A Look Inside the Assembly Chamber

Ok, so this post may be geared towards the more nerdy Robert’s Rules lovers of my readership, but I hope many of you can find it interesting, since it shows what’s actually going on in the Assembly session while we have all been outside protesting. Take this as a lesson to those ever wanting to be in elected office. Know your Parliamentary Procedure, and use it properly. There will always be someone on the other side of an issue that DOES know it, and will use this knowledge against you.

On Friday, at 4:56 pm, the Assembly Republicans began voting on Governor Walker’s Emergency Budget Repair Bill. They passed the first amendment, a Republican one, and were about to vote on the first Democratic amendment. The problem was, that the Assembly was not to be in session until 5pm, and the Democrats were just entering the room out of their caucus. Now, Robert’s Rules and the Rules of the Assembly dictate that you can not start a meeting before the posted meeting time, and the sponsor of each amendment is allowed to introduce the amendment before debate begins on it. Enter Minority Leader Peter Barca, (D-Kenosha) who, after being ignored on a point of privilege (meaning that all debate ends and the speaker is allowed to ask a question before continuing) yells into a noisy Assembly Chamber:

Mr Speaker, on a point of personal privilege……..I don’t know what the problem is, but I DEMAND you recognize me.

And so begins the madness. (The entire video can be found here under Assembly Floor Session part 4 and a full transcript I wrote out of the Democrat speakers’ speeches can be found here)

After finally being recognized, Rep. Barca chastised the Republicans for breaking their own rules. In a very passionate, angry speech, Barca laid out what he felt was wrong with the proceedings:

Obviously in 6 days you want to trample on the very values of this state. And I cannot tell you how vigorously we object to that. But it is unbelievable to me, absolutely UN. BE. LIEVE. A. BLE, that you would first of all be here before 5 o’clock and take an illegal vote before even the time the proceedings were supposed to start. Unbelievable. Unprecedented. Un-American. Not in keeping with the values of this state. You should be ashamed of yourselves, each and every one of you. And especially for you, Mr. Speaker, who should know the rules of this body.

After moving to strike the last vote, which occurred before the start time of 5 o’clock, Rep. Barca went on to say:

You might think that because you were elected to the legislature, you can do whatever you damn well please! But you can’t! We have rules! And whether you like it or not, you gotta follow the rules. Amendment 2, Amendment 3, you gotta take up those amendments, you gotta vote em down. You can’t just say ‘we’re not gonna take em up.’ What is wrong with you? Honest to God, this is worse than a kangaroo court. This is absolutely beyond the pale. Beyond the pale! You ignore amendments that are before you?…. Now if any of you have a shred of decency in you, a shred of decency, you will not allow these people up here [motions towards Republican leadership] to allow you to ignore these rules.

Next, Rep. Gordon Hinz (D-Oshkosh) was recognized to speak. Rep. Hinz spoke about the process of how the week had gone (his speech can be found here) My favorite part of the speech:

So we heard that we may or may not get an emergency bill, we may get a repair bill, I found out from the radio, from a Washington DC interest group. What does that have to do with Wisconsin? And then, its 144 pages. And then, we get briefed on Monday and I’m told we’re going to vote on it on Thursday. Or Friday. And then when we ask for public hearings, well, and the public wants to speak out, you cut em off. This isn’t how we do things to each other, it’s not how things get introduced, and it’s just simply not what we do to the public. If you want to jam through a bill, you gotta sit through the messy process that is democracy (emphasis mine). When we sit there in 4th grade, and we learn about Wisconsin government, and we learn about U.S. government, we learn how amazing it was that they came together. But we also learned that it was bloody, that people had to fight for it, and that they wanted to make it hard to do big things. You’re supposed to be a deliberative body. You’re supposed to have discussions. And you’re supposed to be transparent, because the public matters in all of this input…I am elected, I get it, I’m in the minority, you’re right, there’s only a bunch of us. But if you wanna know why there are 35,000 people here, look at yourself in the mirror. And how about a little respect, at least for your colleagues!

