Over the past few weeks, I have been fascinated at the cat and mouse game that is happening just over the border from me in Wisconsin. The big bully Governor Walker is metaphorically taking away the lunch money from the teachers who spend part of their day making sure the bullies in their schools literally don't take the lunch money from the kids.
There is blame both ways--maybe the Democrats shouldn't have fled the state. The Republicans have used mean tactics to make them out to be cowards--even suggesting that they have stayed to work, while the Democrats aren't doing anything.
But the issues that are at the core of this argument are still the teachers. The teachers, and how they are being treated, how the connection to a union is seen as an evil that must be taken down by the government.
Listen to the reasons why the teachers shouldn’t be striking: they’re overpaid, the test scores aren’t good enough, they don’t work hard enough, they only work 9 months out of the year. Really? Certainly this is a divisive issue, but if any of the excuses used are that teachers are overpaid or have it easy, then I take issue with this.
The heart of the issue came down to collective bargaining. Walker claimed that by taking this away, it will be easier for the local governments and municipalities to balance their budgets as well. But Walker is also making it easier for the Koch brothers to add to their fortune, as former Republican (yes, Republican) Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson points out.
Carlson also reiterates the importance of unity, as opposed to division. Where would our nation be right now without unions? Even the word union symbolizes joining together. I understand that there’s a need to balance budgets and make cuts, but why do our governments target areas that affect our future? Think about the question asked of Jesus about which commandment is greatest.
Matthew 22:36-39 (New International Version, ©2011)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"
Certainly our governments don’t have to abide by the same principles as our religions. Certainly our politicians don’t have to love their neighbors as themselves—right? If they did, wouldn’t they cut their own salaries or at least cut the government waste? Maybe they'd cut our defense budget, as the Reverend Jim Wallis suggests as "What would Jesus Cut?"
Wouldn’t our politicians not spend such ridiculous amounts to get elected—what kind of financial stewardship is it to spend $11 million on an election? We wouldn’t have such large deficits in our nation if aspiring politicians didn’t have to treat their candidacy as if they were tossing out Monopoly money.
The synod bishops of the Evangelical Church of America in Wisconsin wrote a letter to Governor Walker and to the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate. They call for the rights of all persons to be respected. "Our consciences demand that we earnestly defend the rights and the dignity of the weakest and poorest among us. We hope you will seek to do the same," the ELCA synod bishops wrote.
I earnestly hope that dialogue can occur and that voices speaking up for the weakest and poorest are heard. Governor Walker is concerned about fiscal responsibility and there are some obvious flaws with how cash is allocated. However, without allowing conversation to occur, his actions seem more like a power-hungry tyrant than a democratically elected leader.
This week, the Democrats who fled the state asked Governor Walker for an opportunity to dialogue. It would've been nice to see the two sides come together and compromise instead of continuing with bullying tactics without room for change.
As we now know, dialogue did not occur. The vote by the Wisconsin Senate was like a swift punch in the gut. It was an "I'm bigger than you, and you can't do anything to stop me" moment. It was, in many ways, a sad moment.
It’s time our nation did a better job of lifting up our neighbor instead of looking out for own best interests. If we expect our kids to stop bullying--as we discussed in State of Formation last month--perhaps our grown ups need to model this behavior first.