Badger State Solidarity

I was working at home today when the phone rang. The number was from my son’s school so I picked it up not knowing exactly what to expect.

After all I recently received a call from the school’s Assistant Principal (AP) that went something like this:

AP: “Did you know that your son Tucker is planning to wear a pink gorilla suit to ski club tonight?”
Me: (Pause, and audible swallow) “…Actually yes I was aware of that fact.” (Note: I was the one who had purchased the gorilla suit for him as a gift for that specific purpose.)

AP: “Are you aware that a list is circulating among students as to who would be allowed to tackle the skiing pink gorilla?”
Me: “No, of course not.” (no hesitancy this time)

I suspected the list was an exaggeration but in the end we agreed that it would be a good idea if Tucker left the pink gorilla suit at home, which I was kind of hoping would happen anyway. Tucker found a different reason to wear the gorilla suit to school, and on this day he wore his hockey uniform with red practice jersey to school in support of the teachers (wear red for ed day). Tucker enjoys pushing the limits of the school’s dress code on occasion.

So when the phone rang and the number indicated it was coming from his school I looked at it contemplatively for a second before answering. To my relief the voice on the other end was not a Principal, Assistant Principal or school nurse but was instead Tucker who said, “Dad, is it o.k. with you if I walk out of school and go to the rally today at the Capitol to support our teachers?”

I paused a second before responding as I was doing the calculus in my head to try to figure out: a) if he really wanted to support the teachers or if he was looking to take advantage of an opportunity to miss school; b) how my 13 year old son thought he would be able to get downtown to attend the rally, and c) whether I was willing to drop my work plans for the day to help him attend said rally. Then I remembered the quote by Martin Luther King Jr., that I had recently shared with friends on MLK Jr. day that goes, ‎”The time is always right to do what is right.” Long story short, we ended up going to the rally together.

MLK Jr’s advice was spot on; it was the right time and the right thing to do. We had a great day together. I picked Tucker up at the school and was upfront with the attendance office for my reason for taking him from school. One teacher said, “We love your son”, and made reference to Tucker’s red hockey uniform attire. Another mouthed “Thank You” to us as she went about her business.

Full disclosure, I am a huge fan of teachers. The work they do is incredibly important, and I know many teachers who work tirelessly on nights and weekends and even over the summer and holidays to provide the best learning environment possible for their students. I also respect just how difficult their job can be. I can’t imagine managing full classrooms of adolescent, hormone popping kids all day every day as my kids’ teachers do. I have plenty to handle with my own two sons and their friends all of whom are for the most part great kids. Public schools are the last great melting pot and they contain a full spectrum of kids with various abilities, interests, backgrounds and challenges. Each teacher daily interacts with kids that include future business and civic leaders to future criminals and ne’er-do-wells. This makes for a very dynamic and challenging work environment, but one that gives the kids perhaps their only close-up glimpse of people who are different than themselves.

Tucker and I drove downtown and had lunch before making our way to the Capitol. Over lunch we talked about what the rally was about, the labor movement, how the government works, and how citizens can influence and participate in their government. We talked about both sides of the issue as objectively as we could. My son said, “So basically, this is about the teachers and state workers right to band together to negotiate for a livable salary and better working conditions.” Bingo! We talked about what could happen if these rights were taken away, and how the middle class was gradually disappearing in our society and why this probably wasn’t a good thing. We talked about families we knew who were teachers and state workers who live a good but not excessive life, and what it would mean to these families if their pay and benefits were drastically cut. My son is currently studying the civil rights movement at school so we were able to talk about how the civil rights rallies were similar/different from the one we were about to attend which helped bring his lessons to life.

We grabbed some signs and made our way up to the Capitol. The vibe was very tribal. You got the sense that people were coming together and that what we were watching was democracy in action. It was an interesting looking crowd with many different kinds of people represented. We decided to go into the capitol itself where the hearings were occurring on the Bill to strip public workers right to unionize and collectively bargain. The atmosphere in the Capitol was electric. The crowd seemed to have its own pulse. There was a lot of power represented in those thousands of demonstrators, and to be honest I was a little bit concerned of what could happen if the crowd turned ugly. Fortunately it didn’t. The crowd was loud and energetic, but nonetheless civil.

This is a difficult issue. Right now many state businesses are struggling and many private sector workers have lost their jobs or seen their benefits reduced and/or been asked to accept pay freezes or reductions.

Teachers and state workers do have relatively strong benefit packages, which makes them an easy target for politicians who don’t like collective bargaining or unions. However a recent industry analysis (http://epi.3cdn.net/9e237c56096a8e4904_rkm6b9hn1.pdf ) showed that the public sector’s total salary and benefits package is about 8.2%% below comparable private sector jobs. In the past public sector employees have accepted lower overall compensation than their private sector peers in exchange for stability. State workers have recently been willing to make concessions to help with the budget challenges and have accepted pay freezes and unpaid furlough days to help keep costs in check through a challenging budget environment.

