I grew up in Madison, WI, and I would be the first to admit I did not think that a town that has mostly been known for its comfortable arm-chair liberal majority and the power they wield could do this. My family would be the first to tell you about how frustrating it has been to live there and try to be part of addressing root causes of racism and poverty, when the overwhelming emotion of the white, middle-class majority is guilt, or overt resentment, to concrete change and justice for oppressed people.
However, 14 days ago something different happened in Madison. Consider the quote from my life-long friend, Twyla Clark, on the ground in Madison this week:
One thing everyone should know is all the different kinds of people who are here with us, who are us. People meditating; teachers who shut down the Madison Public School District for 4 days, who when they had to return to work had parents standing outside the next day holding signs that said: 'I am here for Ms. Butler', and 'I am here for Mr. Jones', representing them; Vets and cops in uniforms; 800 students who walked out from a local high school; an entire March of Librarians, and children, children, so many children and families."
This is not a reflection of some vague notion of "coalitional" movement building - this is people who are very different from each other, want different things, and who have a common interest. This is a recognition that the fight over the consolidation of wealth, resources, land, air, and the rights to our own bodies is being waged between less than 5% of the global population and... the rest of us. That means all the categories of people that Twyla named above, and more. There is no human being not affected.
What does the fight in Madison mean for LGBTQ folks? Why should we all be paying attention, no matter where we live?
First, remember the part of the bill in Wisconsin that has gotten the most attention has been the part about collective bargaining, which is very important. However, the impact of this bill for poor people (particularly in relation to Medicaid and Medicare) is huge. If our community thinks everything that affects poor people does not affect us, we need to do more reading on how many of us are poor. We are disproportionately poor, particularly in trans and gender non-conforming communities and communities of color.
Second, consider this other quote from Twyla:
I wish you could be in the capital right now and see how this space that we have known our whole lives has been transformed. I was there studying at 10:30pm last night and there was art, signs, all these people, and information everywhere. The space really reflects the chant we have been using about the Capitol: 'Whose House? Our House!'
She points to the fact that the Capitol occupation is very much about reclaiming public space. As LGBTQ people, we are systematically pushed out of public space - discouraged from being ourselves at our workplaces, our kids' schools, at the grocery store, and in our local and state governments. Why do so few of us run for public office? Why are so many of our activists who do not work in LGBTQ-specific areas closeted? Because we have been sent a clear message: public space is not our space. We are not "the Public."
We are not the only community sent this message.
Immigrants are told something similar every time we open our mouths and speak a language that is not English. The systems of our towns are set up so that on every street, every bus, and every glittering downtown poor people are sent the same message: you do not belong here, this place is not for you.
This week people in Madison are saying that class warfare is real, it needs to be faced head on, and to do that we must reclaim public space. This month, people all over the Middle East are saying this, and so much more. Are we ready to recognize that this struggle (like so many struggles) is our struggle?