Wow. Tuesday seems so long ago. A reporter came into our store - he was writing a story about businesses with signs in their windows. He asked me when we put our sign up and I replied, "Tuesday." Later that day, I realized that it was Friday the 25th and that the Tuesday I was referring to was actually from the week before that. Tuesday the 15th of February was the day we installed our protest window. Seems like ages ago. I have such a whirl of thoughts going around in my head. I've been composing this post for at least a week, thinking of things I wanted to mention, trying to corral the restless and milling thoughts into some semblance of order. We'll see how that works.
I am not without feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, despair. I feel exhausted from the level and variety of emotions that I go through in a single day. I have been listening for days as people come into the store and express their fears about their futures, their frustrations with the lack of democratic process, their need to have their voices heard. I have been brought to tears on a daily basis. I have felt such tremendous gratitude from customers and passersby. We just passed the 2000 mark for buttons sold (it's not a bad problem to have, but the required level of button production has bumped the usual February days up in intensity). I have let any number of tasks and responsibilities slide as I avidly follow and share online article links, compose this blog post and otherwise find expression in ways that are true to myself. I have lost track of the number of petitions I have signed and the number of groups that have marched past our store on their way up to the Capitol. I have been able to calmly agree to disagree with some people, agree to not talk about it with others, and only unfriended one person in the process.
But on Friday the 18th of February, certain events coalesced and I find myself returning to an underlying core of calm and faith, which has probably helped my sanity in the ensuing days. Here they are, numbered just because I think it will be easier to keep track of, not out of any sense of priority or order.
1. I was reminded of my Christmas letter. I have had several friends who are remaining silent on the matter or who don't want to hear about it (or don't want to get dragged into the heated and insulting discussions that seem to inevitably pop up). It upsets me because I think that this affects all of us but I also reminded myself that I wrote just recently: "This year seems particularly weighted down by sorrow and anger over our nation’s politics and the economy. I can understand that some people believe in completely different (and opposite) ways of making the world better for our children. I can’t shake the feeling that there are powerful people who are utterly uninterested in making the world a better place, or are acting (and manipulating) purely out of self-interest on a grand scale. It leaves me feeling powerless and a little hopeless. My coping mechanism might be too close (for your comfort) to holding my hands over my ears and singing, “la la la, I’m not listening,” but sometimes it is all that stands between me and lying despondently on the couch." And so I counseled myself to have tolerance for all the different ways that different people have of being in this world.
2. That said, I went on in my letter to discuss the ways that one person can make a difference, and I remain committed to the promise that each and every one of us matters and has power. I take comfort and assurance from the ways that many people have found to speak out. No doubt that protesting in and of itself is very important, but there is action to be taken, things to be done. I appreciate the people who are making their way cautiously through this time, to thoughtfully address their own comittments and take positive steps to create their world. I appreciate the signs that make me laugh as they parade by, and the ability of people to create power and humor in difficult times.
3. I returned to my resolutions collage (the full explanation of the collage is here, written January 14th). The phrases now seem like such a pointed directive to me, from me: "share wealth," "pay attention," "shop small," "take care," "write letters," (though at the time, I meant letters to friends, whereas now I'm trying to find polite words for our Governor), "bubble wrap," "take it personally & not," "be brave," "earn positive reinforcement and instant gratification," (to which I would also add "GIVE positive reinforcement"), "give thanks."
4. I was reminded of some stories & books, and the memory of them is something that I have returned to often. Is it silly to rely on fiction to interpret reality, perhaps, but I like to think that there are underlying truths that cut across genres. The first story that popped into my head is from Dr. Seuss. The North-Going Zax and the South-Going Zax. Remember that one? As a child, I remember thinking how silly those Zax were, how stubborn and how their stubbornness would cost them the rest of their journey.
