Saturday, June 10, 2017

So, Imma send a letter

Dear Paul,

Can I call you Paul? Okay. Great. I haven’t taken the time to congratulate you on your promotion to Speaker of the House. When I first heard the news, I thought, ‘Well, Paul and I disagree on a lot of fundamental things, but at least he is intelligent and has enough courage to do the right thing in the difficult situation a divided congress often presents.’ You see, Paul, I don’t know you, personally, but I know where you came from. The last time you were home, in fact, my mom saw you in church. She prays for you, Paul. I do, too.

Janesville, Wisconsin is a place that is difficult to describe. I learned about right and wrong from the stories my grandmother would tell over a boiling pot of goulash at 1107 Hamilton Ave. She would also pepper our imaginations with the fairies that lived in the big oak tree and magic that dances in bon fires. The house is gone now, but stories and memories are more difficult to tear down.

My grandfather, however, taught me other lessons. He taught me about hard work. He taught me how to make a living. He taught me how to be proud of the work that I’ve done. He worked at GM for as long as I can remember. And, when it left Wisconsin, there were a lot of people out of work and out of hope.

The people of Janesville have recovered because Wisconsinites have an uncanny way of moving Forward. We take our lumps and make the best of the situation we’re given. We’ve learned right and wrong. We’ve learned hard work. We’ve learned pride in ourselves and our home.

But, Paul, I gotta tell you some things. That health bill you actually rammed through (as opposed to the eight month process the Affordable Care Act underwent), it is not good for many, many people. You had the House vote on it even before the Congressional Budget Office could take a look at it and let the American people know what American Health Care Act would cost.

I’m not talking money, here, Paul. Money can be made, and money can be spent. I am talking about lives. Human lives. The plan you passed would kick a whole slew of folks off of health care—people in your district, people in Rock County, people in Janesville, your home town. I know you have spent the past 13 years in DC; I can imagine it is hard to remember the farmers in Evansville or the people living near Riverside Park. But, we need health care. And, kicking it back to each state to determine who can and cannot get quality, affordable care won’t work out as cleanly as you hope. There are going to be a lot of sick people wearing Make America Great Again hats knocking on your door demanding some answers.

Paul, you sold an idea. A flawed idea, but genius all in the same. Your “health care” plan is a tax cut for wealthy people. Some wealthy people are all for it, obviously.  But, here is the sneaky part. You sold this plan with the American Dream, with the idea that ‘I’m not rich now, but I could be..someday.” And, that is how you got it. The people who believe they will someday be wealthy don’t want the government taking their hard-earned money when they have it, in the future. But, the American Dream is just that, a dream. Rags to Riches isn’t reality. There are systemic poverty and class structures designed to keep people in their places.

We may not have castes, here, but do you know how difficult it is to move up a social class? To move up several social classes? You need good, quality public education. You need parents working at a livable wage. You need public programs to form open and accepting communities. You also need healthcare.

This, of course, is where we differ. It is important to have fiscal conservatives to balance out my plans. But, it is a balance. There is some give, and some take. But, Paul, with this health care bill, you just took. And, when the Freedom Caucus said nah, we’re good, you bent over backwards to appease them. You know who that doesn’t benefit? Your constituents.

Health care is obviously a big deal, a bigly deal, if you will. But, I am much more concerned, Paul, with how you have kowtowed to our new Commander in Chief. Remember in paragraph one, when I thought that we have different ideals, but I appreciate your character? Well, I’ve got to say, I have been unimpressed. You have stood by this man through a lot of hair-raising details of how he chooses to live his life. And, just recently, you stood up for him saying something like, ‘He is new to government. He is new to all of this.’ It is okay to make several gaffs while being new to waiting tables or even mis-shelving books in your new position at a library. But, for goodness sake, he is the leader of our country.

A new rookie comes into the White House every four or eight years. Your excuse of him being new to politics doesn’t hold water. If he wasn’t ready for the job, we have several specific failsafes, all of which, well failed. They all failed because the Republican elite, you and your friends had neither the courage nor the gumption to stand up to him. He has taken your party and made a mockery of it. There is a time and place to be a Republican. But, right now, Paul? Right now, it is time for you to be an American.

Katie Botsford

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

So, I knew dementors caused this fog

As a teacher, an educator, and a guide, I am called to help children understand the abstract. I am called to show them why 2+2 equals 4. I am called to encourage children to explore root words and etymology. I am called to help children see information in a new way, a way of which they perhaps hadn’t thought before.

I am called to help children understand the intangible, that which cannot be sensed. I am called to show children unyielding love. I am called to offer children freedom and responsibility.

I am also called to show children hope. Hope for their future. Hope for their present. Hope they understand their past.

