Friday, April 29, 2011

Madison Crazy

I can't help feeling a bit like an evangelist when people from out of town ask me why I like Madison so much. My answers tend to turn into long, drawn-out sales pitches with an inappropriate amount of detail and enthusiasm for how casual their initial interest likely was. But I can't help it, I love this damn city. It's the first place I've ever lived (and I've lived in several different cities/states...but no city-states, alas) that actually feels like home.

And after over 10 years of residing in this liberal lakeside paradise I feel fairly well qualified to expound on its particular quirks and stereotypes.

Which is why I had to laugh to myself today when I pulled up on my bike to the UW Credit Union ATM out front of the Willy St. Co-op - and there I was (already fulfilling several Madison archetypes myself), surrounded by:
  1. The old guy who plays bluegrass guitar and busks,
  2. A little girl making friends with a middle-aged fella and his shaggy German Shepherd, and
  3. A not-entirely-right-in-the-head gentleman ranting at what I can only assume was an innocent bystander just trying to eat his late lunch about imperialist wars in Libya and Blackwater conspiracies and things of that nature.
The sun was (finally) shining, birds were singing lustily in the newly budding trees, and everywhere people on bikes were zipping around doing errands like me. After a long, few weeks of rainy, cold, gray weather it takes only a few seconds of sunshine to compel every good resident of more northern climes to come outside in droves.

The impulse can all too often lead to some craziness, as well.

Continuing on my errand route I made my way to Schenk's Corners for the post office in the corner store. When I arrived there were three firetrucks, several police cars, a huge crane, and a clutch of firefighters all gathered around the Chase Bank on the corner. I asked the store clerk what had happened. "Someone took the turn too fast and crashed into the bank building, right into one of the pillars," he explained. Not only that, but the force of the crash actually knocked over the pillar, causing its capital to crash through the car's windshield and into the passenger seat. Thankfully, there was no one sitting there and the driver was apparently all right.

Much of the neighborhood had come out to gawp (I did, too) at the totaled car and toppled pillar. Earlier, apparently, many of them had come to see if they could help. I took a moment to be grateful that no one was seriously hurt, and to marvel at how fast the car must have been traveling to not only get through the barriers that block off the front of the bank, but to completely upend one of the stone pillars.

Maybe it was the springtime crazies clouding the driver's better judgment. Maybe they'd had a bad day. Maybe they just shouldn't have been driving. Regardless, I love that I live in a city where your neighbors generally give a crap about what's going on around them/each others' well-being, are friendly (for the most part*) with strangers, and are a little more comfortable with everyone's eccentricities. Madison ain't perfect, but it's my kind of getting there.

*The gentleman who swore at me while I was working today would be the most recent exception to the rule that I've encountered.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Don't Attack; Engage: Un-asked for advice for tomorrow's Tea Party rally in Madison

And lo! Word has come that She of the Mother Grizzlies and Folksy Drawl shall be gracing fair Madison tomorrow for a "Tax Day Tea Party" at the Capitol.

That would be Sarah Palin, of course, apparently paid enough by one of the organizing groups (AFP?) to haul her and her Alaskan entourage to balmier climes here in Wisconsin to be the keynote speaker at tomorrow's aforementioned event.

It's no accident that Palin will be appearing here, alongside local conservative Monsters of Talk Vicki McKenna and John T. Harris, and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund. Madison has been ground zero of the grassroots, pro-labor groundswell that started in February when Gov. Scott Walker introduced his truly awful budget "repair" bill, and has continued ever since.

The Capitol has played host to hundreds of thousands of people from all over the state (and beyond - there's nothing wrong with support from fellow travelers, despite Walker's hypocritical cries to the contrary), who've marched, camped, testified, pizza'd, and sang their way through some deeply trying times.

So of course, come time for the Tea Party's now annual tax day rally, they'd choose to co-opt the location and bring in the "big" guns.

But you know what? I could care less about Palin. Or McKenna and Harris and Fund. They're the rabble-rousers, spitters of convoluted, often meaningless (or downright false) platitudes and generalizations meant to stir the pot for the sake of their own higher ratings and stuffed wallets.

We've got these folks on the left, too: Though I don't harbor the same disgust held for Palin and the like when it comes to them, I wasn't particularly thrilled when Michael Moore or Ed Schultz started popping up at the #wiunion protests, either. Their hearts might be in the right place - I don't know because I don't know any of them personally - but ultimately their high profiles serve as a distraction from the important message and meaning of the demonstrations.

It's about everyday people working to make things better.

It's pretty much the same case for the Tea Party. While there are certainly elements of the movement that are on the extreme fringe (there have certainly been elements of racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic ideas and attitudes on display), I've gotten the impression that a large chunk of the people who show up at Tea Party events are just regular folk struggling with some of the very same problems facing their counterparts at the pro-union rallies.

As I see it, the difference between us is twofold: 1) The information we've been given/sought out/been privy to, and 2) how we've chosen to react to it.

None of that makes any of us inherently better or worse, of course, it just means we're walking alternate paths. And I suggest that, rather than show up at tomorrow's rally ready to fight and yell, or wave insulting/condescending signs, or even focus your curses and derision on the celebrity speakers, it would be far more productive to simply shop the farmer's market and then maybe have a civil conversation with a Tea Party attendee.

Ask them why they've come, what struggles they're having personally. If they're at all inclined to listen, tell them simply about your own troubles and why you've chosen to tackle them in a different manner. Get a little nerdy and cite some factual research to back up your position, but always be willing to hear the other person out. Be willing to admit if you were maybe wrong about your initial perceptions regarding the people that go to Tea Party events. Or challenge them, gently, if maybe you were right.

Don't accuse anyone of being anything - challenge ideas, not individuals. This guy lays out the technique rather succinctly.

Most importantly, don't give Palin or any of the other talking heads any ammunition against you or the movement (believe me, they'll make up plenty on their own), and don't feed their egos by focusing on them at all. Focus on the regular folks who're there, and find the common ground you inevitably have with them. Show them, don't tell them, what democracy looks like.

And then go get some spicy cheese bread from Stella's - it's freakin' delicious.
The Lost Albatross