By Dmitriy Synkov / image source: WBAY TV-2
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Wisconsin teacher John Havlicek was among the dozens of public servants and union members eager to make their voices heard at the Wisconsin Senate Labor Committee last Tuesday—and he was one of the lucky ones who got a chance to speak.
Shortly before the scheduled finish of 7:00 p.m. (not nearly enough time for the 100+ people who came to speak out against ALEC-inspired “right to work” legislation) the meeting was shut down early when Republican committee members walked out of the room. Havlicek recalls the event:
I was planning to take a different approach, to say, “Look, we can try to find common ground if you guys are willing to listen.” It was about 6:20pm when they said there was a “credible threat” from protests and people started shouting, “Let us be heard! Let us speak!” My name had already been called, so then I tried to get Sen. Chris Larson’s attention and he said “come on out.” I went out and gave my two minutes while they were filing out.
The alleged “threat” was that the vote would be disrupted by SEIU protesters—despite the fact that protesters were merely speaking out against the 7:00 p.m. stop rather than the hearing itself, and there had already been an ongoing rally outside.
For Havlicek, the experience reinforced his commitment to open and inclusive discourse, a point he made in his own testimony as well as the rally earlier that day in the state Capitol. “I think that in the current political climate we tend to demonize the people we disagree with, but I don’t think that’s a natural response for most people, but rather a mentality fostered by those with a certain agenda who get to do so because they’re a majority,” he explained.
“When I spoke at the rally—and what I tried to address in my testimony—is that we need to find common ground with those we disagree with, especially since I think that we probably agree more than we disagree. We all want kids to be successful. We all want a strong education system. We all want the average person walking around the street to make it, to get healthcare, to get adequate housing—but what we’re seeing instead is a stifling of dissent, a curtailing of discussion.”
For Havlicek, the conversation is “a marathon, not a sprint” and educators need to stay the course and collaborate to be heard. “We need to change the narrative but we can only do that through calm, compassionate discourse, and not just with our natural allies. We need to have this discourse with people who disagree with us, and I think we’ll find they agree with us on many things too.”