Cory Mason (D-Racine) reiterated:

First, you want to take away peoples’ democracy in the workplace. Then, you take away peoples’ democracy, and their right to speak at a hearing on a bill. Then, you take away the minority’s ability to dissent and have a voice. You’re in the majority, but being in the majority doesn’t mean you get to take away peoples’ freedom…You’re in the majority, you get to set the agenda, but we still have the right to dissent. And you cannot silence our right to dissent as long as we draw breath. We have rights. We have rights in this country, and they will be abided by.

Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) then spoke. She explained how it was when she was elected and in the majority, and the responsibility that position holds. She said:

I, I want you to understand, now that you’re the majority. You have the votes. I mean, you have, you have the overwhelming majority of the votes. Your will will be done. You are in control. You make the laws. You passed the rules, you passed the rules. These are your rules. You passed the laws. Your will can be done. It is your will to pass this bill, you will pass it, you have the votes. But I ask you, I implore you, you do not have the ability to controvert our process…Now, it appears an illegal action was taken. Action started happening before the time that we were even scheduled to be in this body. We had members that were asking to be recognized, they were not recognized. This morning, that happened again. That is outrageous, and it is not worthy of us. Its not worthy of any one of you…

She then asked for exactly what the authors of this blog have been writing about, responsible governance, and mutual respect:

None of us wants to see this institution, and this state, take that direction. This is the United States of America. We will disagree passionately; we will raise our voices; we will protest; we will be peaceful; but by God, by God we will give each other a basic level of respect and human dignity when we disagree. You can win on this, but do not win this way. Do not win this way, I beg of you, reconsider, you will win the vote, strike the previous action. Let’s do this the right way. You can still do the wrong thing, but please, please look in your hearts, let’s do it the right way.

At 5:24, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) admits:

You know what? You guys are right. You’re right. We’re gonna go back to the amendable stage of this bill. That’s what we’re gonna do. Cuz you’re right. So we have a job to do, you have a job to do, I know your job right now in the minority is to delay. I honestly didn’t think you were gonna show up.

He then moved to adjourn until Tuesday at 10 am, when he will allow both sides to introduce amendments, and they will again begin to vote on the bill.

People in charge of legislative bodies, know the rules, and follow them. That is responsible governance. Those who disagree with a bill, know your rights. You are afforded the ability to dissent. No matter what side of this you fall on, you have to agree that at the very least, everyone deserves a basic level of respect. Hopefully we see this better practiced in the next couple of weeks.

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A Humble Request

We are now into Day 5 of protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol over Governor Walker’s Emergency Budget Repair Bill. I made clear in my last post what my thoughts are on the matter, so I won’t reiterate them here, however I would like to speak about the general tone and tenor of the protests.

Having been up at the capitol for the last few days, I am absolutely amazed at the difference between what is going on here compared to other protests around the world. Only in America can we have 30,000 unarmed citizens take over the seat of power for days, effectively an occupying force shutting down the legislative process, and we have no news of violence or rioting. In fact, the last time I checked, only 9 people have even been arrested, mostly for minor charges. The protesters are sending messages of loving their state, schools, and communities, and while they hate the bill and worry tremendously about its effects on their lives, the overall mood is positive and empowering.

Let’s compare this to the protests in the Arab world. This week, in Libya, 30 protesters were killed while asking for the removal of their country’s leader. In Bahrain today, police forces opened fire on the protesting crowd, killing 5 and wounding 50 others. Egypt has had over 350 deaths and thousands injured the past few weeks from protesters clashing with security forces, and often turning on their fellow citizens and each other.

