Wide Awake in Wisconsin
I’m heartened, however, because last weekend 180,000 people gathered at the Capitol building even though the Governor had already signed into law a controversial bill. It shows we haven’t given up. The rally began with a tractorama of 50 tractors parading around the Capitol (click here to see a compelling speech by one of the farmers).
I think one would be hard pressed to find such positive energy in the aftermath of defeat at any other time in recent history.
As a result I’ve done more reflecting about my role as a Wisconsin citizen these past few weeks than I ever have before.
I live in Wisconsin because my great grandparents decided to move here from Germany in 1891. They settled in Tigerton, WI and worked a 50 acre farm to provide food for their 12 children. My great grandfather also worked as the church sexton, which required cleaning the church and digging graves. He was also a lumberjack. I suspect he performed other odd jobs too to keep the money coming in.
My grandfather was the youngest of the 12 children and, because they had been unable to go to high school, his older siblings wanted him to be able to go, so they made him enroll and then shielded his whereabouts from his parents during school days. He went on to graduate from college and medical school in Wisconsin and worked as a rural doctor in the years before insurance, so getting paid was often iffy, and when it was a 7 day per week job, requiring house calls at all hours and in all weather conditions.
The word “scrappy” always comes to mind as I ponder my great grandparents and their family and all the other Wisconsin immigrants from that time. A large number of my great grandparents’ descendants still live in WI and the surrounding states of IL, MN, SD and ND and thus I find myself here in WI as well, effectively making me a “placed person,” as they say.
A few days ago I checked out from the library a children’s book by Gretchen Bratvold about Wisconsin for one of my daughters to read and it’s interesting to note what it says about the 1890s in Wisconsin (the decade my great grandparents arrived) and compare it to recent events here:
By the 1890s, some of the state’s political leaders were thinking about how the government could improve the lives of Wisconsinites.
For several decades, the Republican Party had controlled the government. But many important Republicans used their power unfairly, carefully protecting their own interests in the state’s successful lumber and railroad businesses.
Some Wisconsinites were unhappy with the government of Wisconsin. They decided to split away from the Republicans and form their own branch within the Republican Party.
Headed by a man named Robert M. La Follette Sr., the new program was called Progressivism. It followed progressive, or new, ideas. The Progressives wanted to give more power to the people. They thought all Wisconsinites – not just a few – should have a say in how the economy and the government worked.
We’ve come full circle. (Because my great grandparents came from Germany it’s also interesting to note this article titled If This Happened in Germany Cars Would Be Burning.)
Last fall only 26% of registered voters bothered to vote and Gov. Walker was elected. Only 17% of adults over the age of 18 voted for him.
The rally last weekend is an indication that we are now wide awake in Wisconsin and I don’t expect to see that kind of lethargy at the polls next time. I saw a chart that said 85% of both Democrats and Republicans intend to vote next time.
There are elements in the bill that will affect almost all of us in the state in a negative way (from forced retirement of teachers important to our children, to reduced wages, to loss of programs that have made Wisconsin a humane place to live over the years).
I get discouraged as I ponder this yet, if I’ve inherited anything from my great grandparents, it’s their scrappiness, and if the rallies the past few weeks are any indication, many of my fellow Wisconsinites are scrappy too. Rather than mere observers who gripe about the climate and cheer for the Packers, we are now part of the Wisconsin narrative in a deeper way and that can only be a good thing. May it continue.
Filed under: Stories/Storytelling
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