Those of us on opposing sides of the Wisconsin debate are more alike than we are different. We should be careful about what's happening while we fight each other.
In the checkout line the other day, I glanced at the news headlines about the protests in Madison. The clerk, a middle-aged woman, noticed my interest. With a look of distaste, she summed up her attitude toward the protests: "It's like, 'Get back to work!' "
Of course she feels that way. Like other people, she works hard and tries to make ends meet. She doesn't see that the people she disdains have interests just like hers. She doesn't see that her animosity is self-defeating.
The clerk behind the counter, and the customer she's waiting on, have something important in common: Both have benefited from the influence of the unions. And so have you.
If you've ever been paid more than minimum wage, if you've ever had time off work for vacation, if you have some regularity in your schedule, if you've ever had some of your medical or life insurance paid for by an employer, if you've ever had weekends off, or a 40-hour work week -- you have unions to thank. Whether or not you are in a union, you've benefited. Take away the unions' power to negotiate these rights, and you hurt working people everywhere. Even those who never asked for the unions' help.
At this critical moment in Madison, in our state, in our country, please, people: Can we stop fighting amongst ourselves, amongst Tea Partiers and progressives, and focus on finding a way out of this mess? We get to decide -- so what is it that we want?
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We all want decent jobs. We all want to be able to take care of our families. Working together, using our collective voices, we can get what we need. And we can demand that our legislators do what they were elected to do: debate the issues, contemplate the problems, negotiate solutions, and work for the best interests of the people of Wisconsin.
It's so easy to feel annoyed and frustrated when someone else is asking for what YOU need and can't ask for. When you might be one illness away from a financial catastrophe. When you might be late with your mortgage payment. How easy it is to scorn someone asking for basic needs rather than to look at an entire system that is broken, and is failing to give many people what they need.
The answer is to work together. Anything short of that and we give up our own power, our power to decide what we're worth.
We do have some budget difficulties in Wisconsin. It's not the first time. Our state is strong in many ways and we will figure this out. We have the power to insist on a fair process of contemplation, on negotiation. We have the power to create what comes next. We ARE the common wealth.
Anne O'Connor, a reporter at the Star Tribune in 1993-2000, is editor and publisher of the Kickapoo Free Press in Viroqua.