This essay is about the phenomenon often called mansplaining (with its variant whitesplaining). It is prompted a recent 90 minute episode of what felt to me like mansplaining. Any use of the term mansplaining or whitesplaining in mixed company typically evokes complaints that the term itself is sexist/racist. Even our own scatterplot had a minor eruption of this conflict when mansplain was used to describe something women had said to a man Of course both mansplaining and whitesplaining are very common special cases of the more general privilegesplaining or, better, just splaining. The term splaining has not been applied to class, or to student vs. professor status, or other hierarchies, but it could and should be. Let’s begin by saying that I am often guilty of splaining, at least in the basic sense of telling someone else something they already know or of speaking with confidence about something that is later revealed to be wrong. In fact, when I told my spouse what I was thinking about, he said: “well, you know, you do that.” As if I didn’t know that. This essay is thus not about my own virtue and others’ vice, but about unpacking the idea of splaining, examining its sources and making distinctions. And then explaining why we don’t stay neutral about it. (more…)
August 6, 2014
July 24, 2014
Since retiring, my spouse has been volunteering at the “job club,” helping low income people apply for jobs. Applicants for low-wage jobs need to apply on line, and many low-wage workers neither own computers nor have much experience using them. Plus they are often unfamiliar with the various verbal hoops applicants have to go through. One of the big ones are banks of attitude questions. Yesterday he spent a couple of hours with a woman applying to work as a baker in a donut franchise, not the chef who thinks up recipes, someone who just does the work of cooking and frosting. She had to respond to 300 Likert items, 25 a page for 12 pages (!) with items like these
It is important to know what my coworkers think.
It is important to know what my coworkers feel.
I can easily imagine what my coworkers feel.
It is important to my life that the company do well.
Sometimes you have to take a risk to solve a problem for the company.
You have to know all possible solutions before picking one.
My coworkers say I’m cooperative.
My coworkers say I’m obedient.
Other items, he says, are convoluted sentence structures that even he finds difficult to parse to figure out what the positive/negative ends of the scale are. After two hours, they had to quit because the room needed to be used by someone else, and they had only gotten through five pages of the questions. The 300 is the worst so far, but this kind of thing is common in the low wage world. Another time he was working with a mentally disabled man trying to get a job as a dishwasher who had to work through 150 such questions. This is not what you do after you’ve passed the screening and are being interviewed. This is what you have to do just to enter the screening process. My daughter the labor activist says they are trying to screen out not only thieves but activists. I’m sure she’s right, and also pretty confident that these question banks are produced by consultants who don’t necessarily think through what it means to have to spend five hours applying for a $9/hour job on a computer in a public place. Or maybe they do, and that’s part of the test?
I don’t mean with my title to belittle the stresses of being on the academic job market. It is a scary world out there, and the application process is time-consuming and stressful for everyone. But I think we have not stooped this low. Yet, anyway.
June 30, 2014
My goal is to improve the culture of publication and coauthoring in my department. Although some of our students do great on this, others languish, and many of our students complain that they do not get enough mentoring about publishing. I have identified as one problem that many faculty consider it “exploitative” to involve students in their research if they are not being paid. Another problem is wide variation in opinions about the level of involvement that merits a coauthorship. What I want to do is to develop a set of normative guidelines for apprentice-like experiences that do not involve payment, as well as guidelines for those that do. I am working up a draft of this and would appreciate comments and reports on good and bad experiences and practices in other programs. So here is my draft. Comments, please. NOTE: This is explicitly a model for the hierarchical situation in which a professor takes the lead in defining a project and the graduate student is an apprentice. It is NOT a model for the more egalitarian relations that develop organically. (more…)
May 21, 2014
I use what seems to me to be a very logical grading system. I grade papers on a letter grade scale and then calculate grades as a weighted average of these letter grades. Say there are three papers weighted 25%, 25% and 50% that got BC, B, and A respectively. The grade would be 2.5*.25 + 3*.25 + 4*.5 = 3.375, a grade I would then interpret as a low AB. Clear, logical, fair.But as far as I can tell, the course software cannot handle this kind of grading. It assumes that everything is percentages or points. So I cannot use it as an online gradebook. And I have had over the years a large fraction of TAs who cannot quite understand the logic grading papers with (gasp!) grades. To me this seems only logical. Ultimately we will give letter grades, why not set the standards for the grades and grade that way from the beginning? But, instead, they set up their own 10-point or 100-point schemes for grading papers, and then I have to ask them, well, so how does this translate into grades?
For things like tests or homeworks that are more point-like, I use linear equations to transform the points to the 4-point range and put those into the grade calculations in the same way. This is a little more outre and would not have been possible back in the days of paper gradebooks, but after all, you have to take algebra BEFORE you get to college, and we have had computers with spreadsheet programs readily available on college campuses now since the mid-1980s.
So I ask you, why is my university still assuming that everything will be calculated on a percentage basis and then curved to grades? For that matter, why are most of you just blindly assuming that everything should be done in percentages even though virtually every school in the US reports grades on a 4-point letter grade scale? There are a lot of reasons why the percentage-point system has problematic properties, but even if you have a good reason to like it, is it really that hard to understand why I’d like my system, or understand why I prefer it? Is it really that crazy to expect that to be an option in campus course software?
July 23, 2013
(reposting here to archive. Discussion is like to be on scatter.wordpress.com)
I freaked out recently when, after reviewing an article, I received a packet of FIVE (5!!!) reviews on the same article. I chewed out the editors for wasting my time and told them I would never review for their journal again. After an exchange (in which I got a little less testy), I told them I’d post my concerns to scatterplot and open a discussion on the topic. Although five was over the top and freaked me out, it has become pretty common now for me as a reviewer to get a packet with four reviews. No wonder we regular reviewers are feeling under the gun. The old calculation of two or even three reviews per article has gone by the wayside. The pressure for fast turnaround and the high turn-down or non-response rate among potential reviewers has led editors to send out articles to extra reviewers in the hopes of ending up with at least the minimum two or three.
But this is a death spiral. As a frequently-sought reviewer I get at least four requests a month, sometimes as many as eight, and I used to get more before I got so crabby. When I was young and eager, I was reviewing an article a week [and thus, by the way, having a huge influence on my specialty area], and I know some people who are keeping that pace. But at some point you burn out and say “no more.” I, like all other frequently-sought reviewers I know, turn down outright the requests from journals I don’t know for articles that sound boring, and then save up the other requests and once a month pick which articles I want to review. So the interesting-sounding articles from good journals get too many reviewers, while the boring-sounding articles from no-name journals get none. If journal editors respond to the non-response by reviewers to boring-sounding articles by sending out even more reviewer requests per article, our mailboxes will be flooded even more and the non-response rate and delayed-response rate by reviewers will go up even more. Senior scholars are asked to review six to eight (or more?) articles per month. You have to say no to most of the requests.
And then we have the totally out of hand R&R problem. I think it is completely immoral to send an R&R to ANY new reviewers. I know a young scholar with a perfectly good paper who is now on the 4th (!!!!) iteration of an R&R from ASR. Not because she has not satisfied the original reviewers, but because the editors keep sending each revision to a new set of reviewers in addition to the original reviewers and, of course, the new reviewers have a different perspective and a new set of suggestions for the paper, some of which cover ground that was gone over in one or more of the previous revisions. Not to mention the problem that R&R memos are now longer than the original articles!! We are no longer a discipline of article publishing, we are turning into a discipline of R&R memo-writing.
Something has to change. Senior scholars burn out and get reputations for being difficult, possibly because editors don’t know how many other people are asking them to do things. Junior scholars would want to review and wonder why nobody is asking them, and other junior scholars think they are being tapped a lot because they are getting four requests a year. Article-submitters (disproportionately junior scholars) whine and complain about slow turn-arounds, and imagine — what? I guess I don’t know what they imagine? Do they even understand what is happening on the reviewer side of the equation? I think some of the more clueless imagine that reviewers are just queuing up to write negative reviews about them and it is all the editors’ fault for not organizing things better.
My purpose in posting is to open the discussion. I think what is needed are some ground rules that would help the senior scholar problem. (1) Reviewer time is a scarce resource. Treat it as such. Do not waste people’s time. (2) No article is ever sent to more than three reviewers. Better is to send to two and ask for a third if there is a split vote. (3) If a reviewer fails to respond in a timely fashion, they get an email: please respond or we will send the article to someone else. (4) If an editor has three reviews, they immediately send a notice to anyone else they asked for a review saying “we have enough now” or, if you insist, “we have three reviews but they are mixed, and your opinion would help.” (5) If you get two reviews and the situation is obvious, tell anyone else you asked for a review “never mind.” (6) An R&R is sent back to the original reviewers and to NOBODY ELSE unless there is some very specific issue and the paper author is told at the time what the issue is and the category of additional reviewer who will be solicited. (7) Author angst about turn-around time is dealt with not by sending articles out to eight possible reviewers (!!!!) but by keeping authors informed of their status. Telling an author that they are having a hard time getting reviewers lets them know what is going on. (8) Tell reviewers you want a response to the “will you review?” email within two weeks and cancel the invitation if they do not respond within one week to the follow up to the initial request. Leaving the requests open just encourages the kind of gaming I described and increases the risk of wasting reviewers’ time with too many reviews.