I know that it’s American Government 101, but I have never been more proud of and more grateful for our freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly. However, we need to ensure that these large protests REMAIN peaceful. Signs such as those pointed out by UW professor Ann Althouse, will not help the protesters’ cause, and only dilutes the message we are trying to send. Governor Walker is NOT Mubarak, he is NOT a dictator, and he certainly is NOT Hitler. I for one, am extremely happy that he isn’t, because if he was, the capitol would not be accessible to the people, we wouldn’t be allowed to protest, and people would be injured or dead.

Tomorrow, people associated with state and national Tea Party groups are going to descend on Madison in support of the Governor and to try to counter the protesters. I will be on one side of the protests, and I am sure that my blog partner will be on the other. At the end of the day, I plan on getting a beer with him, and continuing on as great friends. I am urging all of my friends who have spent days occupying the Capitol, and all of those there, to keep the rhetoric positive and constructive. Shout them down and drown them out if you want to, but please allow the counter-protesters to have the presence and safety that you have enjoyed, and that we all have a right to in this democracy. They are also our family members, our neighbors, and our friends.

Brandon Williams said yesterday, and I agree, the first group to become violent will have lost. Keep up the struggle, but please, also keep the moral high ground. Our schools, communities, our democracy, and the people of Wisconsin deserve at least that.


A Silent Majority speaks out via ASM legislation

Below is the legislation I will propose at the ASM Coordinating Council Meeting to act on the Emergency Budget Repair Bill. If you have anything you would like to add to it, or comments on it, please comment below.
ASM Support of Collective Bargaining Rights of UW Employees

Background: On Friday, February 11th Governor Scott Walker proposed his Emergency Budget Repair Bill. This legislation means that public sector workers will no longer be able to bargain collectively or have a say in negotiating the terms of their employment. Included in those affected by this legislation are faculty and staff members of the UW System. They will no longer be able to bargain over health care, tuition remission, pension contributions, grievance procedures, and other benefits. Forcing low wages and higher health care costs for grad employees, this legislation will make it almost impossible for the UW system to recruit competitive graduate students. Not only will this affect our rankings nationally and internationally, the quality of our undergraduate education will suffer immensely, since UW Madison relies on graduate students to teach many undergraduate classes and discussion sections.

The Associated Students of Madison acting in Coordinating Council do enact as follows:

Be it resolved, The ASM, in concert with the Teaching Assistant Association, denounces the Emergency Budget Repair Bill.

Be it further resolved, The ASM urges students of UW-Madison to take part in the Hands Off Our Teachers rally at the Wisconsin Capitol on Tuesday February 15th at 11am.

Be it further resolved, The ASM urges students from Wisconsin to call their local representatives, write Letters to the Editor of their local paper, and get their parents and family members to participate.

Be it further resolved, The ASM urges the University Committee, Faculty Senate, and Academic Staff Assembly to denounce the Emergency Budget Repair Bill, and to urge the UW Community to attend the Hands Off Our Teachers Rally.

Be it finally resolved, The Coordinating Council of ASM gives Chair Williams the authority to publish press releases, coordinate media, and reapportion money pertinent to this legislation as he deems necessary.


A Time when Pure Ideology Becomes Bad Public Policy

The state of Wisconsin is facing a financial crisis. Former Governor Doyle left the state with a $3.6 billion dollar budget deficit. The people of Wisconsin voted into office Scott Walker, who ran on a platform of reducing state spending, ending the raids of segregated funds, and balancing the state budget. These principles can be found on his campaign website. Regarding these principles, Governor Walker stated:

“Wisconsin deserves a government that puts the needs of citizens first. The following set of reforms will help put state government back on the side of the people.”

While his actions so far have held true to the reforms he set forward, they are by NO means actions that the majority of Wisconsin residents would agree with once all implications of the policies are known. This week, Governor Walker proposed removing almost all collective bargaining rights of public employees, affecting roughly 175,000 workers. It also requires employees to contribute more to their pensions and healthcare.

