Good Times

Prior to the recent Democratic Party of Dane County endorsement meeting, Sam Stevenson sent an email message to members of the executive board in response to a Herald article of his being circulated online.  In the piece, Sam is critical of WI voting methods, (including Straight Ticket Dems, or STDs) and corporate influence on the national Democratic Party.  In his email to the local Dems leadership, Sam addresses the article, states that debate and criticism is good for the growth of ideas, discusses his history of working on Democratic campaigns and concludes by remarking that he looks forward to meeting them at the upcoming meeting.

DPDC Chair Wayne Bigelow replies:

From: Wayne Bigelow <>

Date: Wed, Jan 12, 2011 at 9:32 AM
Subject: Re: Salutations and a Brief Introduction from Aldermanic Candidate – District 2 – Sam Stevenson
To: Samuel Stevenson <>

I’ve read you’re  guest shot at Democrats re our being like STDs.  I’m not amused. And your “proud Democrat” bs below is just that.   I’ll be bringing a lot of copies of your your little diatribe tonite.

And please, don’t bother to introduce yourself to me.

Wayne Bigelow,Chair

Democratic Party of Dane County
360 W Washington   #302
Madison, WI  53703
(608) 334-8228 (Cell)

Classy, no?  I wonder if he feels like a bigger man for (unsuccessfully) intimidating someone 1/3 his age.

He runs quite the organization, too.  My favorite part of the meeting was Sue Ellingson’s insistence that, “Nothing is more important than the party.”  I assume she includes D13 constituents, the very people she is espousing to represent.

Good times.

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Common Council Thoughts

In Austin King’s farewell speech to the Common Council in 2007, he left his listeners with a simple message.  To the outgoing D8 representative, alders should “show up, and do things – as much as he or she can every day.” 

These perhaps aren’t the most controversial words, even if they express an expectation that often isn’t met.  In that same speech, however, he said something closely related that I found particularly inspiring.  “The stuff we do that isn’t potholes often gets dismissed,” he noted.  “But we shouldn’t be afraid to think big, and we did many times during my four years on the Council.”

During those four years, the Common Council passed an increased minimum wage, protections for undocumented immigrants, inclusionary zoning (if watered down), a phosphourous ban, among other far-reaching items.  They also nearly passed a groundbreaking paid sick-leave policy, a noble fight that incited outrageous vitriol from the business community and ultimately failed by one vote.

Ashok Kumar is another student elected official from my generation for whom I have profound admiration and respect.  Among his accomplishments during his brief two years of service on the County Board include abolishing Section 8 housing discrimination, undermining the prison profiteering industry, establishing a sister-county relationship with a Venezuelan community, and many others.

A willingness to take on big projects, however, doesn’t mean that the “basic” functions of an alder, like potholes and constituent relations, need suffer.  Indeed, as Austin King told me, you can’t effectively do one without the other.  But in my humble estimation, recent sessions of the Common Council have almost completely abandoned the idea that local government can do anything significantly proactive in expanding social, economic and environmental justice.  Indeed, especially in the campus media, attempts at doing the latter have repeatedly been scorned as “not the job of a local representative” and labeled as proof of that representative being “out of touch” with his constituents.

I suppose there are many reasons for this development, not the least of which has been a backlash against the more progressive 2003-2007 era by right-wing politicos and groups like the Chamber of Commerce.  Let’s hope the wind will change directions this upcoming election cycle.

I say this because, ultimately, alders ahould approach their job with energy and passion – a great deal of it, actually.  They should be driven not by the opportunity to wear a tie in front of a camera, but a firm commitment to work with members of the community to improve people’s lives, especially those most often ignored by the system.  Concomitantlty, one shouldn’t be afraid to have a larger vision for what an ideal city would look like – and a set of policies to go along with it.

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Because “Yearnings for Justice” Never Die…

…this aptly titled blog (if I don’t say so myself) is coming back.  As for my long absence, I offer the sincerest of apologies.  It’s been an unyielding school year.  I also wanted to do some local writing in a more widely read forum, so I switched over to the blog of Brenda Konkel/Lukas Diaz (both admirable political comrades and even better friends), where I wrote mostly on the noble Manski campaign for State Assembly.  Then, I declared for Common Council a few weeks ago…and here we are today.