I believe this conflict is the tip of the iceberg, and I am not sure we are well prepared to deal with it as a society. In 1979 the people in the top 20% of earners made 8 times as much as those in the bottom 20% and today they make over 15 times as much, and the income gap keeps getting larger. The middle class is eroding too with top 20% now making over 4 times as much as the middle 20%. So the rich are getting richer at a fast clip, the middle class is being squeezed out, and the poor are growing in ranks and are suffering and straining the limited resources available to help them.

Our domestic manufacturing jobs and support services jobs (think HR, IT, call centers, etc.) continue to be lost to cheaper overseas alternatives. When these jobs leave they are not being replaced with similar jobs, and people are either unemployed and on the brink of financial ruin, or need to work longer hours or have multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

I am worried for my children and the subsequent generations that come along if these trends continue. A disappearing middle class increases the odds that many people will have a difficult time finding a career where they are not constantly struggling to just get by. It  is also troubling because a society with an increasingly rich elite class combined with a ballooning poor class is one that is going to have significant troubles (crime, health, homelessness, political unrest, perhaps even revolution).

To me this bill is dangerous. By removing workers from the negotiating table it sets the stage for worker exploitation, and in particular a degrading of the quality of education our children receive. School districts have had their hands tied with finances for a long time and have already made deep cuts to services for our kids. If you take away collective bargaining the easy way to make the budgets balance will be to reduce pay and benefits for teachers. If they balk and leave the schools will replace them with a cheaper, less experienced alternative. If you move teaching jobs from middle to low wages more teachers will need to take second and third jobs at night and on weekends to make ends meet leaving them less time and energy for our kids. Fewer top college students will consider the teaching profession as a career as the quality of life associated with being a teacher will decline, meaning the quality of teachers and instruction will gradually decline as well.

Scott Walker is not a scholar. He dropped out of college after earning mediocre grades at Marquette. I don’t know if that is why he doesn’t appear to value education, or why he doesn’t understand the negative systemic effects that will likely result from his stripping public workers of pay, benefits, and a say in their working conditions. But it seems clear to me that he is willing to roll the dice and see what happens with our children’s future on the line which is unfortunate.

The silver lining to his assault on workers’ rights is that he is perhaps waking up the lion. The rallies at the Capitol have been energizing and encouraging. We still live in a democracy. Scott Walker has the right and the means to do what he is doing, but there are consequences to every action, the most obvious one being fall out in voting booth by legislators who decide to side with him.

There are many problems in our society but they are not insurmountable if we get informed and get involved. It is up to “We the People” to assure that our government reflects who we are, and what we value. I fully support the teachers and state workers in their efforts to protect their collective bargaining rights, and thank them for the hard work they do every day and the great example they are providing to us all on the workings and dysfunctions of our system of government.

Thanks for the reminder that in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right.” It was refreshing to take a stand together with my son and those who support the rights of others and I look forward to continuing to fight for what is right to keep Wisconsin moving forward.

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52 Responses to Badger State Solidarity

  1. Randi Vogt says:

    I agree with you completely, John. Thank you for stating it all so well.

  2. Chris says:

    thanks for your support. Beautifully put….

  3. Jeff Wilson says:

    John, you’ve weaved a great story. I hope this get picked up by the national media. I can’t thank you enough.

  4. This is a great blog post. Thanks so much for investing in your children and actually teaching them why this is important for everyone’s future.

  5. Michelle says:

    Wow. Thanks John. It’s everything I wanted to say.

  6. Barb says:

    What a great story and how beautifully written. Thank you for your support.

  7. Kara says:

    Beautiful. Thank you from a teacher…to a teacher.

  8. Brenda Weiss says:

    Thank you! I knew you were a caring Father when I saw how you supported Tucker in school, but I also see that you are a caring person as well.

  9. Ann Albert says:

    I was so touched when your son came into my classroom during lunch with a sign supporting teachers. He engaged students into a great conversation about the ongoing political situation and expressed the hope that he would be able to go down to the Capitol with his Dad. Your story gives me hope that the truth will get out. Thank you!

  10. Lynne Wymore says:

    Thank you, Mr. Stampen and Tucker, for your support and your compelling story. It is so neat to see young people curious about citizenship and willing to participate 🙂

  11. Eric Borchardt says:

    My Wife, Sarah, shared your story with me. You are a wonderful parent. If only more parents took advantage of opportunities such as this. I thought it was great that you made sure to cover both sides of the story, and even did a little research to uncover some facts about wages and how the collective bargaining would effect the education system.

