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Stand with Wisconsin

It is hard to put into words my reactions and feelings regarding what has been happening here in Madison. As the son of two State of Wisconsin employees, a recent University of Wisconsin graduate, local elected official, future teacher, and someone with future interests in public service, I have seen and experienced the happenings here through many different yet interrelated lenses. This post isn’t meant to be a holistic reflection on what is happening but a few thoughts on a few main topics.

I have been up at the State Capitol every day since Monday, Feb. 14th (and slept under the beautiful dome one night) and will continue to do my part to stand with and for the people and future of Wisconsin. I have been able to participate in some truly amazing times in Madison over the last few years. From being part of the events that brought President Obama to campus, twice, to rushing the field at Camp Randall, to hearing the Dalai Lama, to celebrating in the streets after the 2008 election and Packer Super Bowl win, the past few years have been eventful to say the least. But perhaps no cause or gathering has been more hard-hitting and thought-provoking than the events surrounding Gov. Walker’s proposed “budget repair bill.”

Anyone who has been around and in the Capitol lately can’t help but be deeply humbled by the passions and sense of unity and solidarity shared by all who share in this historic experience. While the chants are getting old, the weather cold, and the outcomes unknown, what keeps people going isn’t the free pizza or drum circles, it’s the overwhelming sense of pride. (the pizza does help though) Pride in Wisconsin, pride in the work people do, and pride because we know what we are doing is right.

Wisconsin has a long and proud history of leading the nation in expanding the rights of organized labor, working people, and the middle class. Unfortunately what Gov. Walker is proposing is not only in conflict with this history, it is a direct attack on the rights and freedoms that workers, both public and private, have earned here in Wisconsin. It is clear that what Gov. Walker is proposing isn’t about the money. It isn’t about the budget. It is about an ideology. This ideology prioritizes politics over people, the few over the many, and the self over the public good. While the state’s largest public employee unions have agreed to the financial concessions of contributing more for their health care and pensions, what they won’t concede is their right and ability to collectively bargain.

Public employees are willing to share in the sacrifices just as private employees and all taxpayers of the state have done. But don’t forget that, contrary to Gov. Walker’s rhetoric, public employees are taxpayers too. While the tenants of his plan use a strategy of divide and conquer, the public knows the value of treating its employees with respect because they know that those on the state’s payroll (teachers, nurses, police, firefighters, snow plow drivers, parks workers, etc…) work for the betterment of our communities, hence the term public employees. These aren’t just paper-pushers, these are our families, friends, and neighbors. These are the people who educate our kids and keep our communities safe. Gov. Walker has wrongly framed this debate as public haves vs. private have-nots. What a false, disingenuous, and calculating premise. While Gov. Walker may be skilled at repeating his veiled arguments on TV, just because he says something over and over again doesn’t make it true. And when what is being said seeks to divide people over a false sense of austerity, especially at a time of financial unease, it is politics at its worst. It is a race to the bottom, the lowest of the low.

While there are undoubtedly policy conversations about the way our public employees are compensated and contract for services, vilifying them as the most responsible source of our financial problems is irresponsible and irrational. I’m not here to rant about capitalism, tax policy, or Wall Street, but the fact that Gov. Walker is advancing his ideological battle to disband public unions under the guise of responsible budgeting is beyond ridiculous.

Gov. Walker claims that his proposal gives local governments and school boards the “tools” to deal with budget challenges. Please. The only “tools” given by Gov. Walker’s plans are a wrecking ball and sledge-hammer when what local governments and school boards need is a scalpel. This proposal even goes against what I thought was a Republican principle of local control, revealing it as nothing but a Trojan horse for an extreme and ideological agenda. Local governments and school boards didn’t ask for this and don’t support it. That’s why hundreds of local officials (including me) have signed a letter against the proposed changes to how WE bargain with OUR public employees. Collective bargaining works. It has worked with our public employees for over 50 years and there is no reason why all of a sudden it cannot work for another 50. I have yet to hear of or read about five local officials in Wisconsin in support of the proposed policy changes to collective bargaining. So spare the breath, Gov. Walker, you can’t say you are doing it for us (local officials) when we repeatedly say we don’t want it.

