Last night was the first time I’ve ever attended or spoke at a local representative listening session, so I’m including this breakdown for people who want to know more about the experience.
The session I attended was the one I’ve been advertising the past couple of days. (Imagine that!)
Monday, March 16, 2015
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Madison Public Library – Sequoya Branch
Meeting rooms A and B
4340 Tokay Boulevard
People from all districts can attend.
I live in Fitchburg, as did at least one other person there. Someone came from Whitewater. We were all heard equally.
If you aren’t comfortable speaking, you can silently register in support of your cause.
Just as at county board hearings, you fill out a sheet indicating whether you are in support or against, and whether you want to speak. For this hearing, there was an additional line to write what part of the bill you’re for/against. I sat next to a board member who chose not to speak, but wrote down the UW open records exemption as what she was against. At least one other Alliance member was there and did the same. It’s a great way to get your voice heard without speaking, and to bring attention to specific items.
You can come any time during the session and still register to speak.
I got to the library around 4:15, and the doors opened just slightly before 5. When we first started the session, there were 8 people signed up to speak. By my count, 21 people spoke before the night was through.
The people who speak are not polished speakers.
This surprised me, actually. There was one speaker who really knew how to deliver a speech – the Reverend Jerry Hancock. A majority of the 21 (13 people, by my count) went up there without any notes at all. People were encouraged to sign up to speak if they were motivated to do so later in the session, and at least one person took them up on it. (His impromptu speech was the best. “It’s really terrible they’re cutting all this money from Elder Care. Everybody grows old. In fact, there are a lot of old people in this room!”)
If you’re a woman (cis or trans), under 45, or a person of color, your voice is woefully underrepresented.
All the attendees and speakers were white (that is, they passed for white). Less than a third of the speakers were women (as identified by gender presentation and name). There were maybe three people my age, and three people in their 30 and 40s. Everyone else was significantly older. On average, it was the older white man show. When this board member and I first sat down, she turned to me and said “We are definitely the youngest people in the room.”
As a side note, the Alliance can learn something from this demographic inequality.
My mother is a member of MOSES, an interfaith coalition that works to lower the prison population in Wisconsin. Their work directly affects people of color, but their board and membership is largely white. They were discussing this as the last meeting, and what one person said has really stuck with me since. (Paraphrased below)
“We wonder why we mostly have financially stable white people at our meetings, and yet we don’t offer transportation, childcare, or a free meal.
The hearing offered none of those things. One of the speakers was a woman with developmental disabilities whose paid transportation had been taken away, so she had to pay a cab to even come to the meeting. I didn’t see any young children in the room. There weren’t any snacks. In addition, it started at 5, a time when many people are at work.
I found it really inspiring to see democracy in action.
There were somewhere between 60 – 80 people in that room, and we were a family. Senator Risser and Representative Berceau spoke kindly and candidly, we cheered each other on, and each issue that speakers brought up was thoughtfully considered. 65 people registered, all (according to Berceau) against the budget. I was amazed at the turnout – as was Berceau, who told us at the beginning, “I didn’t even expect a third of these people!” – and I was really moved by the positive energy, even in the midst of sharing grievances. It really felt like we were all in this together.
I truly believe my testimony made a difference.
I spoke solely about the open records issue. My speech was short and straightforward:
I encourage you to speak to the Joint Finance Committee about removing the UW open records exemption that reads:
“The bill creates an exception to the open records law for information produced or collected by or for UWSA faculty or staff with respect to commercial, scientific, or technical research until that information is publicly disseminated or patented.”
Such an exception has nothing to do with finance, and such an action limits the transparency of the university to the tax paying public. As an animal lover and as someone who believes in the Wisconsin idea, this concerns me. Wisconsin deserves more from our public university and from our local government.
Representative Berceau responded immediately afterwards. She turned to Sen. Risser and said that every year, they make a movement for all the policy (non fiscal) items to be taken out of the bill and addressed separately. She and Fred agreed that they would make a note to do so when they convened again. She also said “Unless I’m just dreaming policy items, we’ve seen this one before.”
I really felt heard.
You can make a difference a number of ways, and just one of those ways is by attending these hearings.
Senator Risser told us that he believes the pendulum will swing the other way for politics in Wisconsin, but that we have to do our part. There are three things he suggested doing, all of which, he mentioned, cost no money.
1. Thank the officials in government who are doing a good job. I’m putting this into practice by writing out thank you cards today to both officials that say the following:
Thank you for leading such a positive, open, and thoughtful listening session at Sequoya Library on Monday, March 16th. It was my first time attending such a session, and I was inspired to see democracy in action. Sen. Risser mentioned that one thing we can do to improve the political landscape in Wisconsin is to thank our officials who are doing a great job. I really want to thank you both for being so passionate about what is right, being a voice for the people, and continuing to stick it out in a currently very toxic government body. When I spoke about the UW open records request, I really felt heard, and I know a lot of other speakers felt the same way. I feel so grateful to have you fighting for us. I will continue to share my voice with my representatives, and I will encourage my peers to do the same.
2. If you know someone living in the Joint Finance Committee members’ districts, ask them to contact their representative. I’m uploading a couple of files, and one is a document with a list of the JFC members and a map of their districts.
3. Encourage people to get involved. Less than 50% of Wisconsinites vote. There are definitely structural inequalities in place, such as having voting on a Tuesday rather than a weekend, but there are also people in all of our lives who could vote and who could get a little more involved in politics.
From the hearing:
Budget Timeline (pdf)
Joint Finance Districts (pdf)
From the Alliance:
Tips for writing your legislator (webpage)