Workers of Wisconsin, Unite

As I’ve followed the past week’s protests at the WI state capitol concerning, AB 61, the “Right to Work” bill, I thought back to the 2011 protests.  That year, I was the vice-president of our union, and I remember my email being flooded the weekend after Gov. Walker introduced the now-infamous legislation regarding collective bargaining.  I spent the weekend reading the proposed legislation and wrote a speech to give that Monday in front of the Joint Committee on Finance.  The next two days of protests were electrifying, and I was proud to have been part of them.

Fast forward to today, to the Public Hearing on AB 61.  My Twitter feed blew up with commentary about testimonies, and it made me nostalgic about my testimony.  I searched through WisconsinEye and eventually found it.  I was unable to embed it into this post, so you’ll have to click on this link, choose the video that’s almost 17 hours in length, and fast forward to 3:21:47.  If I seem bouncy, it’s because I was both nervous and excited.

If you have any thoughts on my testimony or the current “Right to Work” bill, feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.

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Social Media in the Madison Mayoral Campaigns

In my previous post, I outlined the web presence of the Madison mayoral candidates, but now I want to delve a bit further into how they are actually using social media.  According to the Pew Research Center, 71% of online adults use Facebook, making it the most popular social media website, whereas only 23% use Twitter.  As such, when it comes to campaigns, social media can be a powerful tool to organize followers, inform them, and engage in discussions with possible voters.  It can be even more powerful if the candidates use their various accounts in conjunction with each other, not just as separate entities.  With three months until the April election, I expected to see websites and social media channels that work together to coordinate the candidate’s message.

Every candidate has at least one website, one Facebook page, and one Twitter account.  Generally speaking, the online base for a campaign is the website.  Accordingly, I would expect to see the Facebook and Twitter icons so that visitors could check those out in addition to the website.  Of the five mayoral candidates, only Bridget Maniaci has the icons to both Facebook and Twitter.  Scott Resnick and Paul Soglin have the Facebook icons, but Christopher Daly and Richard Brown have no icons.  This leads to two questions- 1) Why do Daly and Brown not have the links, and 2) Why is it that Maniaci is the only one to link to Twitter?  If candidates want to use social media to its full potential they should include the links to all accounts on their website’s main page and make them easy to locate on that page (not at the very bottom underneath the treasurer information).

As for Twitter, this particular social media site allows users to include a URL in their profile.  This is a great opportunity for candidates to link to their campaign’s main website or Facebook.  Only Maniaci and Daly take advantage of this opportunity- Daly links to his Facebook page, while Maniaci links to her campaign website.  Mayor Soglin has a link, but it is to his own website, Waxing America.

It would also be in the best interests of the candidates to change their Twitter profile to include something to the extent of “The official Twitter account for (insert name), candidate to become Madison’s next mayor.”  If not that, then briefly tell visitors about your ideas.  One way to do this effectively would be to use hashtags.  For example, “Candidate for Madison mayor. Supports #sustainability, #publiceducation, and #transportation.”  This way, candidates not only share a glimpse of what they believe in, but when any Twitter user searches for those hashtags, their profile comes up, thereby increasing their reach.  Along these lines, it would also make things easier for voters if candidates used just one Twitter account for their campaign.  Right now, Maniaci and Mayor Soglin each have two accounts, and it is unclear if either one is the official campaign account.

Since more people are likely to use Facebook than any other social media site, candidates should definitely ensure their accounts are full of information.  Unlike Twitter, Facebook has no character limit; therefore, candidates should expand on their ideas.  Besides the main campaign website, candidates should put their platform on Facebook.  They should also include links to the campaign website, other social media accounts, and ways to contact the campaign.

Social media can be extremely powerful, especially as a campaign tool.  In the race to become Madison’s next mayor, candidates should consider how they can use their accounts effectively to reach possible voters, inform them, and most importantly, engage with them in discussion.

Thanks for reading.

The New Wisconsin.Gov

Recently, Wisconsin.Gov, the official website for the state of Wisconsin, underwent a makeover.  The previous website had been up for a while, so it definitely needed a new look.  Unfortunately, that new look is basically an ad for Governor Walker.

