Encoded Conversations

The food table at Occupy Madison's general assembly

Yesterday, being Tuesday, I had lunch with other Realtors.  I don’t talk much during these lunches – I go because they’re a great way to leech a variety of knowledge from other Realtors without having to learn it via experience myself.  I frequently walk away from these lunches irritated with their priorities and their outlook, but better informed.

The conversation over yesterday’s lunch focused on comparing various local school districts.  All of the other Realtors were older than me (most Realtors are older than me) and they spent a great deal of time waxing nostalgic for when the Madison school district was the desirable one, while the suburban schools nearby were considered shabby.  Apparently things have switched.  Now, Verona, Middleton and Oregon have the more attractive school districts.

I may have spotted this movement's answer to the Tea Party's adoption of the Gadsen flag

I was listening to this conversation very intently, in part because their understanding of current perceptions don’t match mine.  Finding out what great transition had occurred to demote Madison schools, why on earth they seem to think sending your kid to West high is tantamount to child abuse, was really important to me.  They talked about their reasons, but even though I hung on every word, I couldn’t figure out what they were saying.

“The way I see it, kids are still so moldable in elementary school, it doesn’t matter if they get exposed to certain things you wouldn’t want.  As long as the family moves before middle and high school, and most of them do, it should be okay.”

The whole conversation was like that.  There’s something unsavory in the Madison schools that your kids could be exposed to if you attend.  I couldn’t figure out what that unsavory element was, though.  Poor people?  Black people?  Hispancis?  Hippies?  The conversation was coded thoroughly, and I didn’t have the key.  They’re worried about something, and everybody else in the conversation seemed to know what it was.  Maybe I would if I’d been around town longer, or if I had kids.

Most of the people in this photo were occupying the Capitol before occupation became all trendy

This isn’t the only time I’ve been in this situation.  My second time in Madison, when we were looking for an apartment, the property manager for the very last place we saw, the only place that met our very basic requirements, upon hearing about the other places we’d seen said, “Well, the equal housing protection act won’t let me tell you what kind of people don’t live here.  But this is a time when people are getting home from work, so if you look around the parking lot, you’ll see that the people in those places aren’t here.”  Don and I walked away deeply confused about who two people moving up from the South side of Chicago (and at least in my case, sorry about it) are supposed to have filled in for “people.”  We never figured it out, be remain offended on their behalf.

Perhaps it’s just my brain over-decoding things where it can consequent of being thwarted, but I’m starting to read the constant questioning in regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement along the lines of, “What are their goals?” and “What do they hope to accomplish,” as a code for, “I feel okay, why don’t they?”  and “They can’t accomplish anything.”  This is probably unfair of me; most of the people asking those questions are likely as sincerely fuddled as they claim.  But I can’t help wondering how the answer to “What is that?” isn’t obvious.

I still remember screaming when Bush answered Wall Street's collapse with very un-capitalistic bail-outs. And then screaming louder when the only other angry people willing to get organized were the Tea Party.

It’s what happens when a swath of disaffected people start talking to each other while they’re still invested in society.  It’s the precursor to something big.  That something could be anything from the French revolution to the dissolution of an entire generation’s political and social investment.  It’s what comes before the London riots, the Arab spring, the existentialists taking over Parisian cafes.  It’s a generation waking up to say “What the fuck?” and trying to solve it with conversation and jazz hands.

I’m in such deep wait-and-see mode over the whole thing I’m not even willing to put my current opinions in writing – they’re changing with each new story from a different city.  But I will say this: The Occupy Wall Street people are not afraid to name their enemy.  They are not afraid to list his crimes.  And they are not afraid to confront him directly.  The coding in their conversations centers on running from anything like hierarchy or leadership, from stepping on the toes of allies.  And their codes are transparent.  If they accomplish nothing else, I hope they carry that much out the other side of this.  I like knowing who “those people” are.

I agree with Nass

The hullabaloo on the local political front this week is about people going after Chief Tubss’s job.  You can get a quick overview here.  Some of the articles about it this week have been spectacularly bad pieces of journalism – there was one where the sum total of the content was, “Somebody wants an investigation into something so they can try firing Tubbs.”  Didn’t list Nass as the rep doing the instigating, didn’t say anything about laxity in February and March.  Truly the local news coverage is made of rigor and quality.

I’ve talked about Grothman and the police dynamics in the protests before.

