Wherever he goes, Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach is greeted with chants of "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" He certainly has earned them. Erpenbach led the 14 Wisconsin Democratic State Senators out of state and into hiding so that Governor Scott Walker's outrageous union-busting legislation would not have a quorum.
But as Erpenbach emphasized this week at a spirited rally in West Bend, the people of Wisconsin and all of us owe many thanks, not just to the courageous actions of these elected representatives, but to the crowds of a hundred thousand that thronged the state capitol at Madison... and to the countless volunteers who took up the challenge.
These volunteers, ordinary and unsung, have just finished collecting enough signatures to force a recall election of six Republican state senators. If just three of these recalls are successful in replacing the Republicans with Democrats, Walker's doomsday reward-the-rich and penalize-the poor-budget and union-busting will be stopped.
Tanya Lohr teaches global studies to ninth graders. Her husband teaches chemistry, but also helps raise their four children -- ages 19, 15 and the 5-year-old twins. It's a good thing he is so helpful. Every day after school and all weekend, Tanya rushes to the Clear Lake United Teachers Center.
There on the phone and in the field, she fights for her school and her family, as well as for her livelihood. Door to door, call by call, you can see the sparkle in her eye, her winning smile and hear her bouyant voice collecting signatures and coordinating the Recall Campaign in her district. She is a hero of Wisconsin.
You can see Elias Groth's car coming. It's draped with homemade signs criticizing Scott Walker and urging "RECALL THEM ALL!" Last week, as he pulled into his dad's garage, he forgot the five foot high sign bolted to the roof of the car. It tore into the garage and gave the car its red badge of courage. During the Madison demonstrations, the capital building was so crowded that he, along with countless others, had to sleep outside the building freezing everything but his determination. He is a hero of Wisconsin.
Glenn Grothman is not. He is the Republican State Senator for the staunchly conservative 20th Senate District of Wisconsin. His simplistic statements conflate, convolute and confuse. Grothman's red-baiting campaign literature accuses his opponents of trying to break down the American family. Tanya Lohr might object to this as she's seen the effects of Grothman's policies increase class sizes, cut her school's budget, lay off workers and make it harder for American families to survive.
But according to Grothman, the abolition of the family was a goal of Karl Marx and has been for "atheistic socialists" ever since. This is why Grothman proposes draconian cuts in jobs, wages and the social safety net. As Grothman recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, while justifying cuts to education, "I think early education, like any preschool program, can have harmful psychological effects."
Anthony Irwin must have surmounted these harmful psychological effects to succeed as a graduate student in Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin. Irwin is studying the spread of Buddhism, a generally peaceful religion, through Southeast Asia. But as he joined with thousands of others to protest the cuts in education and services, he found the atmosphere hardly peaceful.
"It was electric" Anthony said. "You could almost taste the emotions, the anger of the crowd as they surged to confront State Senator Glenn Grothman in the capital." When he appeared in the capital, Grothman was surrounded by angry citizens upset at his role in pushing Governor Scott Walker's bill to weaken unions and cut services. Grothman, who called the demonstrators slobs, seemed to be in danger of reaping what he had sown. But into this fray, stepped another hero... Brett Hulsey. Hulsey came to the rescue of Grothman. Hulsey used his strapping size, good humor and eminent good judgment to avert political disaster. But it wasn't just his infectious good nature that stopped the crowd from exacting frontier justice.
Brett Hulsey is the Democratic Assemblyman from Wisconsin's 77th District. He has worked tirelessly fighting to save money for education, seniors, workers, transportation and the environment. His actions stepping in to protect Grothman were consonant with his politics. His thanks for his good efforts was being roundly criticized by his Republican opponents. One suspects they would rather have gained a martyr by throwing one of their own to what they characterized as an unruly mob.
But rather than an unruly mob, the protesters proved to be a hard-working political force. When Republicans tried to retaliate against the Democratic Recall efforts, they could not attract enough volunteers. They had to contract out their recall efforts, including to out-of-state companies that hired convicted felons who ended up embarrassingly involved again in thefts.
Meanwhile, Tanya Lohr, Elias Groth, Anthony Irwin and thousands of other volunteers proved to be the real heroes of Wisconsin. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
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