Though no-one expected Walker would be friendly towards unions, this goes well beyond what most believed would happen. Even State Senator Luther Olson, a Republican said to the Associated Press, “It’s not what I thought he was going to do.” While I agree with some of the reforms, such as greater contributions to pensions, the proposal as a whole will have a terrible effect on middle class and working class people around the state. In this post, I’m going to focus on how higher education will be affected if this proposal passes.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there are currently 9,116 graduate students. Of these, over 2,800 serve as Teaching Assistants who directly educate undergraduates in the classroom and allow such a large university to have smaller discussion sections. Another 2,500 are Research Assistants, and are responsible for making our university one of the most well-respected research institutions in the world.

The TAs are represented by the TAA, and through that representation have gained tuition remission and more healthcare options for working as TAs, helping to attract the best and brightest graduate students to Wisconsin, and greatly improving the undergraduate experience by giving us better teachers. The RAs were in the process of unionizing to bargain for better working hours and conditions, which would help bring UW up in the research rankings through the recruitment of top-tier researchers. Under Governor Walker’s proposal, our graduate students will lose these extra benefits and our faculty and staff will not be able to form unions to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.

I am asking all students to become better informed on this issue, and become involved in order to protect the quality of our education and the reputation of our university. Articles to read can be found here, here, or in almost any local newspaper in the state.

Those of you who know me know I am not one to rally or protest as the first point of action, but this issue is incredibly important. The TAA will be organizing in their office (254 W. Gilman Street) all weekend, and will have free pizza and beer for volunteers at 5pm tonight. Additionally, there will be a rally at the capitol at 11am on Tuesday to protect state workers and our education. Watch your e-mails for more ways to be involved. As for me, I will be working on this all day today in the ASM office. Stop by to help out or get more information. I can’t stress how important this is, and I hope all of you can help out in some way.

*Edit* If you are not from Madison, but would like to take part in the “Hands Off Our Teachers” Rally, we have places for you to stay. Also, check out this page to see where you can catch a bus to the Capitol.


A Strategic Plan for Diversity Committee

If you asked every person in a room of 20 or so people what their definition of diversity is, you would get 20 different responses.  Issues of diversity are of the utmost importance, yet handling them is no simple task. We need to view diversity in regards of mutual respect for everyone else. Only then can we begin to make our campus welcoming and safe for all students.  The Diversity Committee is the place where this needs to begin, and tonight, I will be seeking Student Council’s approval to lead the committee. My plan involves three steps towards making this a reality: 1) redefining the purpose of the committee, 2) outreach to student organizations, the campus, and the Madison community, and 3) advocacy on behalf of students.

Purpose

Many groups at UW-Madison are already doing great work for diversity for their campus and community. These include MCSC, Wunk Sheek, MEChA, and the Black Student Union among many others.  These organizations have been doing great work for students and deserve their recognition, however, there are many other organizations that do the same work but often aren’t recognized for it.  We need to expand our base and engage these other organizations that are often not thought of as being a part of campus diversity but in fact are, such as Working Class Student Union,  Muslim Student Association, India Students Association, Vets for Vets, Badger Catholic, Campus Crusade for Christ, Hillel, One Voice, and many others.  I want to bring these organizations into the discussions of diversity on campus and I want the Diversity Committee to recognize the multitudes of different beliefs, backgrounds, heritages etc that make up diversity in our society and more importantly on our campus!

Outreach

The Diversity Committee needs to start acting as a liaison to the student organizations on campus and help them to hold successful events by co-sponsoring, advertising, and volunteering at the events to help build better communication and collaboration.  By building a dialog with these organizations we can better inform them of what ASM can do for them, and in turn it my help them to get involved in ASM.  The Chair of the Diversity Committee should be tasked with beginning the outreach process to meet with organizational leadership.  The overall goal is to get more people involved with ASM through the Diversity Committee

Other groups we must outreach to are everyday students at UW, and the greater Madison community. We can do this most effectively by setting up events. One event that Diversity Committee can begin with is the Shadow Day that University Affairs committee intern Joanna Romero is working on. Shadow Day gives high school students from underrepresented communities the chance to come to campus and shadow a college student for the day. The Diversity Committee needs to make sure that the ASM Shadow Day is successfully implemented and is institutionalized from year to year in ASM.  Also, the Real Talk program needs to continue on campus because it provides a great forum to keep communication and conversation about diversity active and engages students not generally involved in diversity discussions.  This is a program I would like to see better advertised through the Diversity Committee.