Anyway, I’ve been watching this meme develop over the course of the week and I have to say, I’m with the Republicans on this.  I wish the police had stormed the crowds in February.  Things would be so much better if they’d come riding in on horses and sprayed gas and rubber bullets.  And here’s why: The entire. World. Was watching.  There were news cameras everywhere.  Do you know what we could do with international footage of cops charging teachers, firefighters, college students, and elderly hippies?  Seriously.  I kept showing up at the Capitol in a suit so I could use my mug shot on my business cards, and the police never once gestured toward obliging me with an arrest.  That’s really frustrating.

I’m not really sure why Nass thinks that having an outmanned, highly observed police force storm a crowd would keep nails out of a Senator’s driveway.  I think it would have been more likely to provoke a riot, get some people hurt, maybe have a few things burn down.  But hey, this whole process has been entirely too peaceful, respectful, and full of signing for my unrestrained aggressive side.  For some reason, nobody wants to blow things up, and the only people willing to crack jokes about physical violence are the ones too apathetic/lazy to actually get involved.  It’s like these annoying protest types are too invested in the success of their society to tear it apart.  Or something.  Losers.

Next time, I’m coordinating protest dynamics with Nass.  Clearly he’s more on my page for how this political conversation ought to go.


P.S. Dear FBI: I’m being facetious.  Please don’t storm my house to thwart my violent uprising; it’ll upset the cat.


Let’s start this by making it very clear, I am not by any remote stretch of the imagination anything resembling a pacifist.  Violence is, in fact, sometimes the answer.  Sometimes, it’s the only answer, other times it’s the most efficient answer, and denying that is just dumb.  Violence is a tool, and like many tools,  can turn very nastily on those who employ it.  So it’s not an answer you should run to by default, or one you should employ without a lot of thought toward collateral damage and cascading effects, but on occasion, it is what’s needed.  Everything I say below should be read with the full knowledge that it’s being said by me, thinking on the subject as I do.  Apply salt accordingly.

Pacifism is not about conflict, but about violence.  It’s grounded in the belief that violence is never the answer, or that it’s never an acceptable answer, or that it’s impossible to determine the circumstances under which it is an acceptable answer and the risks associated with it are too high to countenance mistakes.  Pacifists can resist; their means of resisting are constrained, but that constraint can be an effective tool as well.  Images and stories of power inflicting violence on the non-violent weak are extremely potent.  Pacifism is not about conflict avoidance, running from a fight, or idly hoping things will get better.  It’s a tactic, a guidebook, a means of enabling a concept of optimal engagement in a conflict.  Like bravery and fear, one cannot be a pacifist in the absence of conflict.

I am not a pacifist, I disagree with their fundamental approaches to conflict resolution.  But I have a lot of respect for them.  Thus far, our differences come out strictly in rhetoric and big-picture framing,* not day-to-day assessments or choices.  I rather hope that continues to be true.

For those of you who have misconstrued pacifism into an excuse to go home and whine about how mean people are, and how stressful you find it to engage with people who disagree with you, the word you are looking for is coward.  You do not get to say, “The world is ending because those people there are destroying it, so I am nobly going to go over there, shut my eyes and do nothing,” and keep your dignity.

Coward.  Own it.  Stop giving real pacifists a bad name.

* i.e. my worst case scenario is that after going all the way to deploying violence we still lose, while theirs is that we utterly lose, but haven’t tried violence.  And I can’t get through the day without threatening to shoot somebody in the face.

There Just Might be a Subtext Here

Once upon a time, when the ink on the constitution was barely dry, a clever man named Alexander Hamilton saved our shiny new country from self-destruction.  Everybody knew he was clever, but they also knew he was a bit machiavellian, and some will tell you that the provision about natural born citizens and the presidency was designed to keep him from taking power.  Nonetheless, Alexander Hamilton was clever, and he used that, with a bit of shrewd manipulation, to save the country.

You see, he guaranteed that the new government would pay the war debt which, technically, had been incurred by a completely different government.  The new government had no money yet, had barely worked out its ability to raise any money, and now it had a lot of debt from a war that ended while the Articles of Confederation still seemed like a good idea.  It was the best thing ever.

You see, by taking on the debt, all of a sudden the important people in the country, i.e. the people in a position to be owed money by a war government, had a vested interest in making the new government succeed.  If it failed, the next one might not feel responsible for paying them, or the individual states might have been stuck with the bills.  So people worked hard to make sure the government did succeed.  Not all of the parts of the country were thrilled with being a federated union – some of them wouldn’t have minded going back to England if the king would just be reasonable about taxes – but in order to get paid, they played along.

