A funny thing happened on the way to the 2013 Democratic Party of Wisconsin convention- my car broke down. Lucky for me, however, it happened in the parking lot of the convention center. Smoke came pouring out from under the hood and anti-freeze spilled onto the pavement. Not a great way to start my first convention.
Since I had arrived a bit early, I walked through the Democratic Unity Fair, waiting for registration to begin. I was very pleased to see how many organizations and groups had booths devoted to advancing the progressive cause here in Wisconsin. The first table I stopped by was hosted by the Center for Progressive Leadership. The main goal of the CPL is to provide training to develop progressive political leaders. I was so impressed that I applied for the 2014 Fellowship program. Similar to the CPL is Wisconsin Progress, a “state-based candidate recruitment and training program.” For somebody like me, who has a keen interest in politics and has contemplated running for office, both organizations seem to have a lot to offer. The final booth that I stopped at was run by Progressives United, a group devoted to campaign finance reform. I was especially excited to learn that former Senator Russ Feingold, the group’s founder, would be at the convention and at a hospitality event late Friday night. I happened to have my copy of his book, While America Sleeps, and was hoping to have him sign it. Unfortunately, due to my car problem, I had to leave the convention early and missed out on my chance. If you have not read the book yet, pick up a copy today. (I’m actually reading it for the second time as of this writing.)
The convention finally kicked off around 6:00 with speeches lasting past 9:00 (unfortunately, I had to leave at 9:00 and missed Rep. Kind, Sen. Baldwin, former Sen. Feingold, and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro). One of the big themes of the night was Gov. Walker’s poor performance concerning Wisconsin’s economy and job creation (or lack thereof.) Every speaker that I saw mentioned this topic. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett even joked that the Wisconsin GOP’s new bumper sticker read, “Take that Wyoming,” referencing the fact that Wisconsin ranks ahead of only Wyoming in a recent economic forecast.
As a history teacher, I was pleased to hear overwhelming support for public education and references to James Madison, constitutional amendments, Robert La Follette, and Gaylord Nelson. Mayor Barrett, referencing a recent GOP attempt to limit voters’ rights (and thereby decreasing the size of the electorate) in Wisconsin, discussed a number of US constitutional amendments that increased the size of the electorate. State Representative Peter Barca talked about the Wisconsin tradition of progressive reforms begun by La Follette and continued by Nelson (the founder of Earth Day).
On the topic of public education and the fight against Gov. Walker’s voucher plan, Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, said that “public dollars should go to public education.” Mayor Barrett echoed those sentiments, declaring that “we are all committed to public education.” Finally, state party Chair Mike Tate, argued that “having great public schools is the great equalizer.”
Another theme of some of the speakers was the need for unity and working together (the theme of the convention is “Forward Together.”) Larry Nelson, the Waukesha County Board Supervisor (and my 8th grade English teacher), spoke of the necessity of working with independents and open-minded Republicans. Mike Tate discussed the 72-county strategy and the importance of working together for that to succeed. Finally, Congresswoman Gwen Moore spoke of a 3-D Democratic Party, one that is “Diverse, Daring and Driven.” In other words, the Party needs to embrace all people of all lifestyles, creeds, color, socioeconomic status, etc.
While I agree that the Democratic Party is much more tolerant and inclusive than the GOP, I did witness an unfortunate incident that seemed to contradict that message. During the resolutions debate on Saturday morning (a session not well-attended), a young man sat in the audience. He was talking a bit loudly and was messing with his cell phone. After a few minutes a woman sitting in the row with him and went over to ask him to quiet down. When the young man continued, a gentleman in the row behind him went to him and pointed to the doors in body language suggesting that the young man leave. A second gentleman shook his head and moved away from the young man. After a few more minutes the young man finally got up to leave. The gentleman who had moved away returned to his seat, once again shaking his head. Now, I had sat next to the young man the night before in one of the hospitality suites and based on the conversations he had with another patron and his behavior Saturday morning, it was quite obvious that he had special needs. Perhaps because I am a teacher and see people with special needs on a daily basis it was obvious to me but not to the other audience members. I was so upset with the behavior and actions of those men that I left the debate and decided to leave the convention. Thankfully, I was able to speak with a member of the staff and he said he would look into the matter and apologized. If the Democratic Party is going to be the Party of the people and embrace diversity, it cannot ignore those with special needs or disabilities.
Despite that incident, it was a great convention. The progressives of Wisconsin are energized and ready to take back the state in 2014. Together, we will move Wisconsin forward.