And Yearnings for Justice is back and better than before.

I intend to use this blog to continue commenting on campus and local political affairs.  Inevitably, the upcoming spring elections will be highlighted.  I am a candidate running in close solidarity with several others running in various other districts; I share with them an unflinching, proactive progressivism for our local politics which we believe is especially necessary given the rightward shift on both the local, and now national, level.  So, due to these circumstances, this will likely be my focus.

But because I’m a grassroots activist, I know that electoral politics is only part of the picture.  There are so many inspiring issue-based campaigns going on right here at the university.  SLAC, for instance, is taking leadership in defending public-sector employees at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery; their jobs are being threatened by Biddy’s privatization efforts.  And so many wonderful students and student organizations have organized themselves to demand a fair funding model and accountability from our student government.  At the Student Council meeting less than two weeks ago, I couldn’t help but feel so hopeful from seeing 70-100 students turn out and listening to good people like Lena Marx, Colin Bowden and Ismael Cuevas speak.  Hearing from them and others from MEChA, MCSC and CWC was a powerful reminder of the simmering potential of the student body.

Ultimately, as long as there is creative and collective – or individual, though we can’t win alone! – resistance to the injustice which defines the system under which we currently reside, there will always be a place for projects like these.  I’m excited for what the future holds!

Oh, and I suppose I should make this disclosure.  I hate having to do this because it seems to attach an undeserved importance to my blog and I, but I feel compelled lest people criticize me later.  So, I should mention a few things about Yearnings and its relationship to my candidacy.  First, the opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone.  Though I am a proud member of several organizations (like Progressive Dane) and consider myself a close (and even prouder) political comrade of several other activists and community leaders (like Sam Stevenson), the views of this blog may be the complete opposite of what such groups and individuals believe – though this is, admittedly, unlikely.  Finally, I do not intend to make this blog an attachment of my candidacy in any official capacity (for that, visit my website at  The style and content of my posts will, as I stated above, continue to focus on local politics and activist struggles and will most likely bear similarity to other writings on this blog and stuff I’ve written in other places.

A long-time critic of both myself and the local left in general recently called my writing “inflammatory,” a claim which I find highly tendentious, if not slightly ridiculous.  However, perhaps he is right; I suppose it depends upon your definition of the word.  Even if this writer’s vocabulary is more accurate than mine in this instance, that will still not be an incentive for me to alter any of my beliefs as expressed on this blog.  Though a highly flawed person in about 1.7 billion ways, I am nonetheless very firm in my political ideals and would not be running if I felt it necessary to conceal any of my true intentions as a candidate.  I am quite proud of my views and values; not only will I not conceal them here, but I will do my best to make them as lucid as possible.  Thus, from at least one person’s perspective, one thing you can count on here at Yearnings is NOT the droll talking points of a politician, but the “inflammatory” words of one who won’t change his style just because he has decided to seek a new position in his lifelong journey as a community activist.

Hopefully, I’ll have something up by later today discussing my reasons for running in D8 and other specifics about campus activism and how it relates to electoral politics.  And one final thought: You should start a blog!  I can’t help but feel at least slightly egotistical in keeping a blog all to myself (as if my life is SO important).  Then perhaps I am a bit egotistical; I’ll work on that.  But I would love to read more about the type of political work, including the behind-the-scenes details that might be less easily conveyed through other means, that you or other people you’re working with are involved in.  A lot of people I know talk about how they would love to start a blog, but never get around to doing it.  The sad thing is that it’s so easy to create and sustain!  If you’re still really intimidated, send me an email and perhaps I can give you some encouragement, if not help.

Otherwise thanks for reading, and do stop by again soon!