And because people had a vested interest in the government, a reasonable expectation that it would be better than nothing, or than burning it down and starting over (again), the shiny new government with the shiny new constitution succeeded.

Without that vested interest, why, everything would have fallen apart, and the war of 1812 might well have happened sooner, and ended differently.  (We won that one, btw)

It’s always been all about money.  But our bad guys used to be a lot more useful.

The Ultimate Barter Item

On this, the morning of a rather important slew of elections here in Wisconsin, I’d like to take a moment to show you the face of the enemy.  I’ve been frustrated for months with how little the anti-Walker people in Madison seem to understand their opposition.  To be fair, outside of certain rather sheltered pockets, the opposition does not natively exist here, so having an actual conversation with a Tea Partier, or a radical social conservative, or even a classic fiscal conservative who hasn’t yet panicked and jumped ship, is not something likely to happen organically.  That’s no excuse.  If you don’t understand your enemy, you cannot plan for him, and you don’t understand the correct ways to go about being afraid of him.

I have a long, long rant about what the Tea Party actually is (and if you think astro-turf is relevant, this rant is about you) that starts with “They have a fundamentally different understanding of the social contract,” and will, if my audience seems willing, start with the revolutionary war in explaining what’s going on now.  It’s best delivered in person, though, so I can judge how much I’m being humored or ignored and adjust pacing accordingly.  Besides, on the internet, a youtube video is worth a liter of foam.  So I present this video to you with the following notes:

1) It is sincere, not satirical

2) Its intended audience doesn’t laugh.

3) If you can’t wrap your head around somebody who can watch this video with a straight face, you have some studying to do.

That said, I’ve been giggling over this video for a week.

Running Away

Phone banking to Get Out the Vote for Dave Hanson last Tuesday, I wound up talking to an older lady who said something along the lines of, “I’ve always liked Dave, and I don’t like those other guys, but I just can’t support him running away from his job.”

Here’s the thing – the Fab didn’t run away from their jobs.  They did their jobs, rather surprisingly and spectacularly.  I don’t elect my representatives so they can go get steamrolled while other people ignore correct processes, break the rules, and twist the system in order to do irresponsible things.  I elect them to protect my interests and ensure the government fulfills its part of the social contract.  Sometimes, that means mucking up the gears and bringing the machine to a halt, so it can’t continue to lumber forward and wreaking havoc.

Dave Hanson won fairly handily, but I worry about this perception of “running away.”  It’s the only time in my life I can recall respecting the Democrats, as a group, for actions they’ve taken.  Democrats often forget that their job isn’t to sit around and hold the high ground, it’s not to be the good guy, it’s to represent the interests of their constituents while ensuring the government fulfills the social contract.  If that means fighting fire with fire, lockstep idealism with robust organization, and corporately organized legislative machines with day light and script kiddies, then go do that.  Thwarting quorum wasn’t running away, it was fighting back the only way possible.  It was also brilliant.

I went into this with her, but she’s an older lady from rural Wisconsin.  They don’t talk politics much, and she wasn’t interested in debating the finer points of parliamentary procedure and social contracts with me.  I honestly don’t think I accomplished much of anything by way of turning out votes – there are too many organizations calling the same people too often – but it was good for me, and I think it’s good for the people running the efforts to realize this: If the average voter can’t see the difference between a retreat and a poke in the eye, we have some voter education to do.  And when they write the history books, they’d better get this one right.

Respect for the Rule of Law

The Wisconsin State Journal has an article up about people reacting to the Prosser choking incident.  For those of you who aren’t obsessively following Wisconsin politics just now, here’s your context: Prosser just narrowly won an election to keep his seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  There were shenanigans involved in the election, but it is highly unlikely that it was actually stolen.  Prosser is conservative leaning and known for having a bad temper.  Last Friday, reports came out that he choked one of his fellow justices while they were hashing out the decision to overrule a lower court and let the collective bargaining bill go through for publication.  This endeared him to me, because, really, how can you not love somebody who gives you presents like that?

Are we all on the same page now?  Good.  Now let’s ignore that and focus in on this quote in the article:

“If this keeps up, they are going to have to start talking to each other with puppets,” said Donald Downs, a UW-Madison professor of law and political science. “This kind of behavior threatens to undermine the public’s respect for the rule of law.”