To expand the pool of reviewers among junior scholars, it seems to me that there needs to be a database set up of potential reviewers. This would have to have cvs and samples of the person’s own publications/writing. Does anyone have an idea about how to get such a thing going?
Scatterplotters: Your thoughts?
February 5, 2013
The publisher emailed me last week to ask whether it isn’t time to just give up and admit the book is never going to get written. It’s not that I have done no work. I’ve done tons of work multiple times for nearly 10 years. I’ve generated hundreds of pages of text, hundreds of regression analyses, and more than 10,000 graphs. Four years ago I dug down, worked hard, and sent off a partial MS saying “I don’t know if this is a book. If it isn’t, just tell me so and I’ll let it go.” I was encouraged to go on but asked a question that led me to another round of analysis and a whole new set of findings and a totally different understanding of the main story. Two years ago there was another crisis: the publisher said it has to be finished by September or we’ll pull the plug. I dug down, did another revision of another partial MS and sent it off, again saying, I don’t know if this is a book. Maybe we should just give up. Nearly a year ago we had a “book meeting.” The basic response was: This isn’t a book. There is too much information, we don’t want all those details. It was pretty frustrating to hear that four years after I’d said that. I said I’d think about whether I could reshape things to pull the main narrative out. There is a narrative in there, but it is hard to see how it hangs together into a single simple story. And I’ve done this so many times, I just don’t think I can do it again. I’m tired of it.
I think it’s time to pull the plug, to salvage the fragments of what I’ve done and put them out in other ways. But it is hard to do. It is hard to decide that I’ve wasted so much of my time for the past 10 years working on a project that will never see the light of day. I can’t make myself send the email. I have to sit with this for a while.
For the publisher: don’t give a contract for a book to someone who has never written a book unless there is already a set of articles to build on or a good draft manuscript and outline. I’ve got (or used to have) a good track record as an article writer, but I have no track record as a book writer. My one book is a collection of articles and that was delivered five years late. Books and articles are different kinds of products and being good at writing one of them does not make you good at writing the other.
For the writer: don’t accept a contract for a book unless you know you can deliver it. It’s been clear for at least 8 years that I had no clear conception of what “the book” would be, and trying to write a book without a clear conception of the product is a recipe for disaster.
And another lesson. Academic work has to be shared and communicated to be meaningful.
May 31, 2012
I’m finally done with grading. Well almost done. I’m still dealing with grade appeals. So what’s on my mind is some suggestions about grading, and I may write several posts on this theme.
It is important to give students feedback along the way about what your records show for them, especially if the grade depends heavily on lots of small things like daily attendance or homework. Even for test scores and such it is good to let the students see what your records show. The fact is, we sometimes make mistakes in recording grades. A system that assumes you never make a mistake is a bad system. If a student is going to challenge the accuracy of your records, you’d like that to happen in a timely fashion, not after grades have been submitted. And you shouldn’t be happy about students getting the wrong grade just because they didn’t challenge you.One way to give students feedback is your school’s on-line grading system. I don’t use ours because the interface is slow, clunky, inflexible and cannot handle the way I grade. Instead, I find it easy to use Word and Excel for this.
If you are part of the Microsoft/Windows world, you can easily generate grade reports for your students using Excel (or Access), Word, and Outlook. This is easy to learn to do and produces very high student satisfaction. Here are the basics. The trick is to initiate the merge in Word and from a Word document link to the data source. Let’s assume you have your grade data in a spreadsheet. The column headings are identifiers like names and the grade components like tests, attendance, homework. The rows are the students. In Word, go to the “mailings” menu and the “select recipients” menu to link to the spreadsheet page with the data. The column headings will show up as merge fields in the merge field menu. You write your feedback form any way you wish, inserting merge fields as appropriate. You can lay it out as a table, or just free form text. Just don’t forget the field for the student’s name. Adding a student email field is very useful, too. In large classes, I have found it helpful also to have a field for section number and TA name. Dating the output is a good idea, too. Then push the button to merge to a new document and, presto, you have feedback sheets, one per student. This lets you show students what you have for them in the computer and gives them a chance to correct clerical errors in a timely fashion. You can use the preview buttons to see what the pages will look like before you merge, and it is a good idea to merge to a file instead of a printer so you can double-check the results before sacrificing trees. Also you’ll want to keep an electronic copy of what you sent to the students.
Once you see how to do it, you’ll realize how easy it is to give a tailored report that fits your own teaching style. You can include explanatory text telling people how to interpret their grades or whatever. You’ll also want to include instructions for what to do if there’s an error, and a deadline for correcting errors. When you send/give out the reports, tell students (preferably in the report) what to do if they think there is an error in the records. It will be easier for you if the procedure requires them to use the feedback form you gave them, either annotating a paper form or replying to an emailed form.
The next step can be a bit harder to get set up but saves paper and instructor hassle and once it works it will keep working. If you also have Outlook and get its options set correctly, you can mail merge to email directly from inside Word. If it works at all, it works very easily. You have to make sure that the student’s email address is one of the fields in your spreadsheet/database. At my office, the default configuration did not have this capability turned on in Outlook, but it was an easy tech support fix to get it turned on. You can test this feature now, while it is summer. Just set up a spreadsheet with name and email fields, and enter your own name and email and perhaps a couple of friends. I just used all three of my own email addresses. Then open Word and create a dummy document. Mine said: testing name <namefield> email <emailfield>. Then merge to email. If it worked, you’ll get the email, that easy. If you don’t get an email, it didn’t work. Tip: when it is for real, put yourself and your email address as the last line in your grade records so you can tell whether the email merge worked when you send to students. For some reason I do not understand, this only works for me if I choose the html option in mailing, and not in the text-only option.
A couple of tech notes: (1) This works the same way if you happen to have your grades in Access instead of a spreadsheet. You might be tempted to use the Access report function. Trust me, it is MUCH easier to initiate the report in Word. (2) If your grades are in a multi-page spreadsheet, you’ll need to create an export page that reads from the different data pages. As far as I can tell, Word cannot run a mail merge from more than one spreadsheet page (or Access table) at a time. Or do a separate report for each spreadsheet page. (3) Computed values will come through with 10 decimal places unless you overtly format them to fewer decimal places back in the spreadsheet. EDIT (4) Learned the hard way. Word reads ONLY the FIRST record in deciding how to format a field. If a field may have text or numbers, you need to make sure it has text as long as any longest record will have in the FIRST record. This probably means you’ll want to create a dummy first record for this purpose.
Please feel free to use comments to explain how keep records and give feedback in other software packages, for example by using the report functions in a statistical package. I was very sadly and slowly dragged into using MS Word because I really prefer WordPerfect for most tasks, but MS Word’s mail merge function is one of its strengths. I could never get a WP mail merge to work without several trails, while a Word mail merge always works on the first try. My university supplies me with the MS products and Windows machines, so I have not used Open Office or Linux or Mac products, although I assume you can do the same thing more or less easily with them as with the Microsoft products. I actually use Thunderbird rather than Outlook for ordinary email, but Word won’t merge to Thunderbird, and the Thunderbird mail merge isn’t sophisticated enough to pick up data from other programs.
November 7, 2011
Wherein I wonder about a sentence, learn a lot, and end up with more questions.
Today’s first hymn was titled “Great Spirit God” (one of two translations of Wakantanka Taku Nitawa in our hymnal). The music note said the tune is Lacquiparle, “Native American melody (Dakota) Adapt. Joseph R. Renville, 1842.” This hymnal has a short background note for each hymn. This one said: “Recollecting the accounts told by his grandfather and others, Sidney Byrd stated:
‘This hymn was sung by thirty-eight Dakota Indian prisoners of war as they went to the gallows at Mankato, Minnesota, on December 26, 1862, in the largest mass execution in American history.”
That caught my attention! The minister’s introduction mentioned the Native American provenance but not the scene of people singing it while they were being hanged.