Let’s start first with the designer, Wisconsin Interactive Network, LLC.  A quick Google search yields no results for any such company.  What does come up, however, is the parent company, NIC Inc., which provides governments at a variety of levels with digital solutions.  According to an email sent out by Mike Huebsch, Secretary for the Department of Administration, the website “was delivered at no cost to the State or its citizens through a public-private partnership between the State of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Interactive Network, LLC.”  If the state if Wisconsin did not pay for it, then who did?  Visiting the new website, one might conclude that it could have been paid for by Gov. Walker’s supporters.

Here’s what I saw when I visited the website today, May 11, 2014.

The new homepage for Wisconsin.Gov
The new homepage for Wisconsin.Gov

First, notice that the “News in Wisconsin” is that the unemployment rate dropped.  That has not changed all day.  Apparently, that’s the only newsworthy information coming out of our state.

Second, in the lower left corner, you should see “Transforming Education: Improving Education Outcomes to Prepare Our Children for Success.”  That box changes every 6-7 seconds to highlight a total of six topics.  Here are the six topics in the order in which they appear on the website:

  1. Growing our Economy: Making Wisconsin a Great Place to Live and Work
  2. Developing our Workforce: Investing in Wisconsin Workers Today and the Workforce of Tomorrow
  3. Transforming Education: Improving Education Outcomes to Prepare Our Children for Success
  4. Reforming Government: Reducing Waste, Improving Services, and Making Government More Efficient
  5. Investing in Infrastructure: Protecting and Investing in Wisconsin’s Transportation Infrastructure
  6. Property Tax Relief: Reducing Waste, Improving Services, and Making Government More Efficient (I presume that this is not supposed to be the message for property taxes and that the company made an error here)

The image for each topic features Gov. Walker.  As I watched them scroll by, all I could think of were the propaganda posters featuring Lenin or Stalin in the USSR and Mao in China.  “Look at all of the great things our leader is accomplishing with his programs!  Long live the Governor!”

Mao with Children Source: http://maospropaganda.wikispaces.com/Mao%27s+Propaganda+Posters
Mao with Children
Source: http://maospropaganda.wikispaces.com/Mao%27s+Propaganda+Posters
Gov. Walker with Children Source: Wisconsin.Gov
Gov. Walker with Children
Source: Wisconsin.Gov

Third, the box in the bottom center that says “Find an Agency” lists three agencies on the homepage- 1) Department of Workforce Development, 2) Economic Development Corporation, WI, and 3) Transportation, Department of.  Anybody notice a pattern so far?  I find it problematic that while the background for the homepage depicts a picturesque Wisconsin lake, there’s no mention of our Department of Tourism, which the Governor touted in his 2013 State of the State.  There is also no direct link on the homepage to the Department of Education, which Gov. Walker is supposedly transforming for the better.  What we do see, however, is that there are at least three opportunities for visitors to click on links for either business or the workforce.  It’s all about priorities people.

Fourth, let’s go with a positive.  The website does a nice job of directing visitors to social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube only) for a variety of state agencies, boards, commissions, and councils.

So, what conclusions can we draw from the new website?  It’s not really a website about Wisconsin; instead, it is a campaign website for Gov. Walker.  I am not sure if NIC Inc. realizes this, but there is a lot more to Wisconsin than our governor.  Their job should be to inform visitors about Wisconsin, not Gov. Walker’s policies; let his campaign take care of that information.

Thanks for reading.

The Need for Social Studies

On January 10, legislators in the Wisconsin Assembly introduced Assembly Bill 617, calling for “the Department of Instruction to establish model academic standards.”  The bill is timely as the debate over the Common Core State Standards has been heating up in Wisconsin and other states.  I have no problem with people debating whether or not standards should be created by the federal government or the state; in fact, I think it is a discussion worth having every now and then.  My issue with AB 617 lies with the trend of ignoring or overlooking social studies.

In the past few years, there has been an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in education and the workforce.  The WI Department of Instruction has pages devoted to STEM, as do the US Department of Education and the White House.  The Department of Education rationalizes its focus on STEM by arguing that if we don’t push it, the US will not stay a “global leader.”  The White House wants to increase the amount of STEM teachers by 100,000 because they need quality teachers to help prepare students for the “high-paid, highly-rewarding fields of [STEM].”  I understand that as we rely more and more on computers and our technology rapidly improves, we need people to work in those fields.  I also know that American students lag behind their peers in the OECD PISA rankings in math and science. The White House also has a good point about how those jobs can be high-paying.  What I do not understand, however, is the lack of attention given to social studies (or at the university level the humanities and social sciences).