The second goal that I would finish by the end of this semester is a week of religious identity recognition.  A major aspect of diverse culture that is often overlooked and left out on this campus is faith and spirituality.  We will work and coordinate with religious organizations on campus such as Badger Catholic, Campus Crusade for Christ, Hillel, One Voice, Chabad, Muslim Student Association as well as the atheist, agnostic organizations and all other groups that deal with issues regarding religion and spirituality.  A proper name can be formulated in the planning process of this event, and the goal of the event will be to bring together a coalition of these students to have guest speakers, workshops and other beneficial things concerning the issue of faith identity.  Aspects of faith and non faith are different throughout many cultures, classes, and ethnicities and I want to bring that to the forefront of the campus.

Advocacy

Advocacy is the most important part about what the Diversity Committee needs to do.  The most obvious issue of diversity is the current campus climate. Issues regarding respect, safety, racism, homophobia and classism do come up on this campus.  The Diversity Committee needs to be a place where students can come together and work on these issues asap.  When these issues arise, as the chair I will make sure the committee will react quickly and effectively to empower students to handle these issues that affect them and their communities. Working with the Campus Diversity and Climate Committee is a key goal to advocate for students, and we need to make sure that students are working with the CDCC to represent the Diversity Committee.  Our goal should be to shape policy with the administration, consult with the Center for First Year Experience, the Division of Student Life, the Office of Admissions SOAR, and other committees to make sure that diversity discussion is present in all administration decisions.  The end goal is to eventually build respect over the years by working through controversial campus climate issues.

With Respect,

DP


A Desire for Diversity

We are privileged to live in the most diverse culture and country of our time; The United States of America. Our country’s origins were based on the concept of diversity.  When the colonists came it was to find the freedom to practice their own religions without persecution. This paved the way for others to come here to practice their own religions.  They were Lutherans, Catholics, Quakers, Jews, etc.  Our country began as diverse collection of religious faiths.

Today, when people hear the word “diverse” they immediately think you are referring to someone who has a higher level of pigment in their epidermis.  Others will say being “diverse” relates to your heritage and background, or that it is both referring to ones pigment and heritage.  The truth is that diversity is SOOO much more than that.  Every single person has their own unique experiences and adds to a diverse society in their own way.  The problem is that society places too much of an emphasis on our skin color and our heritage.  This has begun to dominate how we treat each other, and things have gotten out of hand.  Many people today have begun to use their heritage or skin color as a reason for entitlement and to take advantage of others. This can be found in people of all races, and has lead to the use of “diversity” as an intimidation tactic when arguing about many different topics such as immigration, war, social services, and especially education.  America has come far in its 230 + years of existence, but we still have a long way to go.

We need to take a stand, here and now and tell America what diversity really means.  Diversity is so much more than just your heritage, skin color, and religious beliefs.  Diversity also incorporates our political beliefs, sexual identity, sexual preferences, hair style, hair color, height, weight, class, etc. We should all be proud of our background and heritage but shouldn’t let that dictate how we treat one another.  If we all agree that we were “Created Equal,” then one person can’t be “MORE” diverse than someone else. Does Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution not emphasize the equality of all American citizens? Does is not establish that no one citizen of this country is higher than another?

When one person looks at another person, they should not be worried that they might offend them because of the person’s skin color, height, or sex.  This shouldn’t be the first thing that enters the persons mind.  They should simply view the person standing before them as another human being who is just as unique and diverse as you are. We need to all stop and check ourselves right now for any hate, resentment or reservations we have for someone else because they seem different, because guess what, we’re ALL very different from one another.  There is no class, workshop or focus group that can truly help us to reach the mindset of accepting true diversity unless we ourselves choose to.