The second book that came to my mind was American Gods by Neil Gaiman. The basic premise of this book is that our world is filled with gods - the ones that immigrants brought with them on their journeys to the new world, the ones that people "pray" to in the present (technology, money, speed). All of these gods, in this book, have a physical manifestation. But people don't pray or sacrifice as they used to and all these gods are losing their power and their life. It seems that there isn't enough room in the world for all the gods so the rumblings of war begin - between the new gods and the old gods. Except, in the end, it turns out that the war was not between old and new or good and bad. No, the war was a con game, a trick engineered by the god of war and the god of chaos. Gods of war and chaos, they don't care at all who is right or wrong, they don't particularly even want anyone to survive, because they will gain such strength from old and new gods sacrificing themselves in the name of war, that they will be able to live on in their former glory. This is not to diminish the fight that is going on, but there are certain aspects of our society that aren't really interested in outcomes but are just interested in the fighting and the chaos. This was emphasized to me on Saturday the 19th. That day downtown was so lively and yet calm. We had lots of business at the shop and it felt like Farmer's Market and a tailgate party wrapped up in one. It felt so Wisconsin to me - mostly happy and cheerful, let's carry our sign up to the Capitol and then go get a beer... I was so happy that day and then I went home and on the news, all they showed was people yelling at each other. It wasn't at all my experience of the day and I got so sad and depressed - how can we find any solution if we are just yelling at each other? But then I remembered that wasn't at all my experience of the day. And it caused me to seriously question the news (because, after all, they might be closer to the god of chaos who is just interested in something, anything, controversial to report on). In any event, if this makes sense at all, the memory of American Gods gave me something to return to when it seemed like there is nothing but fighting and chaos.
Additionally, I started reading Audacity of Hope by Obama. In his early chapters he talks about compromise and about the ability of the U.S. to move forward only with a broad coalition of a true majority (which by its nature will have to include Republicans and Democrats and Independents). He also talks about developing empathy and finding ways that we have common ground... Oh please, let us find our common ground.
And there were movies too. There were the lines from Lord of the Rings about going out to meet the forces of darkness and evil (delivered by Viggo for added delight). I also watched "Invictus" and marveled at Nelson Mandela. I distinctly remember being a teenager and thinking, "there is no way apartheid is ever going to end." And yet, here we are. Nothing is perfect, of course. But there is hope.
5. We changed our window but left our sign up. It's true, it's not a publicity stunt. In fact, I have had so many of our regular customers stop in and say thank you for the sign that I am realizing I might have underestimated my initial guess that 50% of our customers will be directly and negatively affected by this bill. I feel so thankful for the many supportive people who have written me emails or commented on the words I share here or on Facebook. I still think it is short-sighted to make budget cuts that will negatively affect the amount of sales tax revenue that the state brings in. Although for now, downtown Madison (restaurants and coffee shops in particular) is certainly doing its part to boost sales tax revenue.
6. The weeks haven't been all smooth sailing. On that Friday, a neighbor businesswoman came in quite upset about a note that someone was distributing that basically said not to shop at any businesses because no one was unionized. Someone on Facebook scolded me gently for a post and then ended with, "goodbye Anthology." We also heard that the dreaded Tea Party was coming on Saturday and I momentarily got sidetracked with a number of paranoid thoughts. And, finally, for about 5 minutes on Friday, a tall business-class man stood either in front of our sign or in front of our door. It would seem that he was about to walk away, and then, just as another group of people would walk by, he would move in front of our sign. Two customers had to actually ask him to move out of the way in order to get into the store and several other people just walked on by without trying. Now, I know that our little alcove is a perfect place for stepping out of the wind and many people stop and talk or smoke without realizing that they block our door. Perhaps he was just an oblivious person talking on his bluetooth, but after 13 years in retail, I have to say that you do have to trust your instincts. They have helped me catch a few shoplifters and not listening to that little voice in my head has kept me from catching a few other shoplifters. Something about his behavior wasn't completely innocent. And so, with heart racing, I was just gearing myself up to ask him to please step aside and then he went on his way. Now, that whole thing might have been totally in my head but it sure got the adrenaline going.
But really, all these events made me think about how much anxiety we bring on ourselves. How much we imagine and anticipate and judge before anything even happens. I was projecting my fears for Saturday onto this one man, imaginging that I'd have to call in all my Facebook friends to break the blockade that was forming around our store. Oh yes, don't be fooled, I can be as drama queen as the next person. My busines neighbor is imagining that no one will come shopping in her store again. I was imagining all our Facebook friends leaving me for less political shops. I'm not saying that bad things don't happen and I definitely think many fears will come true under our state's current leadership. And this is not a call to passively accept the events around us. But after these events on Friday, what I was left with was a sense of calm. Not that bad things won't happen, but that we are stronger and better than those bad things. That the goodness of people will prevail.