When I got home, I looked it up. The note is a pointer to the 1862 Sioux uprising, one of the hundreds of battles in the three-hundred year war of the conquest of North America by Europeans. From the point of view of many native people, especially Dakotas, those executed were martyred freedom fighters, while from the point of view of European and Euro-American settlers at the time they were murderers who brutalized innocent and peaceful settlers. From what I read, it seems likely that the men really were singing as they were marched to their hanging with linen bags over their heads, but just what they were singing and what it meant is less clear. Tracking down the story behind the note is a reminder of our brutal and complex multi-voiced history. I’m not sure what it means for us English-speaking Euro-American Christians to sing the hymn. Are we singing a native tune just because it is beautiful and haunting? To broaden our awareness of the multi-cultural scope of the Christian community? To express solidarity with native people? To honor those executed as martyrs to the faith? To apologize in singing for destroying their communities and taking their land? Is it an act of cultural appropriation for us to sing this tune? Or an act of cultural appreciation?
The hymn’s composer, Joseph Renville, was the son of a French father and a Dakota mother who was educated by Catholic priests and initiated the founding of a town at Lac qui Parle [French for “lake that speaks” which sounds significant but seems to have nothing to do with the story] in Minnesota in the 1820 and invited missionaries into it in the 1830s. He died in 1849. Renville is generally credited with turning three traditional Dakota tunes into Christian hymns in the Dakota language, including this one. Whether the tune was considered sacred by the Dakota before it was made into a Christian hymn is unclear. Some sources seem to imply it was a traditional death or funeral song. The first English paraphrase of the Christian hymn was made at the request of the national YWCA in 1929 by R. Philip Frazier, a Congregational minister who was the grandson of Artemas Ehnamani, a Santee Dakota who was converted to Christianity while in prison after the 1862 conflict; Philip’s father Frances was also a minister. Philip Frazier and his wife Susie (who edited a collection of hymns) spread the English version so that it is now a popular inclusion in many American hymnals and songbooks. It is perhaps worth noting that the words in English include generic references to God (or Great Spirit) and a Creator with no mention of Jesus or specifically Christian theology.
The occasion for the mass execution was the aftermath of the Sioux uprising of 1862 in Minnesota. The short version is that some Sioux started the war because their annuities were delayed and they were hungry and there was growing pressure on the tribe from European settlers. The uprising started with a small attack but grew and spread; several hundred European settlers were killed. There were Sioux who opposed the war and cooperated with bringing the rebels to trial after they were defeated. There was a formal trial with witnesses. There was also an intervention of President Lincoln, who transmuted the sentences of most of the 200+ fighters but not the last 38, who were supposedly guilty of killing or raping women or children. There are disputes about whether those executed were guilty of attacks on women and children, but there is no dispute that quite a few European settlers were killed one way or another. After this event, the Dakota (Sioux) were all exiled from their homeland and sent west. Some have returned to the area as individuals. Below I linked to a number of detailed accounts of the uprising and subsequent trial and execution.
According to the accounts, the executed men were singing what some observers called a “death song” for several days before their execution. Catholic priests and perhaps other missionaries were apparently in the prisons seeking converts. On the day of the execution, the condemned sang as linen bags were placed over their heads and they were marched to the gallows. What they were singing is less clear. Was it Wakantanka Taku Nitawa, the Dakota-language hymn written by Renville in 1842? If so, did they understand this as a Christian hymn, or as a traditional Dakota sacred death song, or both? If they were singing that tune, were they singing Renville’s words, or older words? Were they like the early Christian martyrs who shocked the Romans by cheerfully facing death? Were they extolling Christianity or the Dakota culture? Were they mourning their own demise and that of their people? Were they singing in submission to God or in defiance of their executioners? One detailed contemporary account from an anti-Dakota writer in a St. Paul newspaper describes the men’s cheerfulness and singing in the days before their execution as evidence of the fraudulence of their supposed conversions to Christianity. In describing their song as they marched to the gallows, he calls it a “hideous Hi-yi-yi, Hi-yi-yi’” and describes one singer making one last vulgar expression of defiance as he gestures that his private parts will be found near someone’s severed head. The hymn is now sung often on December 26 by native people in Minnesota and the Dakotas in memory and honor of the men who were executed and went bravely? joyously? faithfully? defiantly? to their death.
An audio on hymntime of the haunting melody accompanied by the Frazier English paraphrase of the Renville words
History of the hymn that seems to be an orphan document with no external links on the Chippewa County (location of Lac qui Parle) Historical Society web site; my source for information about Frazier.
Lengthy accounts of the 1862 uprising and the trial and execution in
- Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakota_War_of_1862 ,
- a web page maintained by law professor Douglas Linder at the University of Missouri-Kansas City about famous trials that includes lots of primary documents
- An article written by Chris Mato Nunpa, a professor of American Indian Studies and Dakota Studies at Soutwest State University in Minnesota about the execution for nativenewsonline.org which publishes events of interest for every day of the year.
- an account in a pro-Indian site that blames the Minnesota governor for the war and the executions
The fact of singing seems to be widely attested. An eye-witness account published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press of the execution by an anti-Native writer (who also includes extensive descriptions of the condemned men saying good bye to their loved ones) http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/dakota/Trials_of_Prisoners.html .
Many other accounts mention the men singing on their way to the gallows, although not what they were singing. E.g. this standard history from the Mankato boosters http://www.greatermankato.com/community-areahistory.php?navigationid=91.
As an example of how this event has become an important symbol, my Internet searches turned up the December 2008 newsletter of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, a 28-page newsletter which is otherwise primarily devoted to pictures of Christmas parties, public service announcements and other upbeat community news. Page 5 is half an “in rememberance” section that mentions this an other December events in American Indian history in short paragraphs and half a picture of men aiming rifles announcing that the Indian Veterans Post will have a 21 Gun Salute on December 26th at 10am in remembrance of the 38 Dakotas at the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Page 6 is devoted to listing the names of all 38 men who were executed. Page 26 reprints a letter to a newspaper advocating that Minnesota admit that in creating the state the Dakota nation was destroyed and giving an extended critique of the fairness of the 1862 trials, in the process rebutting someone who had claimed otherwise. http://www.fsst.org/documents/Newsltrs%202008/fsst_newsletter_january_2008.pdf It is especially of sociological interest to see how historical memory and current social news are comfortably intertwined in this home grown internal document for a local community.
A report from a 1987 reconciliation project in Minnesota mentions that many Dakota believe Lac qui Parle was sung by Dakota at the hanging and also discusses the feelings of different people who have ties to the events, including Dakota who rebelled and those who cooperated with convicting the rebels. Singing the hymn together is mentioned as one part of meetings of reconciliation. http://www.dowlinconsulting.com/images/%20%27%2087%20U.S.-Dakota%20Conflict%20%20.pdf
I encountered a variety of other mentions of the singing of this hymn at community gatherings among the Dakota in December that referenced the memory of the executions.
The additional note on the other version of Wakantanka Taku NItawa in my hymnal says “Probably the best-known Native American Hymn, “Many and Great” is sung with great reverence by the Dakota people in worship, at communion, and for births, funerals, and burials. Renville helped establish the Lac qui Parle mission in Minnesota. Frazier, a Native American, was a Congregational minister.”
April 27, 2011
There’s still a lot of protest and politics going on in Wisconsin, although the national attention has turned elsewhere. At least 8 state senators (5 Republican 3 Democrat) will face recall elections. The “collective bargaining bill” and our 6-8% effective pay cuts (by way of deductions for retirement and health insurance) are delayed by a court case.
One of the ugly elements of this struggle that has not been national news is the part relating to the University. Part of Gov. Walker’s infamous budget bill bomb was a restructuring of the University of Wisconsin to separate out UW Madison as a public authority. He had met privately with Chancellor Martin* to get her proposal, and included it in his budget bill along with a huge funding cut. UW System cried foul, as they’d agreed to bargain in a block and accused Chancellor Martin of bad faith — a claim she disputed, saying that the Governor had asked her not to talk to others and telling her that he would talk to the System people, and that the System president had also had private meetings with the Governor that he did not disclose to others. The Chancellor’s story sounds plausible to me — there is other evidence that Gov. Walker’s plan was to take all opponents by surprise with a blitzkrieg.
Politically, Walker’s agenda is pretty clearly to sow dissent among those who would otherwise be united in opposing him. I don’t think even Republicans are arguing that the inclusion of the proposal in the budget bill was a good-hearted effort to do what is best for the University. They way it was done was obviously calculated to embarrass Chancellor Martin. However, Chancellor Martin and a lot of faculty do think that the public authority is something they have wanted and worked for for a long time, and support the bill.** Other faculty are lining up against the bill. Some argue that the whole public authority idea is a bad one, and basically argue in favor of continued populist control of the university. (It is my impression that most of these are fairly young, as I personally have a hard time imagining how anybody can say with a straight face that the rules we’ve been living under could possibly be good for us, but there are some older people who say this who seem to be guided primarily by ideological principle.) Others who basically agree about the need for a different structure argue that the proposal isn’t the right one to go to, that a major restructuring at this moment in history would put too much power into Governor-appointed regents who cannot be trusted to defend academic freedom and other moral virtues. Former chancellors and provosts are coming out on different sides of this issue.
