I am a school social worker in the public schools and a longtime resident of Dane County. I have been an educator for 30 years, and know what challenging and yet rewarding work public educators do every day. I showed up early and often to be part of the historic grassroots protests at the Capitol last winter, which started when Gov. Scott Walker ended the rights of people like me to bargain for wages and working conditions. I stood out in the cold and snow to collect my share of the nearly one million recall signatures.
I am a proud member of a labor union. And I support Kathleen Falk for governor.
It is in all of those capacities that I take exception to the shoddy analysis by former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in his op-ed titled "How to win a recall election." The basis of his article is the Republican talking points that he feels the need to repeat: Wisconsinites don't like unions, and unions are out of touch with people. Candidates who earn union support can't win the recall election.
And here was the kicker for me, the point at which I knew Cieslewicz had given up any pretense of "analyzing" the recall election and was just trying to promote his candidate: when he compared a candidate endorsed by organized labor to a candidate supported by the Koch brothers.
I think he owes every union member an apology for that one.
Let's get something straight. I am a member of the union and I am the union. It is not a separate thing. The idea that individual teachers, social workers and other school staff can be separated from the union organization that supports the work we do has been used in union-busting circles for a long time. That goes along with the caricature of "union bosses" who Cieslewicz seems to imagine manipulate me into blindly following their commands.
The people we elect to lead our union are educators. I appreciate the leadership that does the heavy lifting when it comes to organizing and conducting an endorsement process. The recommended candidates who come out of that process must earn my vote. I don't just blindly vote without looking at their stand on issues. Nine times out of 10, they do earn it. That's because the leadership that represents me understands the issues I care about, draws its power from me and from the tens of thousands of educators like me who are the union and who give it its power and reach.
It is our "collective voice" based on our collective input and elections within our union. Our strength is in this voice, yet it is not a "lockstep."
As I understand it, all the Democratic candidates for governor, including Tom Barrett, interviewed with WEAC as part of the process for recommending candidates. That tells me if Tom Barrett had earned the WEAC endorsement, his supporters like Cieslewicz would be singing a different tune about union endorsements. And that makes me sad.
When Democratic candidates don't get the endorsement of environmental groups, I don't hear those candidates discrediting the environmental movement. When they don't get the endorsement of women's groups, I don't hear them questioning the relevance of women's votes. Nope, discounting and discrediting labor unions and their members like me, as Cieslewicz did, is really the province of those who want to weaken and end the labor movement.
If we are to stand unified in recalling Scott Walker -- and that's the ultimate goal -- it doesn't help us to have supporters of any candidate polishing Republican talking points for use in bashing another Democratic candidate. We have had enough bashing of public sector workers, especially educators, in this last year. It's time to show respect for educators and for the difficult work we do.
I want to end on a positive note.
I support Kathleen Falk because she is the best, strongest candidate to beat Scott Walker. She stands tallest on the issues I care about most: strong public schools that educate our kids, moving children out of poverty into better lives and more hopeful futures. She was an early and strong supporter of the movement to take back our state and signed a recall petition, without hesitation, right away. She has the passion and energy to run a vigorous campaign, and she got into this historic race right away. The polls I've seen show both of the Democratic frontrunners even in their ability to defeat Scott Walker in June.
I'm supporting Kathleen Falk, the candidate who is in the strongest position to stand up for public schools and reclaim our state. She is the candidate who can pull our state back together as we work through these difficult times.
Jenny Braunginn works as a school social worker in Dane County and is a leader in her local teachers' union. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. If you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.