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A Change of Heart

Things are continuing to move in the right direction on local efforts to reverse Sheriff Mahoney’s policy of ICE notification.  Recently, the Task Force designated to study the issue voted to recommend that the policy be stopped, while the Common Council passed a similar measure sponsored by Ald. Shiva.  What’s more, the local media has also taken to criticizing the Sheriff’s policy in a surprisingly bold manner.  Slowly but surely, Mahoney is becoming more isolated as a result of his unjust treatment of local immigrants.

Of course, what’s interesting to note is that this campaign has been going now for the better part of two years.  As fellow SPDer Samir Jaber recently noted to me, “Where were all of these people way back in 2008?”  At that time, even self-identified progressives like Supervisor Carousel Bayrd argued against taking action against the Sheriff.  The first vote taken on the issue – a measure introduced by Supervisor Matano in Nov 2008 to cut the Sheriff’s budget due to his discriminatory policies – overwhelmingly failed, only the PD caucus supporting it.  What’s even more remarkable are the number of people who have reversed their position, originally supporting the Sheriff’s policy and, now, with the recent change in the political wind, are arguing for an end to the deportations.  Perhaps the most relevant example of this complete turn-around for students comes from the Badger Herald Editorial Board, who recently published a mostly solid piece on the subject.  They argue:

Mahoney’s policy renders MPD’s outreach to the Latino community less effective, jeopardizing a fragile relationship with a population already confronting the daunting cultural barriers. Thus the council has every right to rebuff his policy as not only harmful, but patently unnecessary…

…If Mahoney wishes to continue helping ICE deport his constituents, he owes them more than a perverse variant of the Nuremberg Defense.

Even more amazing, however, was this sentence in the last paragraph:

If only Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, District 5, the resolution’s sponsor, had done [this] sooner.

Sooner?  Let’s see what the Editorial Board and its writers were arguing about the policy at a “sooner” date, namely back in 2008 when the campaign against the Sheriff first began.

The Editorial Board (“Don’t Shoot the Sheriff” – March 2008):

While some citizens have claimed this policy will lead to racial profiling, widespread raids and an overzealous police force, we believe this policy is a reasonable adjudication of law and order.

Those who have entered the country illegally and then committed additional crimes certainly have no right to remain here…Deportation is a reasonable course of action.

Law enforcement’s duty is to obey the existing laws, and for that reason we support the sheriff’s actions.

Sam Clegg (“Keep on Turning in Illegal Immigrants” – February 2008)

(Unfortunately, the link is down for this one, which is really too bad because apparently Sam is still on the Ed Board.  In it, he argues that law enforcement has a constitutional obligation to rid this city of its illegal “criminal element.”)

Joey Labuz (“Progressive Dane’s Good Intentions Have Poor Execution” – December 2008)

(Also down.  But you get the idea)

It’s great to see the way this issue has truly captured the hearts and minds of the Madison political community.  I’ve now talked with with more than one political newcomer to this town who has identified the issue of immigrant rights as the most prominent social justice issue on the local scene.

One the one hand, it’s easy to get a little frustrated at those who appear to be opportunistic, but the truth is that the continuing development of the local immigrant rights movement is simply exemplary of successful activism.  The job of activists is to push the center to the left – making it convenient and even fashionable for people like Mark Clear (who would have never voted for Shiva’s resolution 2 years ago) to identify the bulk of Mahoney’s support on this issue as being motivated by racism; or Jason Smathers to express his support for Shiva’s resolution (at least on Facebook) even after opposing it for years. 

Regardless, good for both of them to have the courage to stand up for what’s right in the here and now – which is, of course, much more important than the there and then.

At this point, I see the reversal of Mahoney’s policy as almost inevitable, and this is entirely due to the efforts of immigrant and pro-immigrant activists.  The next step is to return to the County Board and pass something with some actual teeth on it, a fight I anticipate taking off this next fall with the new semester.

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Why Trying to Take over ASM Probably isn’t Worth the Trouble

One of the many awesome workshops I had the privilege of attending at the US Social Form in Detroit comprised a discussion about student organizing both on campus and the broader community.  In my particular breakout group, we mostly focused on the merits of left-wing slates in particular and expending activist energy on student government in general.  The unanimous opinion only ended up clarifying my own views.