All of these discussions among faculty are occurring in an extremely dangerous and conflictual political context in which the one thing that is certain is that there are few in state government who have the university’s well-being as much of a priority.
Some background. In the 1970s, the University of Wisconsin – Madison was merged with other state colleges and universities into the University of Wisconsin system. The system includes a half dozen universities and another half dozen two year schools. There are a scattering of vocational master’s programs around other campuses, but only Milwaukee and Madison have PhD programs. There are longstanding grievances among UW-Madison faculty about our status in UW System and our treatment in state government, with many older faculty feeling that state resources have been unfairly diverted from Madison to other campuses and that the state government has materially hurt UW-Madison with politically-motivated meddling from the state legislature. Among the things that have particularly galled me are having our raise pool explicitly voted on in the state legislature, having the legislature successfully mandate the creation of new programs and so-far unsuccessfully threaten to abolish others, and having the legislature on three different occasions that I know of (and possibly more than I do not know of) seize money from a university account that had been set up as a no-state-tax-dollars-involved profit center and put it in the state’s general revenue fund. University budgeting has become defensive and obscurantist as a consequence — money cannot be accumulated into any kind of reserve for fear of seizure, and bookkeeping becomes an exercise in money laundering and money hiding to prevent the state legislature from finding it. Also we get to be a political football. In previous years, when the legislature was of a different party from the governor, it was common practice for one side to try to “get” the other by throwing a political bomb at the university.
As I have debated this issue with grad students (who are mostly lined up in opposition to the plan), I have been trying to unravel the threads of interest involved. The students tend to emphasize concerns about tuition. Issues of access and affordability are real ones. They are issues now, as state funding continues to decline. All predictions about how this issue would play out under different structures are entirely hypothetical. One group argues that to change from being a public university is to give up forever on the idea of more tax dollar subsidies for tuition. Another group argues that the only way to increase affordability is to raise tuition simultaneously with raising financial aid — effectively to charge a sliding scale that depends on family income; people who advocate this disagree about which structure is most likely to do this. As that is all hypothetical, that particular debate is solely one of opinions.
But the whole tuition debate — one I am sympathetic to as a progressive — cuts entirely differently from the issue of what is good for an elite research university. If my goal is access to high quality education for youth of modest means, wouldn’t I just stop funding an elite research university entirely? Wouldn’t that access goal be better met with an institution staffed by lower-paid faculty teaching three or four courses a semester than by an institution staffed by higher-paid faculty whose major interest and time commitment is to their research/scholarship? The trend at elite schools is toward inequality: higher and higher salaries for the high-performing research faculty, and more and more teaching done by lower paid adjunct faculty.
One core value question is whether you support the idea of an elite research institution or not. Should there be major public research institutions at all? And if so, what does it take to maintain them? Can an elite research university survive with an egalitarian ethos in the face of competition from the unapologetic elitist private institutions? The “public” schools that are thriving that I know of have gotten some kind of independence from their state government oversights. Are there any models out there of thriving public elite universities that have not half-privatized? Chancellor Martin thinks this change is needed for UW as a research university. Political critics here argue that this allows for growing corporate control of research. The trouble is that that train has already left the station. There is essentially zero state funding for research. Research funding is federal, or corporate. As public money — both state and federal — have declined, the university has been increasingly reliant on private donor fundraising. Read corporate influence. That is happening now, has been happening for the past twenty years. Public money dries up, corporate money fills the void. This is a real issue, but debates about the current bill (in my view) are irrelevant to it.
To the graduate students reading this, I ask you: are you advocating the end of research institutions and the idea of graduate training that is associated with them? Just where do you think graduate school is going to come from, if not the elite research institutions? What exactly is your model?
Another interest group — one whose interests have been glaringly absent from all the public discussions — are the staff of the university. They are currently part of the state civil service system and are mostly unionized, except for managers and some professionals. The bill calls for “flexibility” in staffing, and is utterly silent on what that would mean for staff. In the short run, I think they are supposed to be guaranteed to stay in the state retirement and health care systems, but I know nothing about what would happen to the rules about bidding on jobs, job security, etc. It is not clear what would be good for them. Private universities do not have a good track record for treatment of their staff. If I were staff, it would look to me like a possible choice between the frying pan and the fire.
I find myself getting angry at students who are organizing anti-chancellor rallies around simple-minded slogans about tuition or privatization/corporate influence that seem to me to be more oriented to building up their sense of themselves as radical activists than to any real interest in what is actually happening at the university. This is doubtless unfair, as I think many students are scrambling to get themselves up to speed on this tangle of issues. And, I remind myself, we don’t all have the same interests. For that matter, my own interests are conflicted around these issues, and I suspect many students are in the same boat. In a very complex, volatile and dangerous political environment with a lot of different interests and interest groups, it can be very difficult to chart the best course of action.
*I am pointedly calling her Chancellor Martin and not Biddy because I see some sexism in the way her first name is used where just the surname would typically be used for a man in her position.
** It seems pretty clear that the faculty or regents who wanted this change were the ones who gave Chancellor Martin her “marching orders” three years ago, and that she did not have enough background to be able to plug into the diversity of opinion on the campus. She ran into a buzz saw a couple years ago around reorganizing how campus research is administered, where it was evident there were similar problems.
April 2, 2011
This is a pretty interesting read on a lot of levels. The Republican police officer tells his story about how he watched his plumber friend get rich while he just got by on his much lower public police salary, then watched his plumber friend go broke in the housing bust, and how his plumber friend is now blaming HIM (the cop) for his (the plumber’s) financial woes. Here’s a short quote from the much longer piece, which lays out a lifetime of financial ups and downs for both of them.
Then February 11th came. Governor Walker, the man I voted for. The man who was going to put Doyle to bed and turn the ship around, spoke. His budget repair bill was announced and it was the shot heard around the country. He was now calling ME the haves, for being a public employee! I was the problem that the state is broke from my huge amounts of income and my retirement account. ME?? I thought. All of a sudden, I am the bad guy because I work for “the big bad government”. For 25 years, I was the “have not” while Kevin was the “have”. In a matter of days, I was now the reason that Kevin lost his house. We talked about the situation and he became upset that I still had my little house while he did not! He cried “foul” that “his tax dollars” padded my pockets while he had to work for all his money. “I didn’t work for my money?”, I thought.
The plumber is now even more right-wing, the cop now sees himself as moderate and feels betrayed by Walker. In the middle is the gripe about the “welfare leeches” who don’t want to work for anything, which justify the Republican politics. Race isn’t named, but it sure is a subtext. “I didn’t think you’d come after ME, just those lazy poor people.”
March 11, 2011
The sociology grad students who occupied the Capitol have been writing some great analytic reflective pieces on police-protester interactions. Capitol Police Chief Tubbs formed personal relationships with the protesters and followed the principles of negotiated management of the protest. The police were generally on the same side as the protesters, but never refused to follow orders while on duty. The protesters (correctly) saw themselves as having cooperative and friendly relations with the police. This made a huge and at times rowdy protest a very safe event for everyone involved. But as the orders came down to shut down the protest, the habits of cooperation and compliance let repression do its work. Here are a couple of the reflective pieces I’ve seen today:
Zach Baumgart: the-elephant-in-the-room-for-our-peaceful-protests Documents the steps that repression took.
Elizabeth Wrigley-Field lessons-of-the-capitol-struggle Critically reflects on protesters’ unwillingness to even test the boundaries of police “rules.” (The picture of Elizabeth being carried out of the Assembly foyer made national news.)
These pieces are important reflections for social movements studies.
And here is some gripping footage of the entry to the assembly chambers being cleared. It totals over 30 minutes but is well worth the time:
People who spent the night and are blocking the door to the assembly chamber are being removed. Protesters and police are playing by the same script. Both know they have the option of walking out under their own power, being escorted out while walking, or being dragged out. Protesters are varying in their level of resistance. There are dozens of observers present with cameras. Chief Tubbs is telling protesters he cannot open the doors to the Capitol under they leave — the reason for this is clear. The protesters correctly understand that if they agree to leave, the police will put up a huge guard around the Assembly doors to prevent their return to the area. The police also do not want to deal with any more people until they get the protesters out of the Assembly area. Even legislators are not being allowed in through the doors. Some protesters are trying to persuade the police to refuse orders to clear the area. Notice that the police have overwhelming force. Even if a protester individually resists arrest, they do not have the numbers to hold the area. One thing I notice in the footage of clearing the area by Fitzgerald’s office: one trooper pats another and says, “Slow down. Take it easy. Do you need a break?” I heard from others that Elizabeth said that the trooper who carried her out was crying.