Social studies consists of the following fields: behavioral sciences, economics, geography, history, and political science.  These are the areas in which students learn about themselves and how to relate with others.  In these courses, students begin to understand topics like human rights, globalization, and the roles of international organizations and NGOs.  Teachers like me work to ensure students become globally aware and to appreciate and understand different cultures and belief systems in the world.  Social studies classes are where students learn about civic engagement and what it means to be involved in the public sphere.  Students also see how different types of political and economic systems work (or don’t work).  Understanding where we come from and what has happened before us, can help us avoid the mistakes of the past and make wise choices for the future.  (As a side note, I recommend checking out the American Historical Association’s page, “Why Study History“)  It is through these fields that we can work to eliminate stereotypes, combat prejudice, and fight against extremism.  As a result, teaching social studies and other types of jobs in these fields can also be highly rewarding (not just STEM jobs thank you very much).  Social studies is clearly important to creating a better global society.  So why, when it comes to creating standards or training teachers, is social studies overlooked?

This brings me back to the debate over the Common Core and AB 617.  Go to the Common Core website and read the standards (or at least skim over them).  Did you notice that they only have math and English standards?  History/Social Studies has been lumped into the literacy standards along with science and technical subjects under the English standards.  The only content standards we have for social studies in Wisconsin come from the WI Model Academic Standards, created in 1998.  According to Kristin McDaniel, the social studies consultant at DPI, “the State Superintendent has decided to indefinitely pause social studies standards revision in Wisconsin.”  In AB 617, however, the authors of the bill would like DPI to create new social standards in 2020.  Social studies is given priority over only the arts.  Even though WI has already adopted the Common Core standards for both English and Math, the authors of the bill want new standards for math in 2016 and English in 2017.  Think about how much the world has changed since 1998 (the War on Terror, globalization, BRICS, etc.), and yet, social studies teachers in WI will continue to use outdated standards.  Once again, we see that STEM wins out over social studies.

Here are a few questions I have for the authors of AB 617:

1. Since WI has new (as of 2010) standards for math and English, why not have DPI create new standards for science and social studies first, and then reexamine math and English?

2. What are you (and your Democratic colleagues) going to do to support and promote social studies education and programs in WI?

3. Why are all twenty-two authors/sponsors of the bill Republicans?  What about the bill was unappealing to your Democratic colleagues?

Thanks for reading.

Going Green

A while back, I wrote a piece about why I was leaving the Democratic Party.  In my final paragraph, I asked if there was “a third party out there that supports progressive/liberal values but does not resort to absolutes and child-like behavior (name-calling, bullying, gloating, etc.)”  Since that time I have read the State Platform of the Wisconsin Green Party; what follows are my thoughts about the Greens.

During the discussions I’ve had with friends and colleagues in the past about the Greens, one point in particular has been brought up fairly consistently- that they’re a bunch of “tree-hugging hippies” and that if they want to be taken seriously, they need to do something about that stereotype.  So it did not help matters when during the first line of the Preamble of the State Platform, the Greens state that “we must treat each other with love, respect and fairness…”  Even though I agreed, I wondered if it had to be stated right there, right away, as if they were flaunting being “touchy-feely.”  The more I thought about it, however, the more I respected their decision to be proud of their beliefs and to actually put those sentiments in writing.

As for the rest of the Preamble, two ideas stuck out to me- “building grassroots democracy” and giving the people of Wisconsin a party they can “believe in.”  They go further into grassroots democracy later in the platform, so for now I will focus on the second concept- a party in which my fellow Wisconsinites can believe.  I think that if more people read the Platform and thought about how it aims to correct many of the ills of today’s political system, they would believe in the Greens.  The problem that I see the Greens having here is not so much to do with their message as it is with spreading their message.  If one were to visit the WI Greens website, it becomes very clear that they could do more to spread their values.  The only social media that I found them using was Facebook; they do not have a Twitter account or other social media accounts.  I was blown away by this as it is fairly common in political communication to combine the use of various social media platforms to reach supporters, organize them, and mobilize them.  As for their use of Facebook, as of this writing (December 10, 2013), they have only one post for December, two for November, two for October, and two for September.  The website itself is easy to navigate and find the Constitution and Green Values; however, similar to Facebook, they have very limited updates.  If the Greens want Wisconsinites to believe in their message, they have to first spread the message.

