Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Life in Exigent Times

I woke up this morning thinking about the Wisconsin 14.  You know, that group of Wisconsin State Democratic Senators who left our state two weeks ago, in a desperate effort to prevent passage of Gov. Walker's union-busting budget "repair" bill.  Variously known, to the Fox News/Tea Party crowd, as "Fleebaggers: The New Cut-and-Run Democrats."

Rumors have been flying that some undetermined number of this brave group want to come home, and may break, or have already broken ranks with their colleagues.  I hope this is not the case.  And more than hoping, I have been signing letters of support, standing on street corners in the cold celebrating their stand, and sending money to be used as needed to support their productive absence.  

But I have had my life interrupted by enough unanticipated departures from normal that I can begin to imagine what they may be going through. 

There were "days of rage" and riots in my youth, when national and international events caused reactions that brought all else to a halt.  There have been several of those times of illness and death that we all eventually experience in life, when work commitments were abandoned, days rearranged, and everything fell away but the focused-upon crisis.  Some of these were protracted in my own life, and nothing was ordinary for weeks, and even months.  There was Katrina, which became a national obsession, as it blew my family members to Mississippi, and to Texas, and eventually brought my frail elderly parents to an involuntary sojourn in my home for several months.  

And there is this moment in the history of my state, and our society.  Every day brings a new round of meetings, demonstrations, and horrific new announcements and developments.  We are in a state of collective shock.  I have talked with many people who say they are having trouble attending to anything besides the spectacle that is our state government these days, and the mobilization of its citizenry.

I have watched our 14 Democratic Senators giving interviews on national TV, and have followed their tweets.  I have learned the barest details of their circumstances.  I have particular concern for Sen. Julie Lassa, six months pregnant and separated from her children, ages three and six.  And for Sen. Jon Erpenbach, described thusly in an article in today's Capitol Times:
Erpenbach looks exhausted.  His hair is tousled and his clothes are rumpled. This is the fourth hotel he has been to in nine nights in his effort to stay ahead of the folks trying to track him down. He is registered under a fake name. “I hate all this James Bond stuff,” he says.
His parents, he says, are paying the bills. He grabs a cup of free coffee from the hotel lobby. He’s been living off of it and other freebies.
He says a hotel maid handed him a stick of deodorant from the house-cleaning cart a few days ago. He’s also grabbed a few little tubes of toothpaste. The other night he got a real deal for dinner. Turns out, happy hour is easy on the wallet. He got five “slider” hamburgers for five bucks.
Friday night, he says, was the first time in a week he had a few moments to himself. He did his laundry, ordered pizza for dinner, and stayed in his room.
He’s been living on the contents of what he stuffed into a duffel bag before making his escape: a couple of pairs of pants, a few pairs of underwear (so few he had to buy extras at a discount store) and his toothbrush.
This is a man who is way past concern with his familiar to-do lists.

Pressure is mounting on this group, as Gov. Walker and his Republican allies try to force their return.  Their paychecks are being held until they show up to collect them.  The Senate today passed a bill that will fine them each $100 for every day that they fail to attend a legislative session.  Last week, the Governor shared with a blogger who had duped Walker into believing he was a billionaire contributor his plan to ratchet up the consequences for the absent Senators, and for capitol protestors, until his bill is passed.  He alluded to his intention to trick the Senators into coming back by pretending to be interested in negotiating, and then proceeding to a vote once their presence had established the necessary quorum.

I anticipate that this particular exigent state shall pass, as all things eventually must, for the Fab 14 and for the beleaguered citizens of my state.  But it is not clear at this point how, and when, that might happen.  It seems as if these fourteen individuals are alone in having any power to hold back the coming deluge of cuts and reverses.  

It would be cruel to expect them to stay away forever.  But their actions to date have had the intended effect of buying time for the people to become informed and to begin to organize to resist the sweeping changes planned for us.  At this point, every day that they can remain where they are allows the people's movement to grow stronger.

I am sure that the interruption of their usual responsibilities and relationships is costing each of them dearly.  I would hope that all of us can recognize that the history we are making--that we did not necessarily choose to have to make--takes precedence for now.  

As this goes on, we will have to learn to live in and outside of our ordinary realities.  We have a long fight ahead of us.  

My deepest appreciation to the Fab 14 for their leadership and their sacrifice.

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