Writing this Op/Ed piece is a big change for me. I normally do not involve myself in Wisconsin politics. Instead, over my time at Lawrence, I have always voted absentee in my own state of Illinois. In addition, I always thought it was pointless to write about politics in The Lawrentian, since we have free access to papers such as The New York Times and news and blogs on the Internet that can give us more informed opinions. However, this matter hits home and very much concerns us at Lawrence.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past three and a half months, you know that Republicans nationwide won big gains last year, not only in the federal government, but in state and local governments as well. If you are on the more liberal side of the political spectrum like myself, then you were disappointed to see these gains on the Right.
I was especially disappointed to talk to many of my friends here at LU and to learn that many of them had not voted. It is my personal belief that it is just as important, if not more important, to vote in midterm elections as it is in presidential elections. After my initial disappointment, however, I saw the Democratic losses as a chance for the party and its base to grow and to get its fight back.
Political power creates complacency among the voters. Many who were very politically involved during the 2008 elections seemed to have stopped caring after the start of the Obama presidency. However, we saw a reinvigoration of the Right in the rise of the Tea Party — or rather, the rise of various right-wing groups united by Republican operatives under the originally-libertarian Tea Party umbrella.
While I agree with little, if anything, that the Tea Partiers fought for, I thought the broad civic involvement was admirable. What I, and many others, found disappointing was the vitriolic rhetoric that found its way into these protests.
On the news and Internet, we often saw signs comparing President Obama and liberal lawmakers to Nazis, Communists and Socialists, among other things. These comparisons were not only callous, but they showed an ignorant disregard for those that actually suffered under such systems.
My favorite response to these attacks came on a sign at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert “Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear” that read “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.” I thought this was a sentiment that everyone could agree with: that we could passionately disagree without resorting to vitriolic epithets.
Over these last two months, we have seen the Left start to get its fight back, and it appears that the political revolution is starting right here in Wisconsin with the pushback to Gov. Walker’s anti-union bill. It was inspiring to see more than 70,000 people gather at the state capitol to fight for progressive values concerning worker’s rights.
However, these protests have included some of the unfortunate rhetoric we saw out of the Tea Party rallies — comparing Gov. Walker to a dictator and a Nazi. Many of the signs also compared Walker’s actions to those of deposed Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Such rhetoric is just as unacceptable for these protests as it was for those of the Tea Party’s last year. No matter our political differences with Walker and the Republican majority in the Wisconsin legislature, they were duly elected by the people of this state and have not committed anything similar to the crimes and atrocities seen in dictatorships and the Nazi regime.
In addition, while it is one thing to receive inspiration from the recent victory of the Egyptian people over an undemocratic regime, comparisons of Walker to Mubarak are unfair, and they belittle the struggle and deaths of those Egyptians.
It is disappointing that signs with such rhetoric were seen in a recent protest on College Ave. and were possibly made by Lawrence students. Our experiences inside of the classroom and out teach us to respect each one another and the opinions and beliefs of others. While we don’t have to agree with these opinions, it is not right to compare democratically elected officials to dictators.
I hope that this civic revolution of the Left continues and propels us to electoral gains in 2012. However, in order to win hearts and minds, our rhetoric must be respectful and responsible.