7. We're still talking. Not only that, but people who might never have been talking before are having conversations. Despite the vitriol that I read online and see in the news, no one has come into the store to yell at me for our sign. Despite the sustained energy and the lack of progres on some fronts, people are being peaceful and mostly civil. Just yesterday I sold a pin to a man from central Wisconsin who would probably call himself a moderate Republican. He thinks all life is sacred so he has some issues with abortion but he was there to protest the way that other lives were being treated. He bought a "keep calm and protest on" pin. He was chatting with a woman from Illinois who was here visiting her son at the University. She bought 10 "Bucky doesn't bust unions" pins. On some fronts, the three of us may well not agree with each other, but on this matter, we could agree. I mean, really. Isn't it great? And I know that someone more cynical is not as charmed as I am about the influx of union people from out of state, but the signs like, "Baltimore is here with you," or the women who came into the shop from Los Angeles - these things truly warm my heart. I know, I can see some people walking around with scorch marks so I won't pretend it is all peaches and cream. I'm dismayed at the level of violence and hostility that emerges in some online conversations. But I am pleased that in other ways, we can have a conversation, we can agree to disagree, but in that conversation we can maybe find a few more things that we agree upon than we thought in the first place. I know I have friends who disagree with me but we will remain friends because we have many other things in common. I don't think it will work if we just stop talking to the people we disagree with.
That said, I will confess that I unfriended one person on Facebook. I tried, honest, I did. I have been trying so hard to be civil and to try and find common ground but we are just so far apart. I couldn't do it. I do respect that other people have other opinions, but this person's opinions are based on a fundamental difference in how we see ourselves as Christians. She is content that God will provide for her and her family and I find her support of various governmental policies completely at odds with my idea of being Christian and being charged with the task of seeking justice, helping the poor (and also doing unto others as you'd have done to you). So, that was that. I probably should have known how it was going to end up when she was so elated that Sarah Palin had been nominated for VP.
8. We have sold a lot of buttons. Oh my gosh, things have been crazy around the shop. It took us almost a week to get things up and running, but now we have lots of buttons to choose from. This give us a little boost at a time of year that is otherwise slow. And, of course, the Capitalist in me is in a much better mood, one dollar button at a time. So many new people have come into the shop and even though it is a small fraction who express interest in anything beyond buttons, it still feels like this has given us an opportunity to grow our business. And, just as a reminder, our button-making is our main fundraising component - we donate 25% of our button sales to local youth arts organizations so it's not just about my salary.
9. I love my city. My unfriended Facebook friend called us "stinkin' liberal." Thank goodness. I love my state too, but I hear from people outside of Madison who might agree with the protesters but don't feel comfortable expressing their opinion. I take it for granted, but our protest window, even though it felt so daring at the time, was really just agreeing with a Madison majority. I feel safe and cherished and appreciated here and am even more thankful than ever.
10. I love my job. I feel so grateful that I've been able to create a job that brings me so much happiness and that is my passion. I don't have a pension plan or a fabulous health insurance, I'm still paying off last year's tax bill, I'm overdue for an eye doctor appointment and the dentist was amazingly nice to me at my last visit even though it had been so long. Are these the prices that I have to pay for creating a job that I love? Can the world really not support us all in our quest to find a meaningful job, one that allows us to pursue our passions, live comfortably without worrying about bills from one month to the next, and one that we can have some input in?
11. We can make a difference. There are times when I feel rather hopeless - Governor Walker seems totally unwilling to compromise and I have a sick feeling in my stomach that those signs heaped like any other garbage are the foretelling of the peoples' voices that will not be heard, not on this particular battle. Well, their voices will be heard but not listened to. It has brought me to tears on a number of occasions.
And yet, in other ways, if this brings any more people to the polls the next time around, it has made a difference. If it causes a few more people to think carefully about where they make their purchases, it has made a difference. If it causes someone to appreciate a teacher more than they used to, it has made a difference.
The words of S came along just as I was trying to articulate my own feelings. She writes, "I know the budget is in bad shape and we need to find some money someplace. But I also know that democracies are built on dialogue. If we can't talk together and think together to figure out the solutions to our problems, we've lost everything." Her words, and the words of so many people who have expressed their love and support, their caring, their committment - they all remind me of everything that I hold so dear about this place that we call home - this city, this state, this country, this world.