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Picture by Lisa Genke

I gave the following speech recently at a political rally in Siren, Wisconsin. We have the opportunity to recall our state senator in this district. My intent was to briefly illustrate the story of one grassroots member of this unique movement.

Last New Year’s Eve, if you would have told me I’d be speaking at a political rally today, I’d say you’d had a few too many. I’ve never been involved in politics before. And to tell you the truth, there’s a lot of things I’d rather do. Honestly, I’m just trying to take care of my family. But I think this is true for a lot of people. This year, there’s been an awakening. And we understand that we have to do this—to protect our families.

My name is Chris Wondra. I graduated in 1988 from Frederic High School. If you don’t know me, you might know my parents–David and Andrea. My Grandma Elly actually lives right up the road. My sister Kendra, a pretty good gymnast in her day, married Jake Wissie, and so had a pretty good set of in laws, Jane and Duane Wissie. My other sister, Jessica married Nick Dykstra—a Siren boy. You might know the Karls, from Lewis—all those running phenoms from Frederic: Rylee, Keegan, River, Calla, Sage.

These are familiar names in this area. Odds are, even if you don’t know me–you know someone I just mentioned.

And so we all spread out into this big web–yet still connected.

I teach in St. Croix Falls now, but I wasn’t always a teacher. Once, I was a production control manager for a textile manufacturer with plants in both St. Croix falls and Frederic. I met my wife there. Lisa has a degree in textiles and was a career minded research and development R+D manager, running her own department in the company, when I met her.

This was a family owned and operated business. So they understood why, when Lisa and I had our first child, she chose to leave her career behind and focus on raising our children.

Now—take a moment to put your hands together for all the women (and men) that have made that choice. Family over career.

Because it’s never easy.

Now—let’s hear it for all those trying to manage both career and family.

Because it’s never easy.

Right?

We each make choices, and do the best we can.

Because we’re all in this together.

Everyone has to make choices and then we all get to wonder if we made the right ones. And it’s never clear at the time. The best we can do is support each other. Because remember, we’re all connected.

Fast forward to February 18th, 2011 and the budget repair bill. Teachers in St. Croix Falls and across Wisconsin were making choices—on very short notice–about protesting in Madison.

That day, each of us took a hard look deep into our souls. What we found there was another choice–to play it safe in St. Croix Falls, or to stand up for all of our children, all of our families and what we believe to be right.

It was a deeply personal choice that started with just a few of us in a minivan. But word spread and by the next morning it had morphed into a chartered bus with teachers joining us from Grantsburg, Siren, and Frederic. Enough SCF teachers were absent that we had to shut down the school—they couldn’t get enough subs.

And for me, from that day on, it’s been like Alice down the rabbit hole.

But like Dr. Martin Luther King said:

“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position, that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right!”

Every once in awhile you get the opportunity to act out what you say your values are. You get to show your kids what courage is, by stepping out of your comfort zones. Taking chances. Standing up to be the person you believe that you really are.

And then muddling through it.

And that’s what I’m doing. We came back from Madison, and as amazing as that was to be a part of, it changed nothing. So we started doing the work. Collecting signatures, getting organized, writing letters, blogging, knocking on doors, talking to people.

And there’s lot’s of work still to be done.

But here’s the thing: We are awake now.

Our connections have been strengthened.

And we know that we are not alone.

Case in point—remember that manufacturer that Lisa and I used to work for? The president’s wife is now also on the school board in St. Croix Falls.

And if you drive by that business today. Right out in front by the road is a bright red Shelly Moore for state Senate sign.

So . . . public, private, union, non-union. We are all connected. We are all in this together. Thank you everybody for everything you are doing.

We Are Winning.