Just recently got back from a great conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The conference coincidentally took place mere days after the recall elections we all were watching...so I kind of wondered how the results of the recalls would affect my mood on the trip.
The conference itself was great. Excellent science, good beer, and time between talks to relax on the terrace at the university overlooking the lake. Weather was perfect (and this is coming from someone who grew up in Southern California so has a high standard for perfect weather). And I have to say my work was amazingly well received by most of the people I talked to, though one person seemed to take quite a dislike to our work. But overall a great trip.
It was quite interesting to be there, in the very place where Walker has done so much damage to middle and working class Americans and where so many from so many backgrounds came out last year to protest his anti-American policies.
Below are some impressions and a call to action. Because Wisconsin is no different from any state out there. We all have our tea party right wing extremists (one just won a special State Senate election here in NYC!) and we all have our good progressives. What we need to do, as politically active, moderate to liberal leaning Democrats, is fight tooth an nail to defend each progressive out there and to defeat the worst right wing extremists we can.
And you know what? Wisconsin has been doing a pretty good job of it, has forged some great alliances in the process, and, if we keep our eyes on the ball, we can continue to push back to the progressive side in Wisconsin.
I flew into Madison from La Guardia airport. Always a depressing thing to fly through La Guardia. But the first cheery thing of the day came when I reached the TSA dude checking everyone's boarding pass and ID. He was clearly doing his best to be friendly to everyone, knowing full well how irritating the whole process was for everyone.
He looked at me, saw my "We are the 99%" T-shirt. He smiled and asked if I protested with Occupy Wall Street (showing his knowledge of the movement). I said no, but I was a supporter and knew people who were there. I also added I had been too busy to get down there. He smiled, nodded and passed me through. No sign of outright support, but very definitely no sign of hostility. I got the feeling he understood what OWS was all about and at least gave it some credence if not outright support.
A good start to the trip...or at least as good as you can expect flying through La Guardia!
Delta Airlines kind of sucks. Now it was the best flight I could find at a reasonable price. My airfare is covered by our grant because it is a conference and I was presenting, but I still try to find the cheapest reasonable airfare even though it isn't my money. I had been able to find the last reasonably priced, direct flight that got in before the conference started with a return flight that left after the conference was over. Most other people I talked to had a MUCH harder time getting in, some of them missing big chunks of the conference due to airline delays. One thing I noticed was that the result of the new rules where everyone had to pay for their first piece of checked luggage is everyone now tries to shove it all into carry on...which means carry on is now so overloaded they have to take extra time, delaying the flight, to get people to check luggage. Yet another example of the airlines making a stupid policy change that just makes matters worse.
But I got there in one piece and with less hassle than many others who went.
Then I had to get to my hotel. Normally I try taking public transportation. That's what I did both ways in NYC (hey...the Q train from Brooklyn to Queens, then the M60 bus to the airport...not really that tough I found out!). But I couldn't find a way to figure that out going from the Madison airport to Madison proper, so I grabbed a cab.
I am no fan of taxis. Now taxi drivers in NYC have a really tough time and I sympathize with them. But they also are among the rudest and most crazy drivers around, so I kind of steer away from them, no pun intended. But the cabbie that picked me up in Madison was just the right guy for me to meet at that moment.
We started talking. Turns out he works for Union Cab, a worker owned taxi cooperative in Madison. I highly recommend them! Everyone I talked to who used Union Cab found them very friendly, quick and safe.
My driver was very eager to discuss the recalls. He was really depressed that Walker had won the recall election. He told me about the height of the protests when his taxi company was in the thick of it. He had already had quite a life. Coming from Alaska, working for the coast guard (including a stint on Governor's Island in NYC!), and winding up in Madison. But it was clear the height of the protests against Walker's anti-working class and anti-middle class extremist agenda had made an impression. He really thought they would win.
I pointed out that from my more distant perspective I had been amazed that over two recall elections they had flipped the Wisconsin state senate and and built quite a coalition to boot. He seemed pleased and said, "Yeah, I guess I always knew it wouldn't be easy and we'd have to keep fighting."
Precisely...it was never easy and WILL never be easy...and we have to always keep fighting.
