Two members of our Fox Cities Maryknoll Affiliates attended “Advocacy Day at the Capitol”, March 15th, 2011, in Madison, Wisconsin. This annual event gathers people of various churches, synogogues and mosques to advocate with their state senators and representatives about issues that affect the common good of communities, and especially of those who find themselves in poverty. The timing couldn’t have been better, as it was on a Tuesday after the Saturday that our 14 Democratic senators had returned to Madison and appeared at the last huge rally to oppose the Budget Repair Bill of governor Walker.
Kathleen had previously experienced one of the Saturday rallies at the Capitol on a very cold day when about 100,000 people with creative signs came to protest the budget bill of Governor Walker. That day, transportation was a combination of car-pooling and shuttle buses, and long lines, but included meeting some wonderful people, including Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, and lots of advocates for worker justice.
As a first time participant at Advocacy Day at the Capitol, Kathleen Gribble, was very impressed with the organization, intentionality, and effective training that were part of the event. Penny Robinson who has previously attended this annual event, went early, acting as a greeter as people arrived from all over the state of Wisconsin. This seemed a perfect culmination action to solidify the efforts of previous weeks of rallies around and in the Capitol building. The morning agenda included a keynote talk by The Rev. Bruce Burnside, Bishop of the south-Central Synod of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) about the ministry of advocacy. Five organizations sponsored the event: Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin Council of Churches, WISDOM (Faith Communities United for Justice), Madison Area Urban Ministry (MUM), and Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin (LOPPW). These groups came together to speak on behalf of their shared values in the state budget process.
Every participant received a folder of documents with material to prepare them to reflect on values, and to clarify their intentions for justice through prayer, sacrifice and communication. Break-out sessions gave opportunities to learn facts about specific issues and the budget bill’s impact on municipalities in Wisconsin. We felt well prepared to find our voices and meet with our legislators. We ate box lunches gathering by legislative district to meet the people we would be marching with to the Capitol with for appointments with our legislators. After lunch, about 400 of us marched the few blocks to the Capitol with our district signs to meet first with our senators at 2 pm, and then with our representatives at 3 pm. Unfortunately our time was cut short by the extra half hour it took many of us to get through the long lines into the Capitol caused by required police security scanning. We each had written down our legislator’s offices and room numbers on a card, and were able to re-group after scanning and find each other and then the offices. It is a magnificent beautiful building with winding hallways off of the four-story rotunda.
Nine of us from my area of Wisconsin were able to meet with our senator. He seemed very negative toward public sector unions and very supportive of the Walker Budget Repair Bill. We met with him for a least an hour, challenging him on many issues, trying to not be argumentative, and finally asking that he meet with constituents in his district and be clear about the impact on local communities before voting for any final bill that may have devastating effects.
Our next appointment was brief because we had to make it back to take the charter buses leaving at 4 pm, but this Republican representative was more sincerely a man of faith and did really struggle with lots of aspects of the bill, which he felt he had to vote for as a Republican. We urged him to consider the bill’s effects on those least able to bear more losses of income and bargaining power, and to vote his conscience. He said he hoped the bill would be adjusted before coming up for a final vote, but was not greatly optimistic. He did promise to try to be a voice for the voiceless.
“Wow!” is how I felt after this experience, speaking truth to power, with all these strangers, bringing a kind of hope and solidarity for justice in the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill fiasco.