08/02/2011

Taking back Wisconsin

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An AFT activist from Alaska treks to Wisconsin to lend a helping hand

Geoffrey Bacon. Photo credit: John Saller As I entered the headquarters of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, I felt a powerful tension in the air. The only sounds I heard were the hushed voices of union members making phone calls. These activists took only a short break to welcome me in great Wisconsin fashion before returning to their stations. Their faces glowed when they found out I had traveled all the way from Alaska to lend a hand—happy to know they weren’t alone in their struggle to take back Wisconsin.

My task for the week would be to canvass neighborhoods and encourage union members to support the recall of State Sen. Alberta Darling, who had voted to abolish collective bargaining in Wisconsin.

I came to Wisconsin to support families similar to mine. I am the child of public servants. I was blessed with an upbringing and a quality education that can only be achieved when communities create a learning partnership among teachers, students and parents. By supporting candidates who support these middle-class values, I could help ensure that others would benefit the same way I have.

Besides giving my time, I wanted to learn more. Knocking on a stranger’s door was a new experience. There is no way to describe that rush of energy and anxiety before meeting the unknown personality who answers. After the first street, I felt comfortable walking from house to house; and by the end of the first day, I spoke with confidence and conviction. The conviction I felt was that I was not speaking for some third-party campaign; I was speaking for all union members who support the same values I support.

Voters’ knowledge made my job easier. In Senate District 8, where I was assigned, most union members (who ranged in age from 22 to 82) were in favor of the recall effort.

A few, however, did not agree with our shared vision of community. When talking to those who were standing with the incumbent who had voted against collective bargaining, I sensed a disconnect between their reasoning and our issues. Many said “we are Republicans” or “we need to get the state’s budget under control.”

From this experience, I realized it is our job as union members to be the voice that says “we are together.” Politics, along with collective bargaining, is a forum to demonstrate our unity.

The fight for a brighter future is alive in Wisconsin. Members have become activists like never before, and if that trend continues, I am confident the future will be bright. [Geoffrey Bacon; photo credit: John Saller.]

[Excerpt  from American Teacher, September/October 2011]


Geoffrey Bacon is from the AFT-affiliated Alaska Public Employees Association. He spent a week in July canvassing in Milwaukee in support of the Wisconsin recall effort.