    Thank you for your support!

  12. Jason says:

    AWESOME!

  13. Amy says:

    Thank you for your support. All of our voices need to be heard, we have watched journalism in this country slowly erode into fear based theatre. Now is the time for the tide to shift back to voices like yours.

  14. Kris says:

    I took my son to the capitol on Friday….probably the most meaningful day I have ever spent with him and know, as he heads off to college in two years that this day really meant “this is what democracy looks like!”

  15. Connie Finnegan says:

    I don’t know Tucker, yet, but I look forward to meeting him when he gets to Middleton High School. I thank you for this eloquent and supportive piece from the bottom of my worried heart.

  16. David says:

    John, it’s been a difficult past few days. The hardest part has been listening to the vitriol spewed at teachers from the right wing. Your letter is an affirmation of the work we do and a reminder that indeed, it takes a village. All of us–parents, teachers, and community working together to raise our children. I’m sure your visit to the Capitol with your son will be a lesson he’ll remember for years to come, probably more powerful than any lesson he may have learned in school that day. The next time I see someone in a pink gorilla suit I’ll smile and remember your eloquent letter. They were the right words at the right time.

  17. Janice Littlebear says:

    Hockey-playing Tucker wearing a pink gorilla suit with his father’s full support says it all.

    An educated son-father team working together to do what’s right!

    Thank you John Stampen for writing a piece that clearly articulates this issue–an issue about the rights of people to bargain their working conditions AND the growing gap between the rich and poor. And thank you teachers of Tucker for helping to guide this 13-year old independent thinker to a place where he not just thinks about doing something, but does it because it’s the right thing to do. And, perhaps most of all, thank you Tucker for representing the best of our collective hope for America’s future.

  18. Shelley Festge says:

    John, you are raising strong young men with a great sense of social justice and individuality. It has been my pleasure to be a part of their education. Thank you for your support.

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  20. Phil Lyons says:

    Nice article. Why is collective bargaining important for educators?
    Only 5 states have no collective bargaining for teachers and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:
Virginia (44) Texas(47) Georgia(48) North Carolina (49) South Carolina(50).
    
Wisconsin average ACT test score – third highest in nation.
    I don’t think we want to risk ruining our excellent public schools in Wisconsin.

  21. Doug says:

    Well said ! People are often quick to accept something that seems like a “Silver Bullet” as a solution to problems that have existed for years. The State needs to recognize that the only future we have is based on educating our children. Power and money grabs cannot replace sound government practices. If the State of Wisconsin will not treat teachers in a fair and unbiased way, we will lose many quality teachers. When the present group of teachers decides that the benefits don’t compensate them fairly, they will retire. Others will not replace them because they can have better job security and benefits in the private sector. Long term the outlook is indeed grim for our state if people in government do not look past the “Politics” and start looking at long-term realities. Shifting money from one part of the budget to another only changes who has control over that money. It does not change the amount of money available. There is no magic wand. This bill did not simply “Appear” out of thin air 1 month after our new governor took office. It is a concerted effort by a small powerful group to own the state government… and that is a Bad Thing !
    Thanks for a well-written and balanced viewpoint.

  22. Jo Kobler says:

    John-I couldn’t agree with you more-you said it beautifully. Thank you!

  23. Lyn Cederholm says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and for your support!

  24. Jay Redders says:

    What a great story! Well done John! Thanks!

  25. Brad Rogeberg says:

    I really enjoyed reading this to my children. They really enjoyed it.

  26. Diane says:

    Well said. As a teacher, I appreciate your support. You are spot on. Our hard work is often overlooked. This week, my children have experienced the greatest civics lessons. After spending several days at the Capitol, marching with my high school son, 7th grade son, and private-sector working husband, this is NOT about wages. It is about our rights. This is what democracy looks like. We will definitely remember this at election time.

  27. Larry Darling says:

    Thanks for the story. You highlight how important it is to show our kids how important it is!

  28. Jeff says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. Very well written…. I wish the world was full of people like you and your son.

  29. Donna says:

    Thank you. Look back to 1993 when the QEO was passed under Tommy Thompson – we’ve been biting the bullet since then and now they want to strip us of even more.

    Your comments are concise, complete, and heartwarming. I think the 14 Democrats in hiding have the foresight to understand the consequences of Walker’s Budget “Repair” Bill. Fortunately, the truth is getting out that this is NOT about the budget. See this from Ezra Klein of The Washington Post: What is actually being proposed in Wisconsin? http://tinyurl.com/6dkldql

    His articles are as informative as your post.