Gov. Walker may say what he is doing is FOR local governments, but really he is doing it TO local governments.

Responsible budgeting doesn’t allow those writing the balance sheets to choose what we want as the source of our problems and exploit this manufactured scapegoat for political, ideological, or personal reasons. Beyond the fact that Wisconsin has one of the strongest and most financially stable public pension systems and the reality that things like health benefits and pensions are negotiated as part of a total compensation package public employee unions have again said they are willing to accept the financial concessions. Talk about a shared sacrifice. Public employees don’t take the jobs they do because they are looking to get rich or to scam the system. They do their jobs to better their communities, the state, and the public.

What bothers me perhaps as much as the misguided policy is the lack of adult leadership provided by Gov. Walker. The childish, disrespectful, and unprecedented game playing by Republican legislators, led by the Fitzgerald brothers, is enough for an additional post on how they stained the history, traditions, and character of the Wisconsin legislature.  But Gov. Walker’s unwillingness to sit down or even talk with public employee unions, unwillingness to negotiate contracts, unwillingness to compromise with legislators (of either party actually), and unwillingness to acknowledge the accepted financial concessions of the unions is absurd. Leadership? Hardly.

Leadership, especially political leadership, isn’t about dividing people into us vs. them. Leadership isn’t about exploiting the economic woes and concerns of families or state budgets to pursue an extreme policy agenda. Leadership isn’t about playing chicken or playing War. Leadership doesn’t willingly offer people’s rights or livelihood as ammunition or accepted collateral. If you look at history, what defines some of our greatest leaders isn’t their stubbornness or unwillingness to negotiate with anyone, it’s their willingness to make principled compromises. There is the saying that you should never compromise on your principles but you should never be unwilling to make a principled compromise. I feel like a middle-aged parent by saying this but, “It’s not so much that I’m mad, it’s that I’m disappointed in you Gov. Walker.” (ok, I am mad too but…) Through his actions, Gov. Walker has revealed that he is not, nor is he interested in being a leader. So far, his actions reveal him to be nothing more than a shameless ideologue.

It is disappointing. It is infuriating. It is shameful. But what we cannot do is let our passions and efforts end at the conclusion of this fight surrounding the rights of public employees to bargain collectively. Win or lose this particular battle over workers’ rights, letting our experiences here serve as the spark and motivation for future and sustained involvement would be the most meaningful “win” possible. Our participation, our contributions, our voice, and our vote in future endeavors is going to be the true measure of what has been happening here in Madison. When all is said and done, looking backward will provide important reflections and lessons on our efforts to organize, our shared pride and passions, and our stand for what is right. But we must take these lessons and reflections and turn them in the only direction our great state tells us, Forward!

History

More to come on this soon…

Photo by Larry Palm

Back to the Blog

So I’ll be the first to admit it, I haven’t been the best blogger lately (lately as in way too long). I apologize. My bad. But I’d like to give it another go, so stay tuned for some posts soon.

Student Engagement in Local Issues

I wanted to post a guest column I submitted to both campus papers a few days ago relating to the success we had in relation to having a student as a voting member on the Alcohol License Review Committee and also call for continued student engagement in local city issues. The column was printed in both the Badger Herald and Daily Cardinal.

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My name is Bryon Eagon — and no, my first name isn’t misspelled. In addition to being a student at UW, I have the privilege of representing the 8th district as an alder on the City Council here in Madison. Technically, we call it the Common Council, but that’s just semantics. Students are the economic, social and cultural engine of Madison and our opinions and ideas are vital to shaping the future of this great city. But my voice is just one among tens of thousands of young people here in Madison; that’s where you come in. I want to know your thoughts, complaints, suggestions and ideas to help inform my priorities and decisions. Why should students care about the micro of micro levels of government when there are more attractive and flashy issues at the state or national level? Let me try to explain.