As both a member of the FACES slate in 2009 and a sympathetic observer of the MPOWER slate that ran this past spring, I have more than a little familiarity of the nature of staging a left-wing insurgency in student government.  I was also fortunate enough to serve in both Shared Governance and somehow get elected to the Vice-Chair position of the SSFC.  All of these were positive learning experiences, none of which I regret.  However, with this experience I must end up agreeing with my fellow activists in Detroit when I say that messing with ASM just isn’t worth the trouble.  Basically, I’ve got two reasons for this conclusion:

1) It’s too much work, detracting time and energy from other campaigns.  During the spring of 2009, SPD and probably SLAC spent more time working on ASM-related campaigns than any other effort.  It was a real burden – psychologically, physically, mentally.  And for what?  To get a minority of (admittedly great) progressives elected to Student Council?  It seems almost ridiculous to think back on how we exerted so much energy on taking over a freaking student government while other campaigns – City Council, immigration, Palestinian justice, etc. – came out the worse for it.  There are important things to do in this world, and relatively speaking, taking over ASM just isn’t one of them.

If this were 1968, an era in which activist student energy was in no short supply, running a slate would be more of a natural thing to do, serving as a mere extension of the general movement.  Given the climate on campus at the time, it would have taken up only a small fraction of our resources.  These days, however, we simply don’t have as much equipment in the locker.  Further, as we’ve learned the last couple of years, there will always be a determined group of pro-establishment students who work exclusively on student government issues, promoting their own agenda and often their own resumes – so, of course, they are a surmountable obstacle to overcome, making our task even more difficult. 

1) Student government isn’t exactly an important vehicle for change, anyway.  Taking over ASM could possibly even prove to be counter-productive.  At this point, I don’t see how any honest progressive on campus could argue that electing a minority slate to Council is worth the trouble.  If I recall correctly, in 2009, the campus media declared the FACES slate an unambiguous failure because it failed to secure a majority, even though we never expected to achieve that and ran only to get a solid chunk of good people elected.  As it turns out, even if it was dishonest/misinformed, the Herald and company was more right than we knew.  I know Jonah and friends did some good stuff last year but I’m not sure how anyone could argue that their achievements were really worth the trouble, or that their time and energy couldn’t better be spent elsewhere.  I almost felt sorry for the FACES members stuck on this mostly frivolous body for the whole year, especially given the (Responsibility-colored) environment in which they had to serve.  I mean, really, what’s the point?  I don’t blame any of the the MPOWER people who plan to drop out given the results; frankly, I would do precisely that if I were in their position.

But what if we could, even given the aforementioned effort it would take, get something like 15 of our people elected?  I still stay it’s not worth it.  What advantage does taking over student government really give our side?  I’ve always argued that there are two possible ways ASM could be used as a vehicle for progressive change:

Student government adds legitimacy to our movements.  This is true, and ASM taking a stand on something would probably get more headlines than it otherwise would.  But let’s remember that, in itself, Council doesn’t have any real power.  Passing non-binding resolutions are only symbolic.  Admittedley, symbolism can sometimes grow to be more than just that (as was the case with the Berkeley divestment resolution) but those instances are always backed by a strong outside activist effort, anyway.  Besides, SLAC has already shown that ASM can be completely irrelevant to deal successfully with the administration.

ASM itself could serve as an infrastructure for activist movements.  Of course, this is what it was originally designed to do, even if those who currently run it are intent on utilizing it for a different purpose.  Much of the theory behind this came from interminable discussions with Ben Manski about the glory days of ASM in the 90’s, where student government became an important hub for activism.

For the most part, though, I don’t really see why or even how activists working through ASM would be beneficial.  I think our own small groups allow for more dynamism and work well enough as they are.  ASM could only end up draining our efforts on paperwork and bureaucracy, and once again, we don’t exactly have a lot of surplus time as it is.

