I am a teacher in the state of Wisconsin. As many of you are probably aware, a bill was introduced a couple of weeks ago that has gotten a lot of people upset. This bill has been presented by the current governor as a means of fixing the state’s budget. This bill is a lengthy one that contains a lot of very controversial ideas. Some of those ideas directly impact me and my job. First, this would require me to pay a significant more money for some of my benefits. Second, it would take away collective bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers. This would, in essence, break the unions here in the state. For those people who don’t know much about unions and collective bargaining (and I admit that I didn’t until it came into my life), unions work to get workers the best working conditions possible from their employer. This is similar to a business’s purpose of making as much money as possible. The employer and union sit down and discuss what the contract will contain. The contract could include everything from wages and benefits to things that are not related to finances. For teachers, this may include transfer procedures from one school to another or might include what time we need to report to school. In this way, the two groups discuss and reach a compromise. This bill is upsetting to many people because we feel like we should have the right to group together in a union and to be able to negotiate for our working conditions. (Now, before I go further, this blog post isn’t one where I want people to discuss politics. You are welcome to disagree with me but the purpose of this entry isn’t to have political debate. I’m just trying to give background to the rest of the post.) Personally, for me, if this bill passes, I won’t be able to continue to teach here. I won’t be able to afford it and won’t feel like I have a voice. I will absolutely feel like my rights have been taken away. It is destroying me as I keep hearing really negative statements about teachers and other public employees. Honestly, I believe that teaching is an important job for the good of the public and deserves both respect and fair compensation.
In many cases, when people are upset with their government or with a law, they find a way to protest their displeasure. The workers, union members and supports have done just that in Wisconsin. For last 12 days, thousands of people have made their way to the state capital to protest this bill. I have joined in to have my voice heard for the past 11 days. When I haven’t actually been there, I’m communicating with others fighting the same cause or doing something to help with the cause. My focus has been on this political battle (one in which I didn’t invite, by the way. Yet, the fight came to me). I haven’t had much choice as I feel like I’m fighting for my students, my colleagues, my state and myself. Thus, I haven’t had much time or energy to focus on Duran Duran or on fandom. I desperately miss that normalcy. Yet, I had the strangest realization the other night. This protest, this movement for worker rights is just like fandom. In fact, in many ways, it captures some of the best elements of fandom. Now, I’m sure you think that sleep deprivation and stress has caused me to lose my mind but keep reading.
How many of you have participated in a protest or demonstration? How many have been involved in some sort of group or organization that is pushing for some change, in a public, political way? Well, I’m going to do my best here to describe what it is like. Before I do, I feel it necessary to say that this protest/movement has been like NOTHING I have ever seen or been a part of. I have participated in other demonstrations before but they cannot begin to compare to what is going on in Wisconsin’s capital. The heart of the protest has been taking place in and around the Capitol. There have been many rallies outside of the building which houses the state government. These rallies are like other rallies in that they have speakers and an audience who cheers when the speaker says something interesting or exciting. In many cases, individuals and groups have marched around the downtown area to get to the rally. This idea is to voice one’s opinion through signs and slogans as well as through chants and songs. While those outside rallies have been powerful and interesting, they do not have the same flavor as what is taking place inside.
When I’m inside the Capitol, I feel like I have been placed back in history. Confession time: I have a history degree and focused on social movements of the 1960s/1970s. What is happening here reminds me of things I had only read in history books. Inside the Capitol, a community has been born as rules and expectations have been established (Note: Protesters are present at ALL times inside the Capitol). Some of the rules include being polite, being respectful of each other, always being peaceful, cleaning up after yourself, and more. Strangely enough or not, I have only witnessed such things since I have been going. Besides these rules, there are common activities. During the day, the protesters are speaking about what they think and why. There are also many chants and songs that are said over and over again to express our collective opinions. These songs and chants include music that is made with make shift instruments. For example, there are many people hitting buckets as if they were drums. Some of these chants are in the form of question and answer. For example, a group of people might say something, “Tell me what democracy looks like.” The rest would answer with, “This is what democracy looks like.” Other chants are more constant, like “Kill the Bill” or “Recall Walker”. Beyond the chants and songs, people are carrying signs or making posters. In fact, the walls of the Capitol are covered in them. These posters also work to express people’s opinions. Of course, people are also walking around and talking to each other. Strangely or not, I have seen a number of people whom I haven’t seen in a long time. It has become the meeting center for many, many people. The music, the chants, the posters, and the people create a sensory overload inside.
A couple of nights ago, I found myself outside of the governor’s office with a few of my colleagues, chanting a “tell the truth” chant during one of his many press conferences and I realized that social movements are very much like fandom. In many ways, it shows some of the best elements of fandom. (If I was teaching this entry as a lesson, I would ask the class if they can guess what makes social movements like fandom. Any ideas? 🙂 ) First, fandom doesn’t exist without people. Fandom begins when one fan meets (literally or figuratively) another fan. Then, those two fans find more people like them and it continues to grow. This is the same for social movements. They begin with individuals coming together as well. Like fandom, the numbers involved can ebb and flow. In Wisconsin, it started with about 10,000 people and, tomorrow, there is a crowd of 100,000 expected. In Duranland, there were millions of fans in the 1980s and thousands now. Fandom brings people together over some common interest as do social movements. For our fandom, people often come together to go to a concert. For this social movement, people come to the Capitol. If you go often enough, chances are you will meet people and/or see people you know. The same thing happens at Duran shows. Second, In both cases, these groups form communities with common expectations and written as well as unwritten rules. In the movement for workers rights, some of the rules that I listed above are literally written on signs and some aren’t. In fandom, rules are rarely written, but some are. Take a look at message boards. Most message boards have a post or a thread describing rules. Of course, many unwritten rules exist as well. Typically, those rules are discovered solely when someone does not follow those unwritten rules. Then, of course, there are common activities.
For Duranies, concerts are times when fans get to sing along with their favorite band. They are also a time to buy a t-shirt or two to show others your support. It is common place to find people holding up signs at shows. These signs are message for the band. The same things are found at this social movement. We go to the Capitol now knowing that we will say the same chants that we did the day before and the day before that. Many people are making and wearing t-shirts in support of workers’ rights. Lastly, there are tons of signs that citizens have made. In this case, the messages are not for a band but they are for legislators and the governor. They might also be directed at the media in hopes for truthful coverage. Yet, beyond the rules, the slogans and songs are the people. While the cause of group formation between the two might be completely different, the results are the same. Participating in fandom and participating in a social movement provides a sense of belonging. When I’m at a Duran show, I feel like I’m with my people. I’m with people who understand me and who share something at the core of who I am. The same has been true for me at the Capitol. While I don’t like fighting to keep my rights, I have loved being a part of something monumental Something important. Something bigger than me. I have loved standing with my colleagues, with my fellow workers, with my state. I feel as if I belong there.