I nearly died laughing when I read that.  Why?  Because I already don’t have any respect for the rule of law in Wisconsin.


The executive branch, most saliently the governor and the Department of Administration, lost my respect when they backed inappropriate legislation, and illegally locked the capitol against the public.  The legislative branch lost its authority when it flouted its own rules, passing laws without following correct procedure, meeting debate requirements, or, you know, being consistent about whether or not an item was fiscal just so they could reach quorum.  So I’ve been openly disdainful of 2/3 of the state government since before March.  I moved out of the capitol when the courts told me to because, at that point, I still respected their authority.


That changed with the ruling on the collective bargaining bill.  There is no question that the open meeting law was violated in order to pass it.  Throwing out Sumi’s ruling on the grounds that she didn’t have the jurisdiction to make that ruling, effectively arguing that an illegal bill has to be published and put into effect before it can be challenged, single handedly undermines the purpose of the open meetings laws – why follow those rules when the consequences don’t come until after you’ve left with the trophy?  Sending the Capitol access case to mediation so the unions could bend over and let the DOA (Department of Administration) off the hook for contempt was a nasty nail in that coffin too, though I’m irrationally rather more pissed at the unions for that one.


So yeah, you guys go ahead and tell the supreme court to behave or else people will lose respect for the rule of law all you like.  At this point, the government of Wisconsin is dead to me.  I do not respect its authority.  I do not acknowledge their right to tell me squat.  Any laws or rules I follow these days are a consequence of habit, or because I see that behavior as part of the social contract with my fellow citizens.  The government doesn’t enter into it.


I’m not sure what the conditions for restoring its authority will be.  I know successfully recalling the Republican Senators, and Walker, is a bare minimum.  Since there’s a way inside the system to do that, I’m playing along for now.  But if those go well, the people we put in had better get straight to an awful lot of back-tracking.  Otherwise…I don’t know.  I’m not sure what the right thing to do is when you find yourself living in a non-consensual anarchy.  I’ll be pondering this between now and January.

Phone Banking Stories

“Hello.  My name is Anaea and I’m a union volunteer calling union households about the upcoming recall election…”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” 

I’ve been running around doing all sorts of things – yesterday I got fried crispy canvassing in Barabo – but the most interesting, I think, is the phone banking.  Perhaps its because the autodialer makes actually getting a hold of people much more efficient than going door to door, or because I don’t really like being out in sunshine and warm weather, but it feels much more productive.

“Hi.  I’m Anaea and I’m a union volunteer calling union households.  Are you familiar with the upcoming recall election in your district?”

“Yeah.  We already voted once, and now we have to go do it again.  I’m not at all happy about that.”

The software the phone banks at the Labor Temple are using is pretty neat.  This could just be a reaction to having a netbook that makes the calls for me, and a web-based interface I can update in real time when I’m used to print outs and using my own phone, but the interface makes me happy.  I click the “next” button, and it dials until it get somebody to pick up.  Then it gives me the name of the person I’m looking for with whatever demographic information is available about them.  If there are other people in the database under the same number, they show up and I can click on them to mark their responses, if needed.  I’m not sure if it was a feature of the district or what, but the majority of the people I’ve called were over 60.  A substantial number of them were over 70.

“I’m 87 years old.  I don’t pay any attention anymore.”

I wish they’d hire somebody who had any kind of competence in script writing.  What they hand the volunteers looks like the very worst of sales training scripts.  The script for banking the 14th, Luther Olsen’s district, is too stilted even for an evil computer in a 1960’s B movie.  The unions have endorsed Fred Clark “Because he will stand up and fight for working families in the state senate.”  The next line of the script says, “His opponent and current Senator, Luther Olsen, voted to repeal worker’s rights to collectively bargain.”  You can print that on a flier; you can’t say it on the phone.

“I just found out I have cancer, so I’m not really interested.” Click.

There must be a cancer epidemic in the 14th district – I had three people say this in one evening.

The bad scripts do lead to fascinating social observations, if you look for them.  New volunteers come in, and they start off faithfully reading the script, and getting hung up on.  As they sit there, during the down time while the autodialer looks for a real person, they can hear what the other people are actually saying.  Put somebody with a particularly loud, dynamic voice in the room, and within half an hour, their version of the script gets repeated by everybody.