I think it’s still important for the left to be cognizant of ASM behavior and maintain somewhat of a presence in Shared Gov (ie LLPC) and the SSFC.  And there will undobtedly always be sympathetic Council members, even if they are of the non-activist liberal type, when the time comes.  But for now, I think the idea of running slates is probably the biggest waste of time our side could engage in.  I will not be participating in any such effort this year, and I sincerely hope that other activists use their formidable talents for more worthwhile endeavors.

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Sheriff Mahoney Still Doesn’t Like Immigrants

This Thursday the final meeting of the Dane County Immigration Task Force will be held at the City-County Municipal Building at 6:30.  Please come and show solidarity!  And join the Facebook event and invite your friends!

The Task Force was originally formed last May in response to community pressure – led by Progressive Dane and the Immigrant Workers Union – as the product of a liberal compromise on the Dane County Board.  PD Supervisors had originally pushed for a resolution to condemn the Sheriff’s policy of ICE notification, but they were thwarted by the non-progressive liberals who comprise a plurality on the Board.  (For some, standing up to “law enforcement” requires just a bit too much courage.)  At the meeting, Supervisors Matano, Vedder, Hendrick and Richmond all spoke beautifully to the devastating effects of the Sheriff’s policy and how it is morally incumbent for the Board to take action.

At the time, the Task Force didn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  The details of the Sheriff’s policy had already been widely analyzed and condemned due to a year-long campaign against it.  So why was a new committee designated to “study” the issue necessary?  In truth, it was simply a way for the libs to express their alleged concern with the policy without actually doing anything about it and keep the Democratic Sheriff (often an influential endorsement) satisfied.  Nonetheless, with the aforementioned resolution voted down, the progressive Supervisors ended up supporting the Task Force as the only way to keep the issue alive.

Now, the moment of truth has arrived.  It seems the Task Force, after about a dozen meetings, is poised to recommend what should have been done a long time ago.  The key line reads:

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office will end the current practice of contacting ICE for cases involving processing of non-U.S. citizen detainees.

The Task Force is comprised of some good people (although it does include Mahoney himself as well) and I’d be surprised if the above recommendation wasn’t approved on Thursday.  The question then becomes, what happens next?  Mahoney basically gave the finger to the committee at the last meeting.  According to Brenda Konkel:

Before I start with the meeting, I have to say, I was kind of appalled by the body language and pouting done by Sheriff David Mahoney during this meeting. He basically didn’t engage in any discussion unless he was being defensive. He pouted most of the meeting. And apparently, at the last meeting, he told them he didn’t care what they recommended, the practice of calling ICE would not change.

His attitude isn’t exactly surprising; his stubborness on this issue has been the only constant in his defense of the ICE notification policy (as for his justifications, not so much).  So, will the County Board finally DO SOMETHING about this?  Most of the libs are on record as opponents of the policy, even though they voted against the retaliatory budget cuts (Matano) and opposition resolution (Hendrick).  They no longer have an excuse to stall on the issue.  If the Task Force makes the recommendation to end ICE notification, the Board will have to choose between continued cowardice and upholding its own legitimacy.

We need as many people to turn out to the Thursday meeting to 1) Ensure the Task Force does indeed make the right recommendations and 2) Demonstrate an ongoing community opposition to legalized xonophobia in Dane County.  What’s more, Dave Blaska is encouraging his Tea Party compatriots to pack the meeting in support of the Sheriff, writing in a recent post:

Mark your calendars for Thursday, May 13 at 6:30 pm. Aim your S.U.V.s at the City County Building. Take the elevator to the third floor. Bring your righteous indignation. Make your voices heard to the heavens.

This campaign has been going on for so long and utilized the time and energy of so many dedicated activists.  Meanwhile, the immigrant community has continued to suffer.  Show up on Thursday and demand an end to deportations in our community.

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Comment Policy

I just set the comment policy and I’m leaving it open to anon commenters, and not requiring moderator authorization.  This means that, unlike most blogs, your comment will show up immediately and you don’t have to provide an email or name.  However, slanderous or irrelevant comments will be deleted.  Further, if I’m forced to moderate too many comments I may grow tired and require authorization.  I don’t want to have to do this because I believe it discourages discussion, so please be thoughtful and avoid the ad hominem.


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