    Again, thank you.
    A teacher who appreciates your understanding.

  30. Ann says:

    Thank you for your article, thank you for your support and thank you for being a wonderful parent.

  31. Sue Wright says:

    Couldn’t have said it better. Our son participated in his high school’s walk out, but did not go uptown. The next day school was closed, and he came up town with his dad and I. He has had a wonderful lesson in civility and democracy this week. My husband is a Correctional Officer and I worked as a union vp for 10 years in a school district. Thank you for your wonderful story and support of workers rights.

    In Solidarity,

    S. Wright

  32. Mr. Lee says:

    Cheers to you and Tucker! The spirit of True America is clearly alive now more than ever!

  33. Marie says:

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This is a wonderful blog and I am honored to teach.
    Marie

  34. Kathy Nieber-Lathrop says:

    Tucker for President in 2032! Or at least, Governor of the great state of Wisconsin. When I took my daughter to the Capitol her response was “This is really important to you, isn’t it?” When we got there she said “It’s really important to a lot of people!” I have such hope for our next generation. I hope that we can keep the forum for them to protest and participate in the democratic process.
    Thank you, John, for your inspiring story.

  35. Anne Gustafson says:

    Thank you John! What a beautifully written article.

  36. Jenny Funk says:

    Well said!! Thanks John and Tucker!

  37. Rich Carman says:

    John and Tucker:
    The sad thing is that the true points you have pulled together will most likely not be read by the people who will be deciding on the bill. And, if by chance, they are read by pro Walker legislators, your facts will be rejected because they are not interested in looking at the complete picture. You have the right to speak the truth but there are key people that have given themselves the right to not listen. Nevertheless, more and more citizen’s (many who voted for Walker) are beginning to regret their choice and are beginning to start thinking with their own brain. Anyway, I applaud your effort to
    bolster the side of reason.

  38. Heather says:

    Thank you for the awesome article full of researched information. It is so hard to find facts out surrounding this. I work in the private sector, but really want to understand the issues at hand, and it’s hard to find them buried amongst all the hype. We have great schools, and it’s going to be hard to stay competitive as a nation if we don’t value education. Public employees, like private sector employees, have taken cuts in recent years, and people need to realize that. Hopefully more people will research the issues at hand, if they don’t happen to run across your article.
    Thank you.

  39. Vicki Wilson says:

    Thank you for your support John and Tucker!
    Thank you for such great kids too. I enjoyed both Tucker and Jake. Very creative!
    Vicki Wilson

  40. Gabriela Olson says:

    BRAVO Tucker! Du bist SPITZE!
    Frau Olson,
    your German teacher.

  41. Michelle says:

    Thanks for the great posting! Very nicely said.

  42. Dolly Neby says:

    Thank you for your articulate account of your character building moment with your son. May we all come out stronger and wiser.

  43. Denise says:

    If only there were more thoughtful, cool-headed analysts such as you down at the Capitol every day. John Stampen for Governor!

  44. Russell says:

    Thanks for a well-written post, and for standing with your son.

  45. Amy Z says:

    Thank you so much for this. After reading so many teacher bashing comments over the weekend, and being told be a student today that “you really work for my mom and dad, so you can’t tell me what to do” seeing these words moved me to tears. Bless you!

  46. Kenosha Teacher says:

    Thank you John for your stance, and most of all for raising a child like Tucker. The youth of this great state are awakening and see things more clearly, many times, than most adults. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

  47. Corrine says:

    Would send this to Bill O’Reilly, please?

  48. John Stampen says:

    Thanks everyone for your very kind words. Tucker and I had a great time standing up with and for teachers and state workers. The rallies and demonstrations have been amazing and humbling. Tucker and I were just two out of hundreds of thousands who took a turn down at the capitol rallying for the rights of public workers and from your many comments and the accounts I have read from others it seems like the rallies touched most participants in a profound way. We look forward to continuing to stand up and wish everyone well throughout this process.

  49. Beth Kaplan says:

    John, at our house this event also was an opportunity for connection and growth for parent and child. Our 17-year-old and many friends spent nearly all their days off at the Capital, bringing their signs, bringing homes tales of what they heard and saw. In my weary moments during this debate, it helps me to see the longer view in all this. Energized teens, having their eyes opened a bit, will grow into the adults who will continue advocating for people who need a voice. I will try to focus on that if the outcome is, temporarily, a hurtful one. Thanks for a lovely story.

  50. Allen W. Taylor says:

    I am awestruck after reading this letter! Who can argue with this logic and facts!
    Thank you for writing this! As a teacher/educator, it is extremely rewarding to know that we are still respected and needed. It’s too bad that Wisconsin needs to deal with Walker for 4 years…ish!

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