There is also the footage of the Democrat assembly people being locked out of the chamber, and the Republicans magically appearing from a secret entrance.
If you understand both what the protesters are trying to do and have been trained to do, and what the police are trying to do and have been trained to do, you can see repression in action, even as the police themselves are trying to be as gentle as possible about it. If everyone follows orders, the outcome is determined.
I also wandered around later in the day and noticed all the doors tied shut from the inside. Fire hazard.
March 9, 2011
After insisting for three weeks that smashing public worker unions is a necessary “budget repair” measure, the Wisconsin Republicans went into Executive Session this evening to delete the fiscal parts of the “budget repair bill” (which lack a Constitutional quorum without the absent Democratic Senators) and voted to pass the non-fiscal parts, including most collective bargaining rights for public workers. Reports are that a thousand people converged on the Capitol and that protesters inside the Capitol opened the doors to let in other protesters and the police could not stop them. The Capitol is now re-occupied and Facebook is full of calls to people to head to the Capitol, although the twitter stream seems to say that Madison teachers are being advised to go to work tomorrow. The Assembly is scheduled to vote at 8am tomorrow. Twitter feed seems to say that the Assembly hall has been occupied by protesters. Part of the rush appears to be that the legislature plans to recess for a month beginning tomorrow.
March 6, 2011
Warning: this essay is partly a personal religious reflection although it also contains significant sociological content. In it I reflect on a sermon calling protest a spiritual exercise and a meeting about training Black young people to avoid challenging or talking to police and the significance of the juxtaposition of these two events.
The Madison protests reconvened this weekend without me. A friend estimates 20,000 at Saturday’s rally featuring Michael Moore – a large crowd by any normal standard, although a decline from last weekend’s high of somewhere between 70,000 and 120,000 (depending on whose estimate you believe). Today the pro-Walker and anti-Walker protests were said to be a few hundred each. The real action is out state, with recall efforts and other attempts to “flip” Republican Senators, as well as the escalating pressures on the Democrats in Illinois – their pay is frozen and they are being fined $100 a day, among other attempts to force their return without any concessions. Walker’s refusal to negotiate on any point is both alienating the state’s moderates and raising his cachet in national right-wing circles.
There was a guest sermon at church today – the pastor’s brother, a Mennonite activist from Pennsylvania who spoke on engagement as a spiritual practice, the idea that instead of separating the spiritual from the world, you should be spiritual in the world. The scripture was Isaiah 58:3-7 :
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
You find God when you are working for justice and helping the poor and oppressed. His own current political agenda is the movement against gun violence, which is trying to target merchants whose businesses are major sources of the guns that end up being used in urban crimes. The sermon was full of positive comments about the Wisconsin protest and how God is on our side as we challenge authority and work for the poor and oppressed. He wore a “We are Wisconsin . . . And we are winning” t-shirt. During joys and concerns, one congregant stood up to give thanks for her son, who’d been one of the protesters sleeping inside the capitol and then outside in the snow and rain – everyone clapped. If you think Walker’s budget cuts are good or that public employee unions are bad, you’d feel very uncomfortable in that congregation right now. We have a taken for granted assumption that we are all on the same side in this. I couldn’t help but remind myself that activists whose foundation is religious are often on the “other” side, supporting issues I really oppose, and the ways in which their communities surround them with people who don’t challenge their assumptions.
Don’t get me wrong. I think I’m right and the people around me are right. I truly and sincerely believe what I believe. And I truly do believe that we are doing the work of God when we work for justice. But so do the people on the “other side” of issues I care about think that God is on their side. I can’t help but note that God mostly tells people to do the things that a whole system of socialization and experience has taught us are the right things to do. It really isn’t enough just to engage, it matters what you are engaged about, what “side” you are on, and how you go about your engagement. Content matters, not just form. I’m struck every Sunday about how the hymns we sing, the messages we hear, the content of our joys and concerns all reinforce one set of understandings about what Christianity is “really about,” while other people’s churches emphasize other messages from the same core texts.
Or, backing away from religion to the broader context of protest and rebellion – it isn’t enough just that people protest. It matters what they are protesting about, what their goals are. The same vessel of protest carries both the tea party protests and this current mobilization. If you oppose the mobilization, you’d stress that the energy of the effort is union members organizing to defend unions – and you’d be right. It is primarily a mobilization of people through their well-organized channels for the purpose of maintaining the right to have those channels. It’s a defensive mobilization. Can we, should we bring the same concepts to bear on protests we like and those we don’t like?
The way protest and activism are being lifted up, and the comfort we all have with protest, brought me back into reflection about my other weekend activity. I spent Saturday morning at a training session for religious people to work on issues of racial disparity in criminal justice, part of an effort to found a local Gamaliel Foundation group. (I’m an attendee, not an organizer.) There were two choices. One group went off to learn about how to observe court sessions, to be a witness holding the system accountable.
I stayed for the presentation on how young people are being taught to avoid escalating encounters with police. The speaker is the former gang member and drug dealer I mentioned in a previous post. One component of the plan is small cards (the size of business cards) advising young people how to behave when stopped by police. The card contains a (small) color graphic of a tall white person in a police uniform facing a shorter black person. It says (in rather small print, obviously):
“Along the continuum of decision points in the juvenile justice system from initial law enforcement contact through disposition and beyond, the decision to arrest is the first and arguably the most powerful indicator of future impact on minority youth, their families and affected communities. Upon initial contact with law enforcement respectfully provide your name, name and phone number of your parent/guardian and clearly state that you wish to remain silent until your parent/guardian is present.”
The young people are urged to give their true name (to give a false name is obstruction of justice, a felony) and then to shut up. In trying to explain or defend themselves, young people often provide police with the basis for criminal charges. The idea is for the young people to carry the cards on them so they can hand them to the police if they are stopped – the hope is that the police will recognize that the young people have been told to do this and thus, hopefully defuse police anger at the young people for refusing to talk. I’m wondering if youth are also taught breathing exercises or other techniques to calm their anger and frustration when stopped unfairly. Survival here means NOT protesting, not rebelling, not standing up to power. The “protest” is to resist becoming a crime statistic. The adult trainer is very clear that sometimes the young people have done something wrong, but they will make the situation worse if they talk to the police and confess. It is also important for young people to understand who police are and that talking back to police is very different from talking back to other adults. Another card tells them that Educational Resource Officers in schools are real police officers and they must not talk to them without their parents present.
So young Black people need to be taught not to challenge authority as a survival strategy, just as they were taught in the South before 1960. It is a necessary lesson if these kids are going to make it out of adolescence with their hopes intact, but I reflect again (as I have so often before at these kinds of meetings) just how much self-control African Americans need to be able to get through the day in a racially-stratified society. How bad White kids are allowed to be and to get away with it, and how little tolerance Black kids are offered for misbehavior. And I cannot help but reflect that all this energy devoted to avoiding confrontation with police and avoiding arrest limits the capacity for Black protest mobilization.
And it is not just children. As I mentioned before and confirmed in further conversations, one of the Black parolees who was supposed to be speaking at these events has been picked up on a parole hold each time he asks his agent for permission to go to an event addressing issues of racial disparity in criminal justice And “driving while Black” stops – endemic in this community, as elsewhere, constantly force Black adults to endure disruptions to their plans and the self-control to remain calm in the face of unwarranted surveillance: Where are you going? Where are you coming from? Why are you here on this street at this time? Account for yourself. Do you have any drugs or weapons?
I need not to over-do this, I need to put it in context. Black people are agents, and there are lots of Black folks challenging political structures as well as trying to protect young people and provide help to those damaged by our system. As I have mentioned before, there is constant attempt by Black adults to create a sense of personal and political efficacy among young Black people. In fact, the speaker in our group came with his wife (who is also his business manager) and his small children. He said he makes a point of bringing his small children to meetings because he wants them to see him doing his work. Another Black attendee also brought a small child. People are working hard to train up their children for active, engaged citizenship.
But still, the contrast is looming. Tea partier or unionist – the carriers of protest in the past few years in this country have been overwhelmingly White. Look around at who feels entitled to protest. Look at who feels safe enough to turn out into the streets in large numbers. And then look around to see whose voices are missing from the public assembly. Look around for who teaches their children they are entitled to speak up, and who has to teach their children how to survive repression by keeping quiet when confronted with police.