I got to my hotel, checked in...then realized how starving I was. The conference schedule had been ambiguous about whether dinner that night was included, plus I needed a moment to get my bearings. So I decided to pay for a meal myself and headed for a pizza place that had done its best to feed as many protesters last year as possible: Ian's Pizza. I had ordered several pizzas for the protesters through Ian's and wanted to try them for myself.
Now I love thin crust pizza. And NYC is pretty arrogant about its thin crust pizza. But honestly most NYC pizza is soggy...though there are some excellent exceptions. I am okay with a slice of NYC pizza, but most places are just not that good. Cheap sauce, cheap cheese and saturated in grease (not completely a bad thing, mind you). Now when they are only charging a buck a slice I can accept it as a good deal. But when they are charging more like $2.50 a slice with no topping, forget it. Now I will admit there are some exceptions. Around the corner from me in Brooklyn is South Brooklyn Pizza...$4 a slice which is too much, but it is REALLY good pizza made with top ingredients and they usually have wonderful roasted garlic and marinated peppers for free to go on top. So sometimes I splurge. If they could just lower their price a bit I'd go more often.
Ian's Pizza in Madison had perfect thin crust. not at all soggy like most NYC pizza tends to be but really crispy. I like that. Most of the pizzas offered were pretty elaborate and mostly starch and cheese oriented...not much in the way of simple toppings. And the toppings were a bit over done: LOTS of cholesterol laden ingredients piled on top of each other. Good quality and pretty darned tasty for a decent price. Overall high marks. But I did wish they had at least SOME simpler toppings. I probably could have ordered something but I just wanted to try a couple of slices of what ever they had up front. Overall I definitely recommend them.
After two slices of excellent but a bit heavy and overwhelming pizza, I headed over to the conference. I had forgotten how great the University of Wisconsin terrace was in nice weather. Immediately struck by how calm and soothing (ignoring the not so good band down on the stage below) the whole place was. And there was of course some good beer being served.
Then I got down to business with the first night's science. Won't go much into the science except there was some real groundbreaking stuff coming out, including some amazing new stuff from an already Nobel Prize winning lab. And once you are sucked into a conference, often you don't have much more time to see the town you are in. Some friends of mine went out to a bar the second night of the conference after we had had a few pitchers with a couple of professors on the terrace at the university (believe it or not, some serious science was indeed discussed as well!), but I opted to go to bed at that point.
One thing that struck me was unlike almost any other conference I have been to, the morale was overall low. These are people doing cutting edge work on cancer, aging, reproduction, nutrition, etc. Yet I can't tell you how many people were demoralized by the massive budget cuts the Republicans have been inflicting and how many labs are faced with maybe having to pack up and give up the science. This is America, folks, and we aren't able to keep funding the good research? This really is a top conference, not something where crap is presented. But the Republican anti-science crusade has started taking its toll on the morale of our best scientists. If we want to keep up our competitive edge, that is a problem folks. Eisenhower would be absolutely horrified by the way the Republican Party has been gutting science.
And yet despite that the quality of the science and the intensity of the interaction did help to bolster the morale of even the most demoralized scientist I talked to. Now none of us can keep up our morale if Republicans keep cutting science funding. I gotta say I consider leaving science from time to time as it gets harder and harder to do the work we all LOVE doing. But at least briefly we were encouraged by the excellent work our colleagues were presenting. And let me tell you between the technological advances and the brilliant minds that are in this field, some really big jumps are being made...as long as the funding is there.
In the end I was sad to leave. Could have stayed a few more days if I'd had the time and my own funds to fund it. But I headed back to NYC and the awful humidity and the crowds.
Now, let's get back to the politics. Wisconsin IS and will REMAIN a key battleground for MANY reasons. When Walker took office it was a disaster for working and middle class Americans from coast to coast. And he has done his best to ruin the best America has to offer. But that is what the Republican Party has become! The Republican Party no longer has ANYTHING to do with the likes of Eisenhower who would slap Walker silly if he were alive today. Wisconsin is about how the Republicans are ruining America and how regular Americans, including students, taxi drivers, blue collar workers and farmers, are getting together to say "FUCK YOU" to the Republican extremists and their billionaire backers.