I am called to be a balloon that can only rise. I am called to be a positive spectator of children’s learning and understanding. I am called to show up for my children when no one else seems to.

And, right now, right now, I am deflated. I have nothing inside of me to give.

There was a moment of hope between 10:00 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. when my friend posted about calling Thom Tillis, a Republican senator from North Carolina, to perhaps sway his undecided vote. Almost everyone in my program called immediately. There was a chorus of “Vote No for Betsy DeVos” and “As a teacher, I implore you to vote no for Betsy DeVos.” There was a lighthearted feeling, a moment of activism in our grueling schedule. It felt like there could be a chance. People called from Vietnam, South Korea, all over Wisconsin showing up for our educators, for our children, and for the Senate Democrats who spoke all night trying to convince one more person to cut ties with their party.

Our children are not Democrats. Our children are not Republicans. Our children are amazing beings who yearn for knowledge, meaningful work, and adaptation into society. It is irresponsible that so many Senate Republicans put party over country. It is deplorable that they put party over children.

By siphoning funding from public schools, the quality of education will drop because they no longer have the already feeble funds to run a school. It will widen the poverty chasm. It will privatize schools. Schools will become businesses that can “let go of” under-performing children to boost their scores to receive more federal funding.

Children have a right to public education. The government has a responsibility to provide the highest quality of education they can for public schools. I am so, so, so tired of people who have never stepped foot in a classroom as an educator making decisions that affect our children so directly. I would love for Betsy DeVos, as our new Secretary of Education, to come to public schools, to hear our needs, and to make a plausible plan that respects educators. But more importantly, she needs to make a plan that respects our children and their vast intellect. They deserve a Secretary of Education who will fight for them not against them. They deserve people who will show up for them. They deserve people who will stand up for them. They deserve people who will do everything they can to give them the best education possible.

Right now, though, I am out of hope. I have none of it left. Please, join me in representing that which is best for our children. Together, maybe, we can make the difference our children deserve. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

So, grassroots politics has a lot of growing to do

I thought that, for all of my blustering about politics, I need to be an active participant in every way that I can. I attended a Town Hall Meeting with Representative Jim Sensenbrenner this afternoon at the Waukesha Public Library. My intention, here, is to write an op. ed. to The Freeman, that Waukesha newspaper. So, edits and thoughts are greatly appreciated. 

To Whom it May Concern, 
I attended the open Town Hall Meeting hosted by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, State Representative Adam Neylon, and State Senator Chris Kapenga. This was first Town Hall meeting since returning from living abroad. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I did my homework and wrote a first, second, and third tier question if in case others asked similar questions. 

The first several questions focused on Congress' meeting to begin talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Sensenbrenner consistently commented that he does not want to pass anything without knowing what was in it, quoting then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, "You have to pass the bill to find out what is in it" no less than three times, suggesting she passed the bill without knowing what is inside of it. Upon further investigation, she said, "We need to pass the bill, so you can see what is in it away from the fog of controversy." Linguistically, that is a different sentence, but I am not here to quibble over proper pronoun use and cherry-picked quotations.  

In response to a question (I am not sure the specifics), Representative Sensenbrenner began talking about an art project in Washington. He said that a group of art teachers gather student art and display it in the hallway between their offices and the House Chamber. He talked about how the art teachers chose an inappropriate piece of artwork. He further explained that it was a piece of student art that depicted police officers as pigs. Once again, the content of the art isn't the focus. His following sentence was something along the lines of 'there is a divide between teachers and the government. And, here in Wisconsin, all the high school teachers don't like the Republicans.' It was after that quote I began taking more detailed notes, because I knew I needed to write this piece for whomever would listen. 

Representative Sensenbrenner's speech patterns and idioms set the tone for the entire meeting. He spoke in broad brushstrokes like this, which, in my opinion, further divide the parties. Representative Sensenbrenner also spoke in a curt and combative manner to his constituents who were asking questions about the Affordable Care Act, how he is going to use his voice in the House to make sure all people's voices were heard, as well as many other sentiments. 

Then, he called my name. I was lucky enough to still have my first tier question. This is my question, verbatim:

"Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking the time to be here and listen to us, your constituents. Representative Sensenbrenner, as one of those high school teachers, whom you broadly painted to all dislike Republicans, I understand the necessity of both the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression. I also understand the responsibility with which one must handle both of them. The President Elect's inflammatory and derogatory remarks on women, racial and religious minorities, and news media have spurred a seemingly impassible chasm in our already divided country. How will you, as well as congress, hold the President Elect accountable for his words and actions? It seems as though we're drawing lines in the sand that every time the President Elect goes 'too far' we erase it and draw it again. Where will you draw that line?" 

