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Other Shit Teachers Do

Hello B-Wing teachers,

I hate being the guy to go around and ask for money (really hate it), so I’m going to do it this way–via email.  Please find the white envelope labeled, “SCF Teacher Scholarship” in my box.  When you can, drop $20 in it and sign your name.

I know . . .what the hell!?  Right?  Here’s the deal:

For years, we (SCF Teachers–all of us) have provided two $500 dollar scholarships.  This is NOT a union thing.  This is a teacher thing.  In the past we have raised money for this by having chili feeds and working other such pain-in-the-butt-fundraisers.  Eventually (collectively) we decided it was just easier to each donate $20 instead of going through all the hassle.  The nice thing was that we could have this money taken right out of our checks using our union as a vehicle.

Obviously we can’t do that anymore.  We have to collect it the old fashion way.  Grovel for it.  I’ve been assigned to harass the B-Wing teachers.  So that’s the story.

I’m not going to do the face to face thing with my hand out (as I said, I hate that).  Plus I’m sore about all the $$ we are already giving for all sorts of other things yadda yadda yadda–yes, I’m a greedy bastard.   Also, I’m a coward.  So instead, I’m just going to send you regular email reminders.  This is the first one.

So, (ahem) if you please–you will find a white envelope labeled, “SCF Teacher Scholarship” in my box.  When you can, please drop $20 in it and sign your name.

Thanks,

Chris (Chief money groveler for B-Wing)

P.S. Jen, if you’ve already been hit up at the elementary school, you’re free to just tell me to piss off.

Unite and Conquer

Unite and Conquer

A little over a year ago, Saint Croix Falls teachers were harshly criticized for doing (what was for them) a very risky thing.  The superintendent’s phone rang a lot.  Relationships were strained.  Words like: Selfish, Lazy and Fire flew like sparks from a blaze of anger.  I know.  I was one of those teachers.

Wisely, in an attempt to allow the community to air it out, the school board held a public meeting for public comments.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant. 50 of my colleagues stood behind me as I read a letter we hoped would explain how our behavior aligned with our desire for: Truth, Great Schools, Smart Kids, Strong Communities. After me, another teacher spoke.  Then a parent spoke in support of the teachers, then another. Next, a community member voiced his support.

That was the night it became clear: SCF supports its teachers.  SCF values truth and courage.  We (all of us) understand that we are in this together.

Because Wisconsin law now prevents negotiation, many districts are using this as an opportunity to establish outdated 20th century policies requiring employees to sit down, shut-up, obey orders, and not ask questions.  The SCF school board also had this opportunity.

They flatly rejected it.

In doing so, the board sent a clear message:  We expect excellence and will support professionals that work together to creatively strive for it.  Many think that’s bucking a trend.  I would say, we realize the truth: We are all in this together.

Turns out cooperation works.  Last week, of all the high schools in Wisconsin–all 2,300 of them—U.S. News and World Report ranked St. Croix Falls 9th.

Last week also happened to be Teacher Appreciation Week—a great week to be a teacher—but in SCF they really know how to show appreciation.  Now, it’s my turn to give thanks.

To the SCF community, the members of the school board and everyone who has stuck with us: Thank you.  Thank you for expecting excellence, for listening to your teachers, for supporting public education.  Thank you for understanding the challenges before us as well as what it will take to conquer them–together.

This celebration is not what you think

As many of you know, last Wednesday, Wisconsinites turned in enough petitions to trigger a recall election of our Governor.

Whew.

Yeah, yeah pending a review by the Government Accountability Board and challenges of legitimate signatures by the Walker camp . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.

Seriously though–we got this thing.

Where was I . . . Oh yeah.

Whew.

For us, this was a big deal.  If you see us bumping fists, please understand that it is not the recall we are celebrating.  Collectively, we are not happy about this.  Most of us wish we had some other–less dramatic–recourse.

We don’t.

