It’s maddening that Madison is madder than a mad cow, and I’m not there to be mad right along with them.
This winter was too long, yet not long enough for the Republicans to give Democrats in Wisconsin adequate time to debate and discuss Gov. Walker’s budget.
So strange how I tend to leave a place right before it becomes interesting. Now even people in New York are paying attention to Madison.
I generally admit to hailing from Wisconsin for convenience. It’s easier than explaining where I was born, where I moved with my family, then the list of places I chose to move by myself. But Lynda Barry once told me in a writing class in college: “Fucking Wisconsin, eh? I don’t know what it is, but it drags you back, doesn’t it?”
I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant– in fact I usually dreaded going back to Wisconsin for the summers– but I felt the truth of what she said, perhaps for no other reason than she seemed so convinced of it herself, and so sure that I would understand it. Lynda Barry might have drawn it better: shown the both of us, two Wisconsinites in Ohio, being dragged back by the invisible string-cheese arms of fate to the Dairyland.
But that was before I lived in Madison. I chose to go there. I scouted it out. I tested out the swing dancing back when Union South was Jumptown’s Friday dance venue. I lived on Lake Monona. I took the buses everywhere. I biked to the Farmer’s Market. I wrote poems, little sketches, everywhere from the Weary Traveler to Monona Terrace. I bought my wedding dress on Monroe Street and went down a list of best burgers in town once my husband decided that it was ok to eat beef in the U.S. (Great Dane, Weary Traveler, Old Fashioned, Monty’s Blue Plate). He became a regular at the Mediterranean Café.
Madison was destined to be temporary; I knew this beforehand. I’m a nomad after all. But I couldn’t have asked for a better fit over the last two years.
And so, when I see a sea of red in the State Capit0l, and when I hear that Ian’s Pizza has been taking donations and distributing free pizza to the tens of thousands of state workers protesting on the Square, I feel homesick.
I had a drink with Ian of Ian’s pizza at Mickey’s just last September. I met him through another Ian who displayed generous housing karma when I was in need and who also knows a thing or two about Wisconsin dragging you back.
I spot friends of mine in newspaper photos, in pans of the crowd, holding TAA banners high; some aren’t even from Wisconsin but recognize the importance of benefits and bargaining in their graduate education and livelihoods. They have responded to and embraced the People’s Republic of Madison.
I am not there, but this fight feels like my fight. Yes, it directly affects my mother’s job. Yes, I was a TA and a member of the TAA Union which provided me with tuition remission and benefits that allowed me to graduate with minimal student loan debt and maintain health insurance. Yes, I have the usual personal connections to the State that makes me invested in the outcome of the Governor’s proposed union-busting, benefits-cutting budget. But that doesn’t account for this nostalgic homesickness, for me feeling like I missed my fight.
The union here will probably face similar challenges (although certainly not a threat to our very right to negotiate; New York is too Democratic and unions too entrenched here for that), but the fight won’t feel the same to me. I hate small towns, but I like small cities. I like that I am two Ians removed from the protests on State Street.
The State Capitol building is where I went to pay a sort of dorky, secular homage in November 2008 the day after Obama won the Presidential election, when I was full of hope and pride for the democratic process. I used to walk through the rotunda casually on blustery days to take a shortcut across the square from Main Street to State Street. On one of the balconies, almost one year ago, we were married by a judge.
I can’t help but see the signs and crowds camped out in the Capitol Rotunda and think of all the couples who have had to postpone their weddings there this week. In my mind, they are not upset. They say their vows in solidarity. They raise their red heart banners in anger and in love.