1. I came to observe and to talk to the protestors. Why? First of all, I wanted to see things for myself. I appreciate the yeoman’s work that Althouse and Meade have done to document much of the events in Madison these last six or so months. But I am curious and want to see things for myself. My location this past week afforded me a ready opportunity to observe and draw my own conclusions. Second, I think of Wisconsin as somewhat of a ground zero for the future of public sector unions and for an emerging discussion of the proper scope of government within the context of fiscal responsibility. I wanted to speak to those who believe they are fighting the good fight on behalf of a certain vision of the future. I wanted to hear it from regular people not from union executives and politicians.
2. I am not untouched by the predicament that these people find themselves in. From what little I could observe, and it was little because of the constant harassment, these protesters are sincere. There was a winsomeness in their singing and one could not help but be touched by the strength that they found in their group and in their hymnody. But the times, they are a changing. I hear too many people comparing their private sector job lack of benefits, job security and retirement. I don’t know if these protesters and others like them are having honest discussions with their families, friends and neighbors but if they did they might be surprised at what they would hear. I would have liked to have such a discussion with one or two of those at the rally.
3. I am concerned at the sense of entitlement that I observed. It was obvious that the Meades and I were not welcome and in fact we were meant to be chased away. I remember chants last spring of, “Who’s house, our house!” Yet those gathered seemed to be unwilling to concede that those who disagree with them in matters of party and policy are still included in the word, “our.” If you have never been to Madison I can only say that the Capital rising as it does high on the hill rivals the United States Capital in beauty and even more so the breathtaking and truly awe inspiring rotunda. One feels the public sacredness of the Capital and its grounds and for that to be denied to any citizen of the state is in a sense a public sacrilege. I would guess that many of those protesting feel the presence of Gov. Walker and two Republican majority chambers is a sacrilege. That can only come from an impoverished view of our democracy. That is why to those who suggest Professor Althouse, should stay away, lay low, stop inciting (apparently when she shows up otherwise civil people cannot control their behavior), stop photographing and stop reporting I scream, “No!” And to the police, who I am sure are weary of all this, I say you are charged with keeping the peace but not at the cost of freedom to assemble. To do less for your own convenience is to dishonor the badge you wear and the oath you took. Perhaps the protesters might take a week off to give our police a break. It would be a gift.
4. Folks who work for the government, union or not, you are not oppressed. You make good salaries compared to your counter parts in the private sector, have more job security by far, more holidays, vacation days and comparatively outstanding health and retirement benefits. The problem for you as I see it is that you thought it would never end. Well, guess what, while you are singing about saving the middle class I want you to know, I AM the middle class and I pay for you! If you want to help the middle class then you are going to have to accept compensation that is more in line with reality. If you are fearful of the future may I suggest to you that your friends have been fearful for a long time. Change is coming and the old arguments born in the industrial age and honed in earlier eras of fatness sound incredibly hollow today. You singing songs and beating drums in what sounds like a Salvation Army street meeting only underscores how old and out of touch your ideas have become.
5. Now to those who think like Gray Shirt that as a Christian minister I am out to bleed people of their money for my own gain or who think that is what churches in general do I found it amusing that while I was being told how unlike Jesus I was my church had a team of twenty-two lay men and woman in a small town in Nicaragua do construction and medical missions. We were dispensing that very week through doctors and nurses from pour church $26,000 in medicine and medical supplies donated to us by, guess who, a major pharmaceutical company. That very night my church prepared and served dinner to a hundred homeless men in a rescue mission and that when NFL season comes around a bank president in my church will open his home to men from the rescue mission to come and join him in an afternoon of NFL TV after church. Our church gives generously to those in need. Which brings me to my next point.
6. People on the progressive side of the political spectrum seem to think they are kind, caring and benevolent because they vote for people who enact laws and budgets that take my money and then give it to your pet projects and constituencies. There is nothing generous about that. Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive he didn’t say it is blessed to tax someone and give it away. The data is unarguable, in the United States Christians are by far the most generous givers. When you give willingly what is yours, not take what is mine and redistribute it, then you can call yourself generous, kind and benevolent.
7. Last, and I say this with some sadness, I was shocked at the treatment I received by the people of Madison gathered there at the Capital on Friday. To be harangued for an hour by someone constantly getting in my face with what I now think I realize was the tacit approval of the crowd and the explicit permission of the leadership was a stain on your beautiful city and your reputation as a center of progressive tolerance. Yes, I am told that some on Twitter have said that I was aggressive and bullying but they are lying. I suspect it’s because they know how badly I was treated and the good will with which I bore the abuse. Better to get out in front and create a narrative to your liking. Have at it. I actually kind of get a kick out being referred to as the nefarious Kansas Preacher. I have ministered in Africa, South and Central America and Mexico. I have held evangelistic services in towns where there was little welcome. I have been glared at in Brazil, stared down in Guatemala and gangster slang of cartel country in Mexico. I have walked the streets of Los Angeles Skid Row with impunity and worked for a government agency in the worst neighborhoods in Philadelphia (where I was a member of the social services union and walked the picket line, thank you) and the worst I have ever been treated in a public place was in Madison, Wisconsin. I say that to your shame.
I am blessed to have met Ann Althouse and Meade Laurence. I arrived as an acquaintance but I left as a friend. Adversity that is shared does that; hospitality that is offered seals it. I came to Madison with an open hand. I had hoped I would have found friends among you as well. Maybe next time.
I’m told that someone at the rally tweeted with certainty that Ann brought me as her “goon.” For the record I don’t weigh 300 lbs as was alleged, I weigh 255 and that gut is from too many Kansas biscuits with gravy. I know I should do sit ups but to borrow a line from comedian Jon Pinette, “I don’t do ups, I only do downs!” But I am 6’ 3.5” and proud of it. I regret that in a naiveté born of my seventeen years in Kansas that I didn’t perceive the threat to Ann. I’m from Philly, I know what real union goons do and I should have known better. I will be back because I’m interested and when I come back if the Professor is with me, I will not leave her side. She’s gutsy but she is small and I will be proud to be her goon anytime.
You of the protests, elections, recalls, camp-ins, plastic drums beating and banners flying I wish you well in the uncertainty that lies ahead for all of us. I pray that I might find a friend or two among you when I return. Until then, solidarity!
The Nefarious Kansas Preacher