Please understand that it is the energy, courage and sacrifice we gave to this effort that we are now honoring.  It is the solidarity, and commitment, and discipline, and stamina that it has taken as we have learned–one by one, baby step by baby step—to stand up for ourselves . . . that we are celebrating.

Not the recall itself.

To do nothing (and just bitch about it) would have been a hell of a lot easier.   Committing to the recall?  That’s crazy.  Insane even.  In the history of our nation–there have only been 2 other governors that faced a recall election.  THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!!

We’re throwing senators and a lieutenant governor in along with him.

This is unprecedented.

What if we lost?  People would just make fun of us!  We’d be labeled: wackos, liberals, union thugs, greedy teachers, socialists, bullies, public workers, special interests.

If you’re on the outside looking in–it’s hard to appreciate just how much courage this took.

For us, this started almost a year ago.  And make no mistake–it has been a long year.  Those in power thought that we would go away after a few days, then a few weeks, then after the initial round of recalls in the summer.  But, to our collective credit, we saw this through.

We are seeing this through.

But beyond courage and an iron will, what did it take to get here?

First, we had to wait until this governor had been in office one full year.  Then, within 60 days of our start date, we needed to collect 540,000 signatures (25% of the total vote in the last election for governor).  Keep in mind, these are not online petitions or signatures.  These are real, physical pen written signatures.  One per person.  540,000 of them.  And it’s winter.  It’s cold.  It’s snowy.  It’s icy.  It’s windy.  And it’s a personally busy time of year–it’s the holidays.

So let’s take a moment to reflect on (or celebrate–your choice) what we just did:

  • We collected over a million signatures to recall Scott Walker (actually we also collected more than enough to trigger recall elections for four additional Walker supporting state senators, as well as the lieutenant governor–for a total of over 1.9 million signatures) . . . but back to Walker.
  • The number collected is 185% of the signatures required to force a recall election.
  • That is 460,000 signatures above the threshold.
  • 1 of every 3 signatures would need to be invalid to disqualify enough signatures to stop the recall.
  • More than 46% of the electorate signed. By contrast, in the only other two successful gubernatorial recalls in American history: almost 32% of the electorate signed in North Dakota in 1921, and 23% of the California electorate signed in 2003.
  • Earlier this year, 32% of the electorate in Ohio signed the petition to overturn the Republicans’ union-busting SB5.
  • The weight of all of the signatures collected is 3000 pounds.
  • Stacked on top of one another, the petitions go 125 feet high, which is taller than the wings of the Madison Capitol Building (those are 84 feet high), but not as tall as the dome (that’s 285 feet).

All very impressive, right?  And, perhaps . . . meaningless.  All any of this really means is that, sometime this summer, we will have another election for Governor (and another 4 state senators). Nothing has changed.

Except maybe our awareness.

Now . . . we are watching.  We are present–and we will be for as long as it takes.

And that’s it.  You can’t put a label on awareness.

We are not radicals.  We are not crazy.  We are not liberals.  We are not Democrats.  We are not union members.  We are Wisconsin and all we want is our state back.  Most of us are not willing activists.  This is not fun for us.  Most of us–God’s honest truth–want our lives back.

True these lives will never be the same.  Oliver Wendell Holmes said it best, “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”  We are awake now.

So if you see us celebrating–it is only because we are pausing briefly to acknowledge and honor the work, because as we have learned, restoring the democratic process is hard.  It’s a lesson we won’t forget. We don’t want to do this again.

But I think we’ve also learned that if we have to, we will.  In a heartbeat.  We’ve learned what it takes, but we’ve also learned that we have it–and then some.

And we also understand, I think, that we may not win this one.  It is clear though, based on the numbers, that collectively we are more aware.

Now that another round of recall elections is immanent, those in power are saying they expected it all along.  So what.  The recall process itself is no big deal.  In fact, they go even further in saying that we should be ashamed of ourselves.  That what we’ve done is groundless and wasteful.

Bullshit.