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? “
March 2, 2011
Preview: I wrote this chronologically. At the bottom I give extensive discussion to an incident in which a Republican was surrounded by an angry crowd, an event that is likely to get circulated in some arenas.
Quite a day. Despite a court injunction issued this morning that the Capitol should be open, the Capitol stayed in lockdown all day today. Wisconsin’s Capitol building is normally open to the public. The Constitution says that legislators cannot bar citizens from the Capitol, and another law requires that the Capitol be open to the public when the State Supreme Court is in session, which it is now. Walker’s Dept of Administration challenged the injunction and argued that they were in compliance because a small number of protesters were allowed inside and assembly members could escort 8 people at a time to and from their offices. A court hearing on the matter began at 2:30 this afternoon and was still going on when Walker delivered his budget speech at 4.
As I have tried to convey, and you should be able to see from many first-hand accounts by participants and reporters, the mood of the protest before the Capitol was locked was largely celebratory and well-ordered. This account a Huffington Post is one outsider’s experience of several days inside the Capitol. There are dozens like it to be found. People brought their children to the protests. There was a lot of intentional crowd-management going on all along. The regular “thank you” chants to the police and cleaning crews and the ubiquity of “peaceful protest” signs and exhortations to ignore people you disagree with were all part of the emergent culture. The crowd last Saturday was pushing 100,000 in a heavy snow storm! It was the place to be if you were not sick like I was. You should try to locate a cache of photos from they day. Amazing. From a high like that to the crash of the locked Capitol.
The Capitol today was surreal. Normally a vibrant part of downtown, it looked more like a scene from a military putsch. A large orange fence cordoned off the plaza in front of the State Street entrance, barring citizens from being anywhere near these main doors. The controlled entrance was at the opposite side of the building. About a dozen officers pulled from police and sheriff departments all around the state stood in a row, “guarding” the door and checking passes. (After I’d watched them for a while, I heard one mutter to the other that two men could have done the job.) When I arrived at 2, there was a noisy crowd of perhaps a thousand people shouting “let us in” and inveighing against the Governor. I wandered to the north side, where there was an exit door being casually guarded by four out of town sheriffs. I asked them what they thought. They said they were not allowed to discuss politics while on the job. I said, “fair enough.” But then they muttered that they thought the situation was a bad thing to see. They got called inside, and the last one left, before leaving, said: “I’m from a union family.” Repeatedly I heard police complaining among themselves. The Dane County Sheriff issued a press release that he was refusing to send any more officers to the Capitol because the Department of Administration would not explain why the doors were locked and he did not want his officers “in the position of being palace guards.” The Dept of Administration seems to be planning to have the new restrictions in place for the long hall, as they opened up a new web site today to explain their policies. Looks like citizens who oppose the governor are no longer going to be allowed into the Capitol. (OK, I can be slightly balanced. The Capitol is a big place, a lot of people work there, including the Supreme Court and a lot of other groups who are not the Governor. It is true that it must be quite difficult to get work done with drumming and chanting going on all the time and 8000 people crammed in all available spaces.)
The celebratory mood was gone, and there was a lot more anger around today. As it became time for Walker’s speech, the crowd was moved over to the State Street side to make as much noise as possible as close to the assembly hall as possible. I stayed behind to watch the police and door. Mostly things were orderly. At one point, a big White guy was giving a Black officer a hard time, asking “so what would happen if I just tried to walk past you?” The officer kept saying, “I’m just here doing my job,” and when asked how he was, said “I’m fine.” A protest marshal was right next to the guy, repeating “peaceful protest.” I saw a couple of marshals signal each other and I heard one say to the other “that guy is trying to provoke the crowd.” Pretty soon they were both in there intervening, and someone started a “thank you cops” chant. The incident broke up. I left shortly thereafter, while the speech was still going on.
There’s some gripping footage on Youtube of the crowd turning ugly today (after the speech, it looks like) that begins in a way that will be all over right-wing media but as it progresses should also be a training film for nonviolence workshops: a Republican Senator Grothman wanders into the crowds and people start chasing him, shouting “shame, shame.” Some people are shouting the f-word. You can hear the protest marshals shouting “don’t touch him” and “peaceful protest” but it’s kind of noisy and ugly. If you look, you can see the orange marshal shirts trying to get close. Then a Democrat Rep Hulsey in the orange t-shirt appears and puts his arm around his colleague and the two of them are surrounded by marshals. No police anywhere in sight — they are guarding the doors, although I’m sure they could do no better than the protest marshals. The rest of the footage is gripping. There is an angry element in that crowd and it takes several minutes before the marshals get the situation under control and the legislator can be escorted out of the situation by fire fighters. But it is gradually de-escalated and the chants of “peaceful protest” win the day. Here’s the link. It is 12 minutes and definitely worth watching to the end if you have any research or personal interest in protest. Here’s a local news account of the incident from the Cap Times : http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/health_med_fit/vital_signs/article_14946c20-448b-11e0-9529-001cc4c03286.html Note that it makes no mention at all of the protest marshals, although it does talk about the efforts of the protesters to keep people calm, and the Republican himself says he was not afraid.
And the budget message? Truly horrible and vindictive. Pretty much everything bad you can imagine. It feels like Armageddon. In this state, local government and education get most of their money from the state under rules that prohibit them from raising local taxes: the proposed budget makes deep cuts in both that can only be met by cutting people’s salaries. Job loss for state workers is part of the plan. And much more. And remember, even the Wall Street Journal reports that Wisconsin’s fiscal problems are modest.
Is there hope? I’ve previously noted my pessimism. But I do see a little hope. The Draconian character of the proposed budget is so extreme and so harmful to much of the state that it is possible that some Republic legislators will recoil from some of its excesses. It also occurred to me that all those statewide police who’ve spent the last 10 days in Madison drawing overtime and fraternizing with the protesters — especially the ones putting on “cops for labor” t-shirts when off duty — may influence their friends and neighbors when they head home. Walker has his supporters, to be sure, but right now it looks like the middle, including some Republicans, think he has gone overboard. I’m not sure any of this is enough to break Republican party discipline and prevent most of the damage. But those Senators are still out of state, and the longer this goes on, the lower Walker’s public support.
White-hot mobilization like the past two weeks can’t go on. Something has to shift. People are trying to figure out what is next.
Edit: Here’s a description of the lockdown from inside the Capitol.
February 28, 2011
It’s getting tense today in Madison. The Department of Administration (not the Capitol Police) has issued a series of orders that have the effect of not allowing protesters into the Capitol and of making things tough for the few still inside. People who are authorized to enter by a legislator are being escorted in and out, not permitted to stay and join the protest. There are rumors that the small numbers still inside are being played on national media (FOX anyone?) as a sign of diminished protest enthusiasm. The police and protesters are trying to work ways around this, but the police are following orders and are apparently unwilling not to follow orders. Protesters accuse the Governor of trying to force a confrontation between police and protesters. There are actually lines in the Wisconsin Constitution that say that the Capitol must be open to the public so groups are filing suit to get court orders to reopen the Capitol. In short, even police who side with the protesters can engage in repression if they follow orders. The Governor will be giving his budget message tomorrow and he is hoping to have a clear field. A rally was called for 6.
Although I’ve been sick, my spouse and I decided to go to the 6pm rally for a while. It’s been in the 20s today — not all that bad for here — but it is supposed to get down to 12 overnight. (That’s in Fahrenheit, or -11 for the rest of the world.) It is clear that the goal of clearing the Capitol is to get dissident voices out for the Governor’s budget message tomorrow. Rumors are flying. All over Facebook is the claim that I’ve been unable to verify, that the Capitol Police Chief (under the authority of the Department of Administration (DOA), which has been issuing the “clear out the Capitol” rules and misleading press releases) has been replaced by the head of the newly-appointed head of the State Patrol (under the Department of Transportation), who is the father of two key Republican legislators. It is clear that the Dept of Admin has been issuing orders over the head of the Chief of Capitol Police, who himself issued a statement earlier today that he did not arrest overnight protesters because they were doing nothing wrong. But there has been no official announcement that someone with an appointment in the Dept of Transportation is now in charge of the Capitol Police. Nor any announcement that the Chief of Capitol Police has been fired. [Edit: Finally Facebook has a report from one of our grads who talked directly to the Chief and asked him if he's been fired. He said no, he' has not been fired.]