Concise phrasing, engaging shifts in tone quality, emphatic pauses, they all spread through the callers like a virus.  Then the source leaves, volunteers change over, and it happens again, but with a new script.  The volunteers think they’re just getting comfortable with the process, warming up to the political equivalent of telemarketing, but they’re stealing performance.  I don’t think the people getting copied even realize it – they’re busy listening for somebody more comfortable, more dynamic, looking for something they can use to improve.

“Which union are you from?”

“I’m not in a union, I’m a Realtor.  I’m volunteering at the Labor Temple because I want to help them fix the government.”

“Yeah, I’m a Clark supporter.  I just had to check.  There’re so many shenanigans going on with this recall stuff.  You never know who’s really calling you.”

My biggest complaint about the phone banking is the information they give the volunteers.  They orient you to the technology quickly and efficiently, hand you the clunky script, then move on.  But these volunteers are from Madison.  Fred Clark is the Assemblyman for the 14th, but your average citizen doesn’t know their own assemblyman, let alone somebody else’s.  But come on, he’s the guy who climbed out of his office window to meet with constituents on the lawn, during winter, in Wisconsin.  He’s one of the badasses rising in a time of Democrats being unexpectedly badass.  The phone bank organizers should, perhaps, tell people that.

“I’m not going to vote.”

“Why not?”

“Listen, back when I was in school, a long, long time ago, they taught you that you can go ahead and vote for the best candidate all you want, but once they’re in office they’re in, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“In Wisconsin that’s not true.  That’s the point of a recall – if the candidate turns into a bad politician, you can remove him.  And  the next guy will know better.”

“That’s just not how it works.”

“It is working that way right now.  All you have to do to make it happen is vote.”  This is the only time I’ve gotten into an actual argument with somebody.  I have no idea whether she was pissed at Olsen, or the recall.  I just couldn’t let her go on being wrong.

Sometimes the software is a little slow, and it’ll populate information at the top of the screen – the phone number you’ve dialed, the name of the person you’re looking for – but won’t have updated the rest.  That means you might call for one person, find out they aren’t home, and get on to the next call before you see that there are three other people in that house you can ask for, because their names haven’t loaded yet.  I think it’s a consequence of the network at the Labor Temple rather than a bug in the software, but it was annoying.

“Is this Kathy?”


“Hi, my name is Anaea.  I’m a union volunteer calling union households…”

“This is not a union household.”

The database has four names in that house listed.

I hear people talking about getting discouraged when they run into staunch Olsen supporters, when people hang up, when people are angry.  They want to call forty people in an hour and have all of them be adamant that they’re going to go vote, and they’re voting for Clark.  This is dumb.  There’s no point in calling those people.  We want to talk to the undecideds, the unenthusiastic, the wafflers.  We have to find the people who don’t know what’s going on and explain it to them.  Anything else is a waste of time, and we have precious little of it.

“Yeah, I’ve been getting a hard time of it at work.  For years I was the hold-out Republican, but now?  Walker and the Fitzgerald’s, they’re Nazis.  I can’t put up with that.”

“I understand how you feel.”

“I have to vote for Clark.  I just…what happened?  And the guys at work are ragging on me.”

“They don’t get to do that.  This is rough for a lot of people.  You’re doing the right thing, and we need you.  Thank you.”

This is Not a Revolution

This is not a revolution.

The revolution happened while nobody was paying attention. They organized. They planned. They established the rules that would control the game. They taught each other that the rules they couldn’t change didn’t matter. That’s why so many people are looking around and wondering why things are so bad, how Walker et. al. can think they’ll get away with it. The revolution happened already, and we’re just seeing the end game, the final consolidation of power. That’s why the only way to slow them down was to break the system. That’s why allegedly unique states have similar legislation creeping up. They beat us to the revolution, and they almost won.

This is not a revolution. It’s a counter-revolution.

A revolution is a change from the status quo to something new, a shift from the old way to a new way. The other side paints themselves as Conservatives, as the protectors of our sacred traditions, the preservers of our traditional values. To do that, they push us toward an idea that never existed, could never exist, and has its closest historical precedent in the robber barons and anti-capitalist monopolists. They’ve made all the changes. Their official opposition has sqabbled among itself, letting a reach for perfection thwart steps toward improvement, or languishing on the sidelines.

That has to stop.

It’s time we became the conservatives. It’s time we returned to a Wisconsin tradition of introspection, experimentation, of progressive improvement. There aren’t many days left before the recall elections. There’s a lot of work to do.

Be a conservative. Be a counter-revolutionary. Upset a bad guy.