If it had an ounce of groundless, we would have failed.  If the investment was not worth it–we never would have begun.  Don’t talk to us–who have been out on the front lines–about the cost of the recalls.  We–better than any–understand the cost.

We paid for it every time we picked up a clipboard and left our families for a day to stand in the cold and the snow.  Every time we mustered our courage against those that swore and threatened and mocked us in our own towns.

We would not have attempted this if we did not know–in our bones–that the power in the capitol today has corrupted the hearts and minds of those we have entrusted with it.

Trust, transparency, cooperation, compromise has all been replaced . . . with an infection.

We do this to clear.  We do this to restore. We do this to strengthen.

For those left confused and frustrated by it all.  Please understand–we know this hurts.  We know it’s painful.  Removing slivers and cleaning wounds often is.  But we have to do this now.  The sooner we do, the sooner we will heal.

(A special thank you to Cassandra Green for inspiring this post, some of these words were actually hers)

 

 

Wanted: Truth Seekers, Light Workers

Folks,

Some of you are, no doubt, growing tired of of these political posts.  I don’t blame you.

By nature, I’m not that into politics. And truth be told, I grow weary of this fight.

But it’s stuff like this that blows my mind and reminds me to keep shouting.  The truth must be known.

Please read this link: GOP redistricting maps make dramatic changes

With recalls pending, GOP releases redistricting plan: A quick vote . . . before recall elections . . . would let Republicans lock down advantages at the ballot box for the next 10 years by drawing maps in their favor.”

Remember: Today, Republicans own Wisconsin.  Please consider though, who owns the Republicans–and what has happened so far:

  1. Refusal to listen to constituents, even after unprecedented public outcry
  2. Votes and discussion behind closed doors (violated open meetings LAW)
  3. Ignored judge’s orders
  4. Made it harder to vote
  5. Run fake candidates, forcing Democratic primaries and increased the cost of the recall elections by over $400,000
  6. Violence in the Supreme Court
  7. Decimated public education (and demoralized educators) while at the same time funding private schools in Milwaukee and cutting taxes.
  8. Rolled back environmental protections.
  9. Rolled back citizens rights by making it harder for people injured by negligent corporations to get justice.
  10. And now, rushed to redraw the district voting lines BEFORE recall elections–which would give them an advantage for at least the next 10 years.

Let’s be clear.  Republicans OWN Wisconsin.  From the Governor, to the Senate, to the Assembly to the Supreme Court.  They can do whatever they want–without discussion, without compromise, without negotiation.  And this is exactly what they are doing.

This blatant power grab is unprecedented and remarkable.  Anywhere.  And at any time in history.

Let this be another powerful reason why this election is like no other. We have to take back the Senate NOW.  If you think this bit of is legislation is suspicious, just consider what will happen if we lose these summer elections.

You think they are done destroying public education, rolling back environmental protections, making it harder to vote, privatizing government institutions (like schools, prisons, the department of commerce, Wiscnet–the NON-PROFIT internet supplier to libraries and schools) grabbing power at every opportunity?  By their own admission, they’re only getting started.

These are the kinds of political games that people are growing so tired of.  They (Walker, Harsdorf and the rest) are getting beat up in the polls.  So what do they do?  Change the rules . . . again.

Seriously, every morning I think–I’m done sending emails, marching in parades, writing letters to the editor, making videos.  I’ve got a garden to weed.  Bills to pay.  Kids to take care of.  The other day, somebody referred to me as a “good activist,” and I thought, what the hell has happened to me?  I’m out.  I’m done.

This is not who I am.

But then, by the end of the day, I undoubtedly hear or read something else that is happening in Madison.  And my blood boils anew.  I am aghast.  I can’t believe my eyes/ears.

I do this because I am deeply concerned about our families, our schools, our communities, our children, our chances.

Please do what you can, everyone, to understand and then shed the light of truth on Wisconsin.  After all, we are all in this together.  Or at least . . . we used to be.

Thanks,

Chris

 

Birth of an activist?

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.