His immediate response was that the House of Representatives has no place in voting for the President Elect's cabinet, that he has no say in who will be in the cabinet. Then, he continued to say that he does not go around using those words, but he defends the President Elect's right to say them as much as my right to disagree with them. 

I said, "Thank you, sir, for that information. I did not know that piece about the House and Senate. However, that was not my question. My question was, 'Where do you draw the line in acceptable language?' How are you protecting your constituents from the things the President Elect is saying?" In response to my keeping the focus on the question and refusing his pivot, there were claps and nods of affirmation. 

His response was rapid fire, which cut me off, "Well, aren't you a teacher? Shouldn't you know that the House does not vote for the cabinet?" There were some cheers for his response, and I needed a second to reel back from that. 

I responded, "Sir, that is not an answer to my question. And, the tone with which you have conducted this meeting is both inappropriate and disrespectful to us, your constituents." 

Representative Sensenbrenner needed to call the room to quiet and reiterated that he can't control what the President Elect says and that it is within his right to say it. He also said that people need to responsibly use their words. 

And, then he moved on. 

About two or three speakers after me, Representative Sensenbrenner banged his gavel and said, "The more you clap and cheer the less questions we can answer," which took away our power to show if we agree or disagree with the speaker. It took away the community aspect and made it individuals with individual problems as opposed to a community feeling similarly about a topic. 

Throughout the meeting, several of Representative Sensenbrenner's comments were pointed and divisive. He did take a hard line on being careful with how he will respond to Russia's perceived influence in our election either for or against the President Elect depending on whom you ask. He referred to Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, past president of the University of Notre Dame as, "a proud, flaming liberal." (1:58 p.m. , 14 January 2017, Town Hall Meeting, Waukesha, WI), which states pretty clearly Representative Sensenbrenner's opinion of anyone left of center. This comment and opinions like this further divide this country along party lines. How can we possibly heal our country if our representative speaks so divisively of both the Democratic and Republican parties? 

Most of the this afternoon's town hall meeting focused on the Federal level, and consisted of people asking questions and sometimes being talked over. However, near 2:15 p.m., a gentleman stood up and asked  State Representative Adam Neylon and State Senator Chris Kapenga about voter suppression in Wisconsin. The gentleman suggested that if voting is a right, should there be an automatic registration process and photo ID  for anyone who turns 18. Representative Neylon's response was, "No." Senator Kapenga expounded saying that people need to make the effort to be engaged in the political process. It is not too much to ask people to register to vote. 

The gentleman followed up with it isn't necessarily about the  registration process, but what about living in the inner city and not having transportation to the voting booth or an ID to use if it is necessary. 

Senator Kapenga's response was something like, 'You don't have that problem.' 

The gentleman retorted, "How do you know that? How do you know my background?" 

Senator Kapenga said, "Are you a constituent of this district?" 

"Yes," the gentleman said.

"That's how I know," Senator Kapenga quipped.

"But, you don't know my background. How can you assume that?" The gentleman said, as murmurs spread across the room.

"You create problems in your own mind," Senator Kapenga stated. The room erupted in noise both in support and defense of his comment. (2:23 p.m., 14 January 2017, Town Hall Meeting). 

Representative Sensenbrenner banged his gavel and brought the question to the federal level by documenting South Carolina's initiative to have people without transportation call the DMV to drive them to their polling place. He said that 59 people used it (I have not verified this number or program), which he suggests it was not a successful venture. 

After the meeting was dismissed, I approached Representative Sensenbrenner and told him that the tone with which he spoke to me and many others was disrespectful and inappropriate. I assured him that I did not need or want an apology, but I wanted to tell him that his comments about me not knowing specific parts of the Constitution were uncalled for. 

He followed up with, "Every teacher should know the Constitution. If someone wants to become a citizen of the country, they need to know the Constitution. The people teaching our children should also know the Constitution." 

I responded with, "I am an English teacher. I studied literature. I don't expect you to know the inner workings of literary theory." 

"Literature is not the basis of our country. You should know the Constitution." 

Baffled, I responded to that with an idea that my knowing this aspect of the constitution is wrong or right, is not the point. I continued, "The point is the tone of this meeting was combative and defensive. I just wanted you to know how one of many of the people here perceived your message and tone."

"Well, your comments and questions were pejorative and derogatory to me."

At this point, a line began to form behind me, and with such a loaded statement, I felt pressured to answer quickly or not at all. So, I decided to get off of the hamster wheel. I thanked him for his time and exited. 

After the meeting, more than one person approached me, thanked me for my words and bravery, and said that his comments and composure were not atypical. I am not being brave. I am speaking my truth. I am standing up for what I believe. I am refusing to normalize this political climate. I am living my American dream--a dream in which people can hold respectful conversations, a dream in which the government listens to the people, and a dream in which people, all people, work towards unity.