"No matter what side you take on all the craziness going on, be compassionate and respectful of each other. There are a lot of people on both sides feeling very anxious and fearful. Be politically active, but do it with grace. Ultimately, this too shall pass, so don't ruin relationships over it."
The above quote was passed on by a friend of Stephanie Sharp– our former Director of Religious Education who is living in Wisconsin now. And I thought how important that is to remember as we attempt to come to terms with the revolutions happening the world over, it seems.
In some regards, it is easier to feel like we have a common understanding of events happening in other parts of the world. The politics aren’t ours– there are different political parties and agendas, different histories of oppression and revolution. Even a different dominant religion in some cases, and a different way of understanding Christianity than here in the United States.
So it can feel easier to be aligned with one another on our commitment to justice for the protesters in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya and Bahrain. Much easier to paint the government with a sinister brush stroke.
But it’s not so easy, the distinction isn’t quite as clear when it comes to our own land, to Madison, WI, where the issues are framed in language we all understand, even if we interpret it differently from one another.
Many people will say that Governor Walker has made the budget mess himself by giving huge corporate tax breaks and deciding to make up the difference by taking away the unions’ ability to have collective bargaining rights and in effect, taxing the public employees to make up for the budget downfall. That’s a simplified version of that argument, but it lies at the heart of the protests and rallies that have been happening in Madison and around the country.
Others will say that the unions are more harm than good, and that workers in unions already have it better than non-union workers. This was shown in a chart in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the debate in Wisconsin which points out that union workers make an average of $26.25 an hour compared to $19.68 for non-union and that 99% of union workers get retirement benefits compared to 74% of non-union workers. People with this viewpoint might say that it’s time for the unions to give up some of their power and benefits.
And people on all sides of this issue include Unitarian Universalists. Right here in River City (aka at All Souls). Which is what makes this quote from Stephanie’s friend all the more powerful. This is an incredible opportunity to practice deep listening, to not make assumptions, to see the inherent worth and dignity of every human– and to give space for the validity of their own point of view and how it ties in with our seven guiding principles. For myself, I am solidly in the workers’ corner. I don’t believe that Governor Walker is showing equity in his refusal to negotiate with Democrats and union leaders who have already said they’re willing to make concessions, sacrifices to help pass a balanced budget.
I will have participated in two rallies by the time this makes press that show support for the teachers and others who are being impacted by the governor’s intractability.
For me, this isn’t about the power of unions or balancing a budget. It’s about an agenda that leaves no room for compromise or for inviting all impacted parties to the table. That is what I decry and I hope that the rallies will provide the impetus for Governor Walker to be more flexible, to be more open to listening to other points of view.
That’s what we’re each called to do, isn’t it? To be more flexible, to be more open to listening to other points of view, and to remember, as Steph’s friend said, “ultimately, this too shall pass, so don’t ruin relationships over it.”
In this past week I have had a loving conversation with a member who completely disagrees with me. And what’s most important to both of us is not proving the other wrong but hearing one another and loving one another in the midst of our disagreement. If we can each do that, then, regardless of what happens in Wisconsin, we will all win.