Promoting and celebrating our cultures and choices is a good thing and should be encouraged, but not to the point where we are doing this at the expense of another persons’ beliefs. We need to be of the mindset that no one heritage is greater or more important than another, and everyone should feel welcome in these conversations.

In closing, I leave you with this. Diversity is composed of everything that makes us who we are. Instead of looking to be acknowledged for it, we should simply wish for respect.  “Treat others, as you yourself wish to be treated.”  If our society can begin to gravitate towards this mindset, we would begin to tear down so many barriers that have been set up to prevent us from achieving this goal. We must not forget the goals and dreams that such great leaders and pioneers of diversity such as Martin Luther King Jr. did for his country. As he said in his most famous speech,

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

With Respect,

-DP


A Second Beginning

Greetings, I apologize for taking so long to post to the blog that my friend CF and I have created.  Now that I finally have access and am finally getting around to it you should see a few post from me in the near future.  I will be keeping pace with the same style that CF has already established and I want to emphasize some of the points that were made about “The Silent Majority” in his first blog post https://asilentmajority.wordpress.com/2010/11/18/a-beginning/. By no means does this blog represent a majority of people but of my own personal opinions and views as a twenty-four year old Italian Polish American.  I’ve spent the majority of my last four years in service to the UW-System students.  I’ve worked with countless students, student organizations and UW campuses on a variety of issues, ranging from lobbying on the state budget on the behalf of students, to working with the African American Union of UW-Waukesha to host events.

I’ve always been a huge believer in the first amendment of the constitution which guarantees us freedom of religion, speech, and press; rights of assembly and petition.  All of these will be incorporated into my blog in some way or another in my posts, but right now I want to emphasize the importance and the miss conceptions on freedom of speech.  This is the one freedom that is abused the most.  Just because you can say whatever is in your head, doesn’t necessarily mean it should actually come out of your mouth.  Speech can be a powerful tool for the good of man kind, but also a weapon used to hurt others.  Just because we have a right to use something doesn’t mean we should abuse it. The freedoms and rights that our founding fathers fought for and that countless young Americans fought so hard to give us should not be taken lightly.  Those of us who use freedom of speech on a regular basis and to a larger audience have an obligation and responsibility to be to hold ourselves to a higher standard.  Now, what do you do when someone doesn’t show respect for our freedoms, and abuses it? The answer is very simple actually, “In free countries, every man is entitled to express his opinions and every other man is entitled not to listen.” –G. Norman Collie

Having said that I now make this promise to my readers. I will speak from the heart but will be mindful of my words. I will be honest but will never speak to hurt.  My goal is to share with you all, like CF, our perspective on governance, State Government, Student Issues, and related topics in general, but with an end to the goal.  This blog will not be a place to vent or to complain, but to try and address an issue, and hopefully to come up with a solution or to at least spark a discussion for a solution.

I’m not a history major, but I do reflect very often about our country’s past, and will often times give a quick background in my posts about what has happened in the past and how knowing the past can help us to avoid the same fallacies we have gotten ourselves into in the future.  In my next post I will be touching on a key issue that has been in the main stream for the past 200 years or so, but has never been satisfactorily discussed, due to fear and misinterpretations of the topic.  I hope you will find the time to read my upcoming post, as it will be essential to the work I will be doing these coming months and there is a strong need for healthy discussion.

In closing I will follow suit with Mr. CF and reiterate his house keeping remarks.  We encourage discussion and thoughtful comments and we look forward to opposing views to help all of us get a better understanding of where we all come from.  Please avoid personal attacks, I think I made it very clear earlier the importance of speech and its use, and I hope all of you will take those words to heart in your responses.

With Regards,

DP