I arrived in Mundelein, IL, specifically the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, on Thursday evening. I was there to attend the annual conference of the North Dakota Study Group, which is to progressive education what the Jamboree is to Boy Scouts. It was wonderful to be with so many thoughtful and dedicated educators and writers, but also odd to have my little group the focus of so much interest. People had flown in from across the country, and wanted to know what the heck was going on in Madison. We filled them in as best we could: after the governor’s "Budget Repair Bill" was rammed through committee, passage by the Republican-controlled state Senate was a foregone conclusion. But wait! As Lisa and I were crossing state the state line, so (apparently) were all our Democratic state senators. In a bold and probably illegal move, the senators left the state and are now in an "undisclosed location," although they appear to have been in the same area I was. The senate cannot hold the vote without at least one more senator on the floor, and so the process is now stalled.
More and more teachers across the state continued to call in sick and flock to Madison’s Capitol building. Madison public schools were closed, in all, for three days, and on Friday Milwaukee threw in the towel and closed. Yesterday evening, former presidential candidate Jesse Jackson came to join the marching workers and their supporters. My husband, Wingra colleagues, and even my students marched up there after school and work. And where was I? Discussing and learning about working for social justice in the classroom and beyond.
Mind you, it was all stimulating and heartwarming. But the hearts we were warming sort of ached to be here with our people. Others at the conference felt similarly pulled. The tipping point came this morning, when we had our keynote speech by Milwaukee teacher and founder of the Rethinking Schools magazine, Bob Peterson. After his impassioned talk about the way our state’s schools have had their budgets cut, eliminating P.E., music, library, art and language classes – and that’s before our current "budget repair bill" crisis – conference participants began standing up and demanding that we not just sit there, but we should get ourselves to Madison! Which is how I ended up driving up a day early. In all, at least 3/4 of the participants left the conference.
Today was going to be especially important, in many peoples’ minds, because the Tea Party was scheduled to hold a huge rally on the Capitol steps. (Check out the news story here.) We missed that (due, in part, to one vehicle in our caravan getting a flat tire), but arrived in time to join my fellow Wingra teachers and families for a union rally. I can’t express how it felt to march with thousands of other people – union members who thanked me for my sign, union members and others who I thanked for their support – around the square and right into the Capitol.
So how was I a scaredy cat? Well, we were going to go back down to Illinois with our people, debrief and spend time discussing the moment. But some of us, upon hearing that bad weather was predicted for our area beginning tomorrow, "beat a very brave retreat" and decided to just go home instead. Ah well, there will always be next year….