Another rumor circulating this evening and spoken from the dais is that “tea party” protesters would be smuggled into the gallery for Walker’s budget speech tomorrow via an underground tunnel from the office building a block away. There’s been remarkably little evidence of tea party folks anywhere. This just does not seem to be their issue. (Although there was one old guy wandering the crowd speaking to individuals tonight who seemed to be trying to stir up trouble by calling the speakers “porkers,” i.e. labor leaders who just fed at the trough. Nobody around me was taking his bait.) But as I thought about it later, it seems rather likely that Walker would issue special invitations to his friends to try to pack the gallery. I don’t know that there is a tunnel between the two buildings, but it wouldn’t be crazy for there to be one — it is pretty cold here in the winter. So the issue for tomorrow is who will get into the Capitol for a seat in the gallery, which is generally first-come-first-served.
DOA rules have been permitting few or no people to join the protesters already inside, so the ranks inside have been declining as people leave for their jobs and other obligations. There are relatively few protesters still left inside (about 50 today, I think, down from several hundred last night), but there are TAA and sociology grads among them. I ran into some TAA leaders outside in the cold at the rally, and they told me that they are in contact with “our” people inside, and that as far as they knew, things are going ok inside.
Today’s rally was obviously ad hoc. There was a crowd that I’d estimate to be in the hundreds, but it was obviously continuously shifting. There was a really crappy amplifier compared to previous days, so it was very hard to hear speakers even from pretty close to the speaker’s stand. Shouts of “talk louder” frequently drowned out the inadequate sound from the speaker. There also appeared to be no particular plan to the speakers. We arrived late, so perhaps I missed the keynotes, but what seemed to be happening was an “open mike.” Some people worked for inspiration, others seemed (to me) to be off-base or, in one case, seemed (to me) to be fabricating claims of mistreatment by authorities inside the Capitol (including a story of police erasing the video record on her cell phone), in light of other information available to me.
Attendees were exhorted to spend the night and assured that donations of blankets and warm coats were coming in. I couldn’t help but remark to my TAA colleagues that this did not seem like a very reasonable strategy to me. The crowd was mostly middle-aged. When I got home, I saw on Facebook a call for a “tent city” on the Capitol grounds, which at least upgrades the potential shelter provided to outdoor overnighters. And lots of people in this part of the world do winter camping. [Later edit: Facebook support site Defend Wisconsin reports 50 sleeping over in the cold and calls for blankets, hand warmers, warm hats and mittens etc so they don't freeze to death. More than one committed activist expressed dismay at this action on the support page.]
Speakers were insisting they would stay “until we win.” If “win” means “get any kind of compromise at all,” I suppose this isn’t entirely unreasonable. Scott Walker thought he held all the cards, but he failed to count the quorum number. But if “win” means “win” as in getting what you want, vowing to sit out in the cold in Wisconsin until you get it seems like a losing strategy for the long run. I’ve personally been suggesting to people that there ought to be some sort of dignified exit strategy to fight again another day, instead of a bitter dwindling of numbers by attrition. But, as I’ve also noted, I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes pessimistic analyst, never the visionary at the vanguard. This movement has already gone farther than I thought it would.
Sociology faculty have been cautioning our TAA students not to be “ahead of the working class,” not to try to be a vanguard. From the external evidence, the elements that seem to me, as an outside observer, to be most extremist, are not the teaching assistants, but some of the members of the other unions.
Tomorrow is a big day. Scott Walker gives his budget speech. Everyone expects it to announce yet more horrific details, and to include punitive responses to public workers. Walker may have miscounted his cards, and the past two weeks have to have dashed his hopes of being a rising national star of the right, but he still has almost all the high cards in Wisconsin — including an electoral victory last fall, control of both houses of the legislature, and a letter-item veto power*. He’s obviously angry and likely to do his best take out a lot of his opponents in the wake of his public humiliation. I personally am pretty afraid of just what he is planning to come up with.
*I’m not kidding. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled some years ago that a Wisconsin governor can veto single characters — including digits and decimal points in numbers and the word “not” — out of bills passed by the legislature, as long as what remains when he is done is a grammatical sentence. This has led to its own brand of insane legislation-writing when the Governor and the legislature were not of the same party.
Last Saturday there were 100,000 euphoric people marching around the Capitol. Tomorrow . . .
February 25, 2011
Depending on your preferred news source, the “story” in Wisconsin is the ongoing legislative standoff and/or the building national solidarity movement. Here on the ground, it’s that, yes, but a lot more. From a state worker’s perspective and a social services for the needy perspective, there is no way this can end well, and a lot of ways it can end extremely badly. Steep pay cuts for state workers are a given, even though our pay is a relatively small part of the budget. (I’ve discovered that even a lot of the TAs protesting do not realize just how big those pay cuts are for state workers.) The bigger dollars savings from pay cuts are the implicit attacks on county and municipal employees; Walker wanted to strip them of bargaining rights because he wants to impose cuts in local aids that will force localities to cut the pay of their workers. Layoff notices for teachers and others are being generated by lots of districts — including districts that have come out officially against the Governor’s bill — because of rules that require adequate notice and the fact that their budgets are going to get cut no matter how this ends.
The one single good thing in the bill that actually saves the state a lot of money and is uncontroversial — restructuring state debt to save $165 million — is being held hostage by the Governor (who won’t let it be voted on separately) and will, for reasons I don’t understand, apparently become impossible if it isn’t done by today. EDIT: fixed the statement about the debt; the “real” deadline is apparently March 15.
And the University has its own internal mess. Part of the bill includes a provision to semi-privatize the UW Madison campus and separate it from the rest of the Wisconsin system. The general idea of this is actually something that a majority of Madison faculty (including me) have wanted for a long time for a lot of reasons, although the TAA opposes it and it cuts a lot of complicated ways in terms of broader social issues like access to education. There are accusations that our Chancellor cut a secret deal with Walker about this, and has been called before the Board of Regents today. Students have been protesting at that meeting against the plan, and rumors are rampant among the faculty about what might be going on. Both the Chancellor’s resignation and her firing are likely outcomes.
And the protest just keeps getting more interesting even as everyone who’s been protesting is getting run down and passing around a bug. There have been smaller rallies all week, but a big one is being called for tomorrow. The [Republican] state legislature passed a special bill to ban non-employees from office areas after hours and forcing the TAA to remove its command center from the Capitol to Democratic Party headquarters nearby. The public areas of the Capitol are NOT closed over night. And the union of police officers issued an official statement that THEY will be sleeping over at the Capitol in solidarity with other workers!
And as he has now given a public interview on the topic, I can reveal that our very own Alex Hanna literally WAS “from Cairo to Madison”! Alex is co-chair of the TAA this year. He had already been studying the earlier April 6 Facebook movement and took a leap earlier this month: he charged a plane ticket on his credit card and went to Cairo, where he was standing in Tahrir Square on February 11. He flew home from Cairo and literally went straight to the TAA office from the airport. As Alex is my advisee, I plan to bask in whatever reflected glory I can manage to grab. Of course, as hard as Alex has worked, he is not the only sociology graduate student who has played a major role in this protest down at ground zero in the Capitol command center, and I along with other sociology faculty are both in awe of them and grateful for all their work.
February 23, 2011
Quote of the evening (partly paraphrased): “I know you sat around and let Walker get elected. You-all didn’t think Walker was going to hurt YOU-all, just us Black and Brown and poor people.”
This seemed fitting, as I’ve been party to many political conversations about the narrowing of the protest to the collective bargaining issue. The ranks are not at all happy about their leadership just conceding the financial issues. The proposal will cost state workers a minimum of 6-7% of their salary, more if they are low wage, as the health insurance premiums do not vary with income. But there is a lot of other stuff in the bill that is being completely ignored. It would give the governor the right to kill off Medicaid — a coalition is trying to bring up that issue, but isn’t making it out of the din. Another part of the bill that isn’t being contested is the right of the Governor to sell off state property without taking competitive bids or gaining the approval of the Public Works Commission. And, of course, with so much under attack, nobody is even considering the possibility of improving social services for the most destitute. This year’s deficit could be made up at $32 per adult in the state — it just isn’t that big. But the Republicans are busy cutting revenue via cutting various business taxes.
This evening I went off to a long-scheduled meeting of a group seeking focus on racial disparities and form a local branch of WISDOM, Wisconsin’s Gamaliel Foundation group. I wasn’t sure anyone would be there with all the ruckus at the Capitol, but a fair number of folks did turn out, although I think everyone either already has some tie to the issue or has a direct tie to one of the organizers. Although the organizers were White (and spoke at the beginning and end of the program), all the invited speakers were Black: a lawyer who heads the racial disparities implementation team who gave an inspiring speech about hanging on, addressing the things we’d rather hide, and God’s calling; a former financial professional who provides job coaching for returning inmates (who stressed that he took the job because of his relationship with Jesus); and a former self-described gangster and drug dealer (quoted above) who told us how his life was turned around by “old white ladies” visiting him in prison. The fourth speaker was another former inmate who runs re-entry programs: he was a last-minute sub for the guy who was supposed to speak, who is currently being held in jail on a parole hold. The substitute speaker and another (white) person who is in his circle of support were talking later about how the parole agent won’t return calls and about what to do next to try to get him out. I also met a diversity specialist who was at the Law School forum earlier this month (about which I did not blog, but the recap is it featured the Black newly-appointed DA who will have to stand for election doing his best to talk the disparities issue into a muddy swamp) who wanted to connect.
