gave the most moving testimonial about how Walker's bill would affect her. It had brought me to tears. And now, I discovered I had a connection, albeit a very loose one.
This morning, we met Kim and her husband Bob at a coffee shop for coffee, sweet treats, and, as usual, great conversation. Prior to the events of the last month, we mostly talked about great coffee shops, tractors (Bob's favorite topic), and sheep (Kim and I both keep small flocks of sheep). Although supportive, they have not joined the protests, not liking big crowds and having others things going on, such as Kim's ewes starting to lamb (although I thought I could convince Bob to go to Madison this past Saturday by telling him it was actually a tractor show, a trick Kim had successfully used in fall to get him to go to the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival).
Starting a few weeks ago, however, we began sharing stories and thoughts about the events in Madison. Keep in mind that we live in a very Republican part of Wisconsin, where Democrats have always spoken in hushed tones. But no longer. We excitedly shared stories about protests and online information and newspaper non-articles.
Then, this morning, in the middle of our conversation, Kris walked into the coffee shop. Yes, that Kris.
We all warmly greeted Kris, teasing her about her new celebrity status. And then she told us her story..
She lives alone, her children now both adults, and supports herself on the income she earns as a public sector secretary. She earned an associate degree (which makes her more highly educated than our governor) and found work in the public sector because she loves the environment in which she works, even though her wages are lower than they would be in the private sector.
The $3,000 decrease in pay she mentions? That is the hit she'll take on her take-home pay, not her gross pay. I won't share her net salary here, but I was appalled at how low it was. She has no internet at home because she can't afford it. Her car is 11 years old. She has had to always scrimp and save to make it on what she has been earning. She is frightened about what the future will bring.
But I am not going to bet against this woman! She is a survivor in so many ways, in addition to being a cancer survivor. She is incredibly kind, gentle, and softspoken, but she is so strong and straightforward in her convictions. She is firm and articulate when she discusses her cause, citing everything from labor statistics to a "New Yorker" article about the Koch brothers.
And she is most frightened about the Republican efforts to prevent people from voting by requiring photo I.D.'s (which people will have to pay for, meaning it is essentially a poll tax, as my friend Maggie said) and placing restrictions on young voters. She is worried that poor people, minorities, the elderly, and the young will not be able to vote, that those who have the least power in this country will become even more disenfranchised. This woman, who has so much to worry about in her own life, can't stop thinking about others who will be harmed by this legislation.
And so there we were, the five of us, in this coffee shop in the middle of Republican country, discussing matters that we would never have touched upon only a month ago. But that is what is happening in this state that the Republicans are underestimating.
This is not an Obama-led political ploy. This did not start with the top leadership of a political party or a union. This is a movement by the people, for the people, and of the people. People who started friendships talking about sheep, Australian Shepherds, and tractors, and who are now sharing the deeper experiences of their lives. People who were Republican or apolitical before now talking openly about becoming lifelong Democrats. People who voted for Scott Walker or didn't vote at all apologizing for their actions. People like the Wisconsin 14, previously no-name state legislators who, in my view, are the most principled and brave Democrats this country has seen in years. People like Kris whose story contains so many truths that cannot be ignored.
Scott Walker has said that the more people read his bill, the more they'll like it. He and the Republicans are counting on the fact that we'll all settle into our previous state of apathy about elections, fear of losing income or our jobs, and cynicism about our own leadership, including President Obama. They believe that by 2012, we'll lose our enthusiasm and forget all about this.
But wait...this is about Kris, and people all over this country like her. She will not be apathetic about voting. She will not forget about the huge pay cut she will receive. She will not forget about what was in this bill. And those of us who know her, who are deeply moved by her story, who sit and have coffee with her, will not forget either.
The next time you see the PFC ad, and you listen to Kris "Just-a-Secretary" talk about what this legislation will do to her, promise her that you will not forget. Look at her, listen to her, and promise her and yourself that you will vote, you will work for change, you will donate whatever you can afford, you will do whatever your level of comfort allows you to do, even if it is just being more bold about sharing your political views with neighbors and friends.
Kris will not, cannot, forget. Promise her that you won't forget either.