Before I break down the Platform, I want to be clear- while I am very impressed with the Platform as a whole, I am only going to discuss a few of the points (there are, after all, 62 total points).

Ecological Wisdom

Under the section about agriculture, I like the idea of supporting farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) and protecting family farms.  I like going to the Dane County Farmers Market and the Northside (Madison) Farmers market every once in a while when our schedule permits.  Additionally, since I can’t garden to save my life and I want my children to eat local, fresh produce, I would like to see more opportunities to receive food from CSA farms.  What I would add to this section is to increase government support for Farm to School programs throughout Wisconsin.

In the energy section, I whole-heartedly support the stance of “building and promoting mass transit infrastructure for light rail, high-speed rail, commuter rail, as well as intra and intercommunity bicycling and walking trails.”  During my year stationed in South Korea and 2 1/2 years stationed in Germany, I did not own a car; instead I traveled via public transportation and it was wonderful.  In a previous post I linked to a page outlining the benefits of public transportation, and I think it would be worth doing so again.  Additionally, I’ve wondered for quite some time now what it would be like to connect our UW System cities and towns by rail.  As a bicyclist, I would also like to see more trails around the state that connect to each other to give people an awesome opportunity to see Wisconsin in a whole new way and to support commuting to work by bicycle.

Social and Economic Justice

The very first point in the section concerning economic justice calls for an increase in the state minimum wage to $15 per hour.  While I agree that workers in industries like the fast food industry should get paid more than minimum wage, I am concerned about the effect of an immediate increase up to $15/hour.  Would it be more prudent to perhaps raise it gradually over time to see the effects first?

As a member of the teachers’ union, I stand behind the Greens position for people to form unions and bargain collectively.  In point 28, the Greens continue by asserting that “the State should assist management in working more closely and cooperatively with unions.”  Again I agree, but I also believe that unions need to be prepared to compromise as well.  Unions have been vilified enough in this state, and I do not want to see that trend continue.

The Greens also support family leave legislation, but it is not clear what they mean by that.  I would like to see an increase in paid parental leave that puts Wisconsin, if not the United States on par with the rest of the Western, industrialized world.

Paid Parental Leave- US vs the World

In the final point under Economic Justice, the Greens emphasize “stronger ties with our Canadian neighbors.”  This makes perfect economic sense since Canada is our biggest market for exports- $7.61 billion in exports in 2012 (WI DATCP).  I would also like to see us add an increase in trade possibilities with the EU.  In the same point, the Greens promote fair trade over free trade with certain countries, and I agree with that, but we should make sure that fair trade does not end up being detrimental to our economy.

As a high school teacher, I like what the Greens have in the Platform, but since teaching is my livelihood, I do not want to necessarily get into how I would change the system at the moment.  I want to save that for a future post.

Grassroots Democracy

In the Preamble, the Greens call for building grassroots democracy, and in the explanatory paragraph for this section, they propose that “Democracy and self-governance are dependent on the public being fully informed and all (italics mine) political parties having access to the ballot and public debate and discourse.”  I have a tough time saying we live in a democracy when in our current two-party system, 49% of a population in a constituency could theoretically be unrepresented (in other words the person in office could represent the interests of the 51% who voted for them.)

The Greens’ push for proportional representation “for legislative offices on the municipal, county, and state levels” is an excellent idea.  People should not be “forced” to vote for the “lesser of two evils” on election day.  At the same time, third parties face an uphill battle due to the influence of money in politics; therefore, this will not be successful unless it goes hand-in-hand with campaign finance reform.  Having more than two parties in government should hopefully decrease the notion of a democratic deficit (that people do not feel truly represented) here in the US.  If the electorate knew that they could vote for whichever party they wanted to with the idea that it might gain seats, would that increase the percentage of those who vote?  Of course, if we adopt a proportional representation system, we would have to be prepared to allow for extremist parties (although I can’t see parties like Golden Dawn in Greece getting votes here in Wisconsin.)

Nonviolence

Out of the four pillars in the Platform, this is the section with which I am least acquainted.  I do agree with the Greens however, in opposing the death penalty and ensuring that white-collar crimes receive fair and equal punishment.

Conclusion

I am quite impressed with the Platform and would like to help the Greens spread their message; so, where do I go from here?  I’ve signed up on the website to volunteer and even offered to help with Twitter, but I haven’t heard back yet.

What do you think of their ideas?  Should we move to a proportional representation system?

Thanks for reading.