The Madison protests are still going. A nasty storm kept the crowds small and indoors on Sunday; there was a rally Monday I did not go to. Tuesday was another big rally day and the campus was asked to walk out in solidarity and march to the capitol. On the way back, I heard the guy behind me say: “This is Walker’s physical fitness program for the University. Walk up and down State Street every day.” The Steelworkers and Firemen are sleeping at the Capitol. Crowds are smaller. The police have told the protesters that they will try to clear the Capitol of sleepovers if the crowd gets small enough, and blog posts indicate that the sleepovers are being confined to smaller and smaller areas. The word I get is that the out-of-town union people are frightened of the police and keep spreading [false] rumors that the police are massing in riot gear. The locals think the police are acting friendly. Knowing how local police work, I’m pretty sure that if the Capitol is closed, they will be told to disperse and given time to do it, and then will have to face the question of whether to stay and risk arrest or confrontation.
The State Senators’ absence blocks passage only of budget bills. So the Republicans are setting about the business of passing all the other noxious legislation they can, including repealing the recently-passed requirement to collect racial traffic stop data and requiring voters to show ID.
And I finally started collecting personal email addresses so we can do protest support without violating the law. It is explicitly against the law for state workers to use state resources to lobby about a bill before the legislature. As you may imagine, a lot of people are ignoring this law, and there are a wide variety of interpretations about just what it means in this context, as workers do have the right to express opinions about their work conditions. Anyway, the personal email list removes this ambiguity, although it is cumbersome to use. I had to explain to people how to set up a gmail account.
February 19, 2011
One more Madison protest post. I thought some of you who are studying repression and such might enjoy this local news report (source: http://www.channel3000.com/news/26927705/detail.html ):
MADISON, Wis. — Madison police estimated that crowds on the Capitol Square peaked at about 60,000 people. That’s not much less than a Wisconsin Badgers football game at Camp Randall, but police reported that despite the crowds there were no arrests made.
“On behalf of all the law enforcement agencies that helped keep the peace on the Capitol Square Saturday, a very sincere thank you to all of those who showed up to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Madison police said in a statement. “(Protesters) conducted themselves with great decorum and civility.”
The national spotlight was shining brightly on the state of Wisconsin. Saturday was also the first day that Tea Party members showed up in support of Gov. Scott Walker, but despite opposing views there were no incidents to report.
As of 5 p.m., police said there were no major incidents and no arrests. Police said discourse and discussion was, at times, loud and heated.
As previously indicated, the goal of law enforcement has been to provide a safe environment for democracy to take place. That goal has been realized for yet another day, police officials said.”
Edit 1: Just so I don’t sound like I’ve completely lost my capacity for sociological analysis: (1) Protesters are White, (more…)
My spouse and I were downtown this morning for part 1 of today’s events but couldn’t spend the day. We decided to do our part to inflate the pro-union crowd before the pro-Walker rally and then head home. Given what we saw as we left, I think it will have gotten a lot bigger after we were gone. Folks actually on site will have to fill in the details.
There were mixed messages on Facebook again about when to show up. From the TAA sources the plan was one rally at 10, another at 4:30, with the TeaParty rally scheduled for noon. But another Madison Facebook site linked to by a lot of my non-TAA friends gave the rally time for “our” side as 10-2. I know there was 2 hour non-violence training last night and a marshals’ meeting at 8 this morning.
The crowd wasn’t large when we arrived at 9:30. Police presence was much larger and more visible today — only two of the entrances to the Capitol are open, the rest are closed and guarded. (This in contrast to the wide-open Capitol all week.) Also prominently displayed but not visible earlier were signs saying “no guns allowed in the Capitol.” There’s more security checking going on as you enter today. I spoke to a TAA marshal inside the Capitol, who said that the King Street side (easiest for the big protests and where the Wednesday thru Friday protests have been) is reserved for Tea Party. They are getting 25% of the area and the union protesters 75%. The marshals’ job is to keep everyone peaceful and keep “our” side away from the Tea Party side to avoid inflating their numbers. He also said the goal was to keep the inside of the Capitol fully occupied so there would be no room for Tea Party protesters. Lots of protesters — especially the young ones — are wearing or carrying xeroxed signs that say “this is a peaceful protest.”
We went back outside at 10. Labor groups were starting to arrive in larger numbers. We stood for a while down on the sidewalk at the State Street side of the Capitol, where you could only sort of hear the speakers. People were milling about in groups, some discussing the political issues, some chatting about local gossip. We ran into friends from church: mother, father and two children. They said they’d been unable to attend the protests during the week because the family had all had strep. She’s a nurse and was wondering where the nurse contingent was. One child borrowed my ball point pen to write a slogan she had thought up on the way over. After a while, I decide to move in the King Street direction, to see how things looked over that way. I discovered you could hear better over there and that the crowd was much larger than I’d thought. One union man told us he’d heard there were doctors giving people medical excuses for missing work and asked if we knew where they were. Sorry. I overheard one marshal tell another that the goal was to turn everybody up the driveway and back towards the north to route them over to East Washington for a rally. Nobody from the speaker’s stand asked the union protesters to stay out of the Tea Party area. As the rally ended and the crowd dispersed, the marshals were trying to turn them as instruction; many complied but a lot of union protesters went in the King Street direction. There appeared not to be enough marshals at that specific location to manage and communicate with a crowd of that size if the goal was to persuade folks to avoid the King Street area.
The rally turned into a march and the line of marchers going by and being turned up the driveway was a lot larger than I had expected. People had clearly kept coming into the area. The crowd started to look to me like maybe it was as big as yesterday.
We got cold and had to do other things, so left shortly before noon, walking back toward campus down State Street, which was full of people walking toward the Capitol carrying signs. Judging by the sign balance, the State Street traffic had to be at least 50-1 pro-union. I did see a few small contingents of people carrying Walker signs, and a group of perhaps 50-100 young people marching down State Street behind a Walker banner. If the Tea Party is coming to town in force, they are doing it from another direction.
That’s all I know. I can’t find any meaningful live coverage of events, so now I’m prisoner to the same news sources as anyone else. There is a live aerial feed at http://www.channel3000.com/localvideo/index.html?v=live but it has no audio and the resolution is too blurry to identify sign content, so I find it impossible to “read” the feed to understand anything about what is going on. It mostly seems to be shots of people milling around.
Part II of Friday protests. Written later with more leisure.
I begin with the part of the most general interest first. If you don’t have a taste for my more personal musings in the middle, you can skip to the end, where I recap my understanding of how the week’s events unfolded and summarize what I saw when I looked at the TV news coverage of today.
Out at the 5:00 rally, lots of singing, union songs plus God Bless America. Late start on the talks. A Assembly Democrats come out and talk about having a “surprise” for the crowd. Say he’s going to tease a bit, talks about other things. I’m thinking, “Oh, Wow, there’s been a concession.” Finally says, “The Republicans have adjourned to Tuesday!” I’m certainly confused about why he’s sounding so happy about this. He says “Isn’t that a wonderful surprise?” People around me are saying, “What is the surprise?” It turns out he’s trying to say (not real clearly) that having the Assembly adjourn to Tuesday is a victory because the process has been slowed down. Then more speeches from really hard working teachers from union families who love their jobs and are worried. Sorry I’m getting a little jaded at this point. I’m cold and hungry and it is already 6pm, the time I thought the 5pm rally would be ending. I’d heard Jesse Jackson was going to speak, but I decided I couldn’t hold out any longer, so I left. Later, checking local news clips, I discovered that this is what had happened according to two local television reporters: The Republicans called a session for 5pm. Then they actually started early, without the Democrats, and took votes on some amendments and were about to vote on the main motion when the Democrats arrived. The Democrats yelled and there were angry exchanges. The result was that the Republicans agreed to rescind the votes on the amendments out and adjourn until Tuesday, meaning that Democrats can still offer amendments on Tuesday. None of these goings-on in the assembly made it to the national news broadcasts, but the local FOX affiliate covered it, including the Republican confession that it had been a “bull run” and the the print version on the FOX website mentions it. (more…)