Have you ever tried crossing Langdon Street at the intersection on Frances? If so, you’ve probably let out a few obscenities over the blind spots and nonresponsive traffic. That intersection is terrible for pedestrians. Who is responsible for making changes to such a vital public safety issue? The U.S. Congress? The Wisconsin State Legislature? Actually, it is the city’s responsibility. While issues at the city level may not garner the appeal of soaring state or national policies, city government makes decisions that affect our day-to-day lives, oftentimes much more than higher levels of government. From trash pickup to public safety, alcohol regulation to stop signs, we see and experience the decisions made in City Hall every day.

You may have read a few days ago the city is adding a member to the Alcohol License Review Committee and because of students’ engagement and participation, the council recommended and the mayor committed to appointing a student voting member to that committee. So what does this mean for students? A voting student member can promote the kinds of establishments that we, as young people, want in the future of campus and downtown. While there are plenty of places for vertical drinking (where people stand around, down drinks and just hit repeat), there are not nearly enough fun, safe, interactive late-night places for students of all ages. During debates on adding a student to the committee, dozens of students came to the Council meeting and demonstrated how informed, engaged and passionate students can make a difference in city government. We saw a coalition of the Herald and the Cardinal, College Democrats and Republicans, as well as ASM, stepping up to the plate to get involved. I don’t know what part of that last list is more encouraging/historic — the papers working together, campus politicos from both sides of the aisle coming together, or the student government renewing interest in local issues. The council, mayor and the at-large Madison community took notice and were impressed. But this student participation should not and cannot stop with this one meeting.

Student engagement on the ALRC student voting member issue can and should serve as a catalyst for student participation on even more issues. Although issues of alcohol are what unite students the most, so many of us have a greater passion for and are better informed about many more issues than just those surrounding alcohol. The city also deals with issues that involve the environment, transportation, business development, public safety, community services, youth programs, homelessness, parks, pools, tenant and landlord regulations and much more. If you want to make a difference on any of these issues, or have a niche idea of your own, let your voice be heard. The future of Madison rests on the ideas and priorities of young people. If we, as students, do not speak up, contribute and participate in local government, the future of our campus, downtown and city will be decided for us. So e-mail your member of congress, call your state legislator and come testify before or serve on a committee over at City Hall, 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Who knows? Maybe if enough students get involved, we can get a four-way stop at Langdon and Frances.

Bryon Eagon is a senior majoring in political science and communication arts. He can be reached at district8@cityofmadison.com, 608-335-5091, or in person during his office hours Mondays from 10 to 11 a.m. at Lakefront on Langdon in Memorial Union and Thursdays from 1 to 2 p.m. at Pop’s Club in Gordon Commons.

Student Voting Member on the ALRC

A few weeks ago, a proposal came before the Common Council Organizational Committee to add a voting Alder to the Alcohol License Review Committee. The committee voiced concerns about the potential and undesired 4-4 ties this addition could create, so the amendment was made to add another citizen voting member to deter such ties.  So far so good, right? But I thought we could do one better:

I introduced a substitute amendment to change the new citizen voting member to a student voting member.

The familiar topics of safety, landlord issues, the environment, and even those not-so-universal issues (snow removal and toxic algae to name a few), are all important and significant issues to students. Here in Madison, and I would assume in many other college-towns, few issues garner more student attention and passion than the issues surrounding alcohol.

With this interest and goals of encouraging active participation from young people in Madison, students deserve a full vote on the city’s most alcohol-centered committee. Not only do students care about the issue of alcohol, they know about and (many often interact with) the issue. Students can provide a unmatched voice and unique perspective about what kinds of establishments and policies Madison should be supporting when in comes to alcohol. Students are more surrounded with the issues of alcohol than probably any other ‘group’ in Madison.

From participating, observing, interacting, responding, hearing, feeling, and experiencing the affects and impacts of alcohol,  students are in-tune with the direct and indirect issues before the ALRC. Thus, students deserve a full vote on the issue and I would argue that students could benefit the committee and city as a whole with this vote because of their unparalled experiences, input, feedback, and ideas.

Now I know some critics may think that students would just be a “rubber stamp” for anything alcohol, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I would challenge those critics to give students a chance to prove them wrong because I know, through experience, that student don’t just want anything alcohol. No, we are smarter and more well-rounded than some think.

