I have lived in Wisconsin for the past 13 years, but I’ve never identified myself as a mid-westerner. Most of my extended family lived or are living in the northeast and many of my friends are on the west coast. I warmed to Wisconsin slowly.
Much of our identity is formed by geography. Most tenure track faculty members end up living far from their original homes and families, and often outside of their cultural comfort zones. Where is home? Once you have children, these questions have different stakes. For better or worse, this is the place of my daughter’s childhood, the town where she learned to ride a bike, form friendships, had her first crush.
Last night, as the results of the national election were starting to come in, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was interviewed by NBC on his predictions for this important swing state. In that comment he identified my county as the swing county in a swing state. Everyone seemed to be wondering what my neighbors would do, what they valued. And I wondered too.
The recent political struggles brought on by Governor Walker and his attack on state workers and their unions these past two years taught me a lot about my state. I rode early morning buses to Madison along with nurses aids, elementary school teachers, and teamsters. My daughter learned to chant, "This is what democracy looks like!" I've never seen so many people so decent and respectful in their protesting, so full of grace in their anger. The child of civil rights/anti-war activists, this was the first time I experienced a political protest that was both directly about my own life and that connected me to those around me.
The defeat of the recall effort this summer was a stunning disappointment. I wasn't worried about my own job or benefits as much as I felt stripped of my new-found appreciation for my fellow Wisconsinites. Who are these people who came together with such strength and grace…but who voted in favor of a governor whose agenda was based on vilifying teachers and other public servants?
When WIsconsin went blue on Tuesday night, I felt relief, and then a rush of recognition. Of course, my home contains both conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat. It is both still foreign to me and my home.