And we are part of that fight. Each and every one of us. Because what is happening in Wisconsin is happening everywhere, and if the Republicans have their way it will mean a ruined economy, lower salaries, reduced benefits, longer working hours, a ruined infrastructure, and the cutting edge of science moving overseas to places that actually VALUE progress.
Wisconsin saw what Walker was doing and an amazing cross section of the state stood up to him. And they formed a coalition that still exists to this day, if we don't start ignoring it. AND together they flipped the Wisconsin state senate.
Good for them. And I told that taxi driver how proud I was of them. And I think that made HIM more proud of himself than he had been.
It never was going to be easy and we HAVE to keep fighting.
Those who know my diaries know that I always push people to take the next step, to hold the next line, to take some action. So here is my current plug for what we can do to push back against the right wing extremists...because if we don't, well, they win. Period. And I for one will not sit back and let that happen.
First and foremost we have to remember the fights we DID win and hold on to that ground. There are four state senators I particularly wanted to highlight. All are incumbents BECAUSE we either defended them against right wing attacks or we won recall elections against right wing incumbents. All four of these candidates are endorsed by Progressive Majority and are really kick ass Democrats. First and foremost we have to have these folks' backs. From Progressive Majority:
Robert WirchThese are great folks and we fought hard for each and every one of them last year and believe me the right wing Koch backed extremists will be aiming for them.
State Senate - District 22
State Senator Robert Wirch has served four terms in the Senate, representing District 22, which includes Kenosha and the surrounding communities. Earlier in his career, he served two terms as a state Representative. Prior to his election Bob was a factory worker and union steelworker and served on the Kenosha County Board of Supervisors. Bob has been a top advocate for working families during his time in the legislature. He authored legislation to prevent companies that receive state contracts from sending Wisconsin jobs overseas and defended workers in Wisconsin from Scott Walker's attacks. He defeated a Repbulican led recall in 2011 and it is vital that we reelect Senator Wirch in November
State Senate - District 30
State Senator Dave Hansen has served three terms in the legislature, representing District 30, which includes Green Bay and surrounding communities. Prior to his election, Dave worked for Green Bay's Department of Public Works as a truck driver and was a Teamsters union steward. He also served on the Brown County Board from 1996-2002. Dave authored the pay equity legislation that requires businesses to pay women the same as men for the same work and led the fight to protect our natural resources by voting to reduce mercury pollution, preserve our wetlands, and prevent the diversion of water from the Great Lakes to other states. After defeating a Republican led recall in 2011, Senator Hansen is facing a conservative challenger that must be defeated to protect working families in Wisconsin.
State Senate - District 18
Jessica King was born and raised in Fond du Lac County. She put herself through college with hard work and scholarships, earning academic and leadership honors. Jessica opened her own small business and in 2006 she was elected to the Oshkosh City Council. In 2011, she defeated Randy Hopper in a recall election. Now she is up for reelection and we need to make sure she is reelected in November.
State Senate - District 32
Senator Jennifer Shilling has deep ties to her community. She was elected as a La Crosse County Supervisor in 1990 and to the State Assembly in 2000. Jennifer defeated incumbent Repblican Senator Dan Kapanke in a recall election and has continued to fight for Wisconsin's working families in the Senate. We need a majority in the State Senate to prevent Scott Walker and conservatives from passing anymore harmful laws. We need to support Senator Shilling in 2012.
But I also believe in building infrastructure for winning. We need to remember elections are won often by local folks working their butts off in their local districts. I have an ActBlue site that I have used both to push for specific candidates, but also to help out some local county Dem organizations in key districts. This can be swing counties (always good to target) but also some redder counties that are still worth trying to get out the Dem vote because cutting the margin of loss in those counties will help win larger swing districts overall...and make it more likely we defeat Walker the next time. I believe in fighting in EVERY district. Please help build the infrastructure Dems need in Wisconsin to stop and reverse the right wing extremist agenda that is killing America.
Finally we can't forget that the right wing attacks on unions is much wider than Wisconsin. In particular I feel we need to fight back hard in four states: Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. I have another act blue page dedicated to defending unions across four states. Join me in fighting the Koch brothers in those four states.
And don't tell me we can't win because the ONLY way you are guaranteed to lose is if you don't fight. I grew up being told America would never be ready for a black President. Well, I never did believe everything I was told.