Students want fun, safe, interactive places to do more than vertical drinking. We want places where we can do more than just drink, places where we feel safe and comfortable to hang out, eat, play, relax, and have a good time.  I would venture these sentiments aren’t just shared among students, but shared with the wider Madison community as well.

Jamie Stark over at the Daily Cardinal wrote a great piece on the issue, expanding on how the current student “technical adviser” (non-voting position) shows significant student interest in the position.

My amendment failed to pass a few weeks ago, but the opportunity to add a student voting member on the ALRC is far from over, in fact, quite the contrary. The original proposal returns to the CCOC and Common Council this Tuesday, Oct. 6th, and I plan on re-introducing the student voting member amendment, this time armed with the full legal language and definitions that were previously absent, an absence that cause some self-professed would-be-supporters to vote against the amendment because they were unclear of the details. Not a bad reason, I admit. But now the language and details are clear and the time to show that this city can walk the walk in engaging, empowering, and enfranchising (ah, the rhetorical powers of alliteration) students to be full, active, informed, voting members on a committee they care about is now.

Again, I plan to introduce the reformed and defined amendment tomorrow, Oct. 6th at the 4:30pm CCOC meeting and we’ll have to see how that goes and maybe again before the full Council 2 hours later at 6:30pm.

And for all you junkies out there, here is some of the language of the proposed change to add the student voting member:

DRAFTER’S ANALYSIS:  This substitute ordinance adds an alder and an adult resident to the Alcohol License Review Committee.  The Committee will then consist of 9 members:  3 alders and 6 adult citizens, one of which shall be a student at UW-Madison, MATC or Edgewood.  Term of service is revised from two years to three years, except that the student appointee is a 2-year term.  The effective date of this ordinance shall be January 1, 2010.

(c) One of the adult resident appointments shall be a student, at least 18 years of age, enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison Area Technical College or Edgewood College.  The term of the student appointment shall be two (2) years.  The student governments of each university or college may submit nominations to the Mayor, and any other student may apply for appointment.  The Mayoral student appointment is, like other adult resident appointments, subject to confirmation by the Common Council.

Pass or fail, this initiative for a student voting member on the ALRC has created some great discussions about alcohol policy relating to students and the role students can and should plan on this and other issues here in Madison. Thoughts, feedback, ideas? As always, feel free to email me at: district8@cityofmadison.com

Downtown Coordinating Committee on Campus

The Downtown Coordinating Committee (DCC) is holding its September meeting on the UW campus this Thursday, September 17th at 5:30pm in the Memorial Union (4th floor, Capitol View Room).

The DCC meeting is on campus for the primary reason of hearing from students so please come and share your concerns, ideas, suggestions, complaints, experiences, etc… with an important and influential city committee.

As you can see from the agenda, topics to be discussed are very student-centered, including downtown/campus safety, Halloween, State St, and an open forum to hear from students. This is a unique time to have your voice heard so please take advantage of this great opportunity!

Hope to see you Thursday evening on campus!

Alder Hours

In an effort to continually hear from and talk with students and community members, I will be holding Alder Hours twice a week throughout the fall ’09 semester. Please feel free to stop by and chat about any ideas, concerns, problems, etc..

MONDAYS: 10am-11am @ the Memorial Union, Lakefront on Langdon Room

THURSDAYS: 1:00pm – 2:00pm @ Gordon Commons

lakefront on langdongordon c

Alder Hours are an important way to hear from constituents and I encourage anyone and everyone to stop by and talk, whether it is about city issues or not. Just like office hours for professors and TA’s, Alder Hours are “open door” opportunity to voice your thoughts. All are welcome, not just district residents, but of course students are especially encouraged to stop by. I will have a bright yellow piece of paper to attract you to my table. If you don’t see it, look for the skinny kid with funny black glasses. If you cannot make it to either time, please email me to set up a time to meet! My email is district8@cityofmadison.com

During my campaign for the Common Council I pledged a “Contract with Students” to be a visible and accessible member of campus and of the City of Madison. Alder Hours are an significant part of that pledge and I made the pledge a public “contract” in order to be held accountable to dedicated accessibility, so please come visit and hold me to it. Hope to see you at the Union or Gordon Commons soon!

- Bryon

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