On Wisconsin, and other states of mind

Published in the Wisconsin State Journal on June 2, 2011

On Wisconsin, and other states of mind

 by Karl Garson

 Right off I’ll tell you that I love Wisconsin; tell you that without hesitation even after living in 11 other states and two foreign countries. I believe there is a bond between me and my native state that is at least equal to the bond that exists between mother and child, a common ground from which everything else in my life has been built. Without that common ground, I would be, relatively speaking, much diminished.

 Because I have been traveling all of my life I feel confident in saying that my feelings for Wisconsin are replicated, in kind, by the citizens of the other 49 states; even Florida, if you can believe that. A significant  number of them feel the same way about their states as I feel about Wisconsin. They have their common ground. I have mine.

 You’d expect, perhaps, that  my next sentence would be a flag waver about the union of our common grounds for the benefit of all. But it seems a very long time ago since any of us could say that and really believe it. Because we are not in Wisconsin or Florida anymore, and we are most certainly not in Kansas. We are instead wandering dangerously through an Oz of red and blue from which we seem only to arrive at black and white instead of where we should, at the color purple.

 If you, right there, mentally switched from the color purple to The Color Purple, the title of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, then you might also take a step beyond and try to imagine whether or not a meaningful dialogue could occur between Scott Walker and Alice Walker. On one side of that dialogue you’d have Wisconsin’s governor who has set himself up as the state’s carnival barker by hanging out his open for business sign. On the other you’d have a preternaturally talented writer focused on the broader issues of social justice that Scott Walker seems to care little about. I would like to think that the two Walkers could find some common ground upon which to establish a meaningful dialogue. I would like to think that but I cannot.

 Six years after The Color Purple was published, common ground was invoked eloquently in a speech delivered to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta by Jesse Jackson. After he invoked it for the fifth time, Jackson followed with:

 “Progress will not come through boundless liberalism or static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival—not at boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival. It takes two wings to fly. Whether you’re a hawk or a dove, you’re just a bird living in the same environment, in the same world.”

 That’s a small but essential passage from a speech all of us would benefit by revisiting in its entirety right now. A while back I asked my friend, J, who’s travelled more widely than I, when was the last time she’d heard the term “social justice” used in a conversation. She had to admit that she couldn’t recall it ever being used within recent memory. I too had to admit it had been a very long time since I’d heard it mentioned by anyone.

 Social justice is exactly what Jesse Jackson was talking about in Atlanta in 1988. And, right now, in terms of social justice, 1988 seems a lot farther away than 23 years, especially here in Wisconsin where, granted, we face difficult times. But we don’t need to work through difficult times by making them ugly. We don’t need to create jobs by simultaneously destroying lives and our way of life.

 Instead, to show the rest of the country how to be better than that Wisconsin needs to start talking about social justice in order to start working back to it. Unless we do we won’t be in Wisconsin anymore.

Here is the link to the Wisconsin State Journal:


Here is the link to Jesse Jackson’s address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jessejackson1988dnc.htm

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