Madison, WI Pagans Speak Out – Interviews

Beket is a now retired, Dept. of Revenue worker. She made the choice to retire the first of the year, when the writing seemed on the wall with Governor Walker’s election. She has been a member of the Circle community for ages.

“I had been planning on retiring, but because I worked at the Dept of Revenue, I was hoping to work into the spring. A week after Walker’s election I had my annual physical, and my doctor, who worked at the Medical College of Wisconsin said, he thought Wisconsin was in for a rough ride. I turned in my resignation the next week.”

What about this vote concerns you?

“This will take our money out of our pockets twice. The amount that is taken out to pay our retirement and health insurance is in lieu of higher wages. By making us pay more, it is basically a wage reduction. By taking away union rights. He could change the amount of say, personal religious holidays available. A lot of people aren’t aware, but Lady Cybele, is a retired field ‘rep’ for AFSCME Council 24, and they got the personal holidays increased. She was on the bargaining team, and it was her intent to get that, so that Pagans could take their Pagan holidays off. ”

 

Capitol Gallery Scene photo: Nataraj - Eyedance

Have you ever availed yourself of these benefits?

” Yes,  I often took days off at Samhain. It is set up so that if you notify the employer two weeks in advance, and state it is for religious purposes, they cannot deny you the time off. That is across the board for state employees now.”

Do you have concerns with the weakening of unions your religious freedoms might be effected?

” I am concerned they could back off on letting people off for non-Christian holidays. They could deny it, and without the union there, what is to stop them?  I did not advertise my beliefs at work. I waited until my last day to wear my pentacle. I worked there with three other Pagans in the building that I knew of. There were people who knew I was Pagan, I didn’t advertise it. There were evangelical types for whom I would not have wanted to know I was a Pagan, especially a supervisor. Without the union there what help do you have? In Wisconsin you can’t sue the state, if you are a state employee. They are the only thing there that protects you. We have been without a contract since July 2009. any agreement entered into would be for the that past fiscal biennium ( July 2009- July 2011). Some provisions could affect me retroactively. They could just go ahead and deduct it right from my pension checks and for my health insurance.  This worries me.”

Will this budget effect you in other ways?

” The implications of this budget keep growing and growing.  First they wanted to decertify our unions, but it is part of a larger movement in this country against the ordinary working people. Working people who have school age kids send them to public school. They are gutting public education. Do they want them to learn anything? One of my neighbors teaches six grade, and he is retiring this year. He’s glad to get out before he sees the effects, and before his benefits go down. The cost of public education is expensive, but we need to have a good public education system to have an educated public that is going to vote! They have to be able to weigh the issues to make decisions, that’s what my mother always told me. Do they just want an uneducated citizenry who will be swayed by the ads that big money can buy?  Maybe that is what they are planning on.  If the people can’t think, maybe we can think for them. I don’t like that, it is not what democracy is about. ”

 

Capitol Scene photo: Nataraj - Eyedance

Aurora is a current state employee in Madison, and is upset, concerned, and uncertain what her future holds in state employment.

How did you react to the news of tonight’s vote?

“I was checking email, when about 6.30pm a message came to come to the State Capitol, they are going to vote on it now. I thought well what good will it do now, they have been doing whatever they want to do anyhow. I started crying, and then yelling, ‘ I don’t want to live in a world like this! What is going on in the world. ‘  I called a spiritual friend and said,  ‘You know, I don’t want to see a world that is as horrible as this is going to get’. ”

What does the future of state employment look like to you now?

” We have eight people who are retiring the end of this week just on our floor alone. If they can afford to retire without working for the state anymore, they are. I think they are the lucky ones. I went to college right out of high school and got a degree. I worked in advertising for a while, but I didn’t like it. They want you to work 60-80 hours a week. When I moved to Madison I decided I just want to be able to buy my own house, I want to be able to live a relatively comfortable life. I don’t have a lot, I live very frugally, but I at least wanted something that was mine.”

“I went back to college, got a second degree. I still have about 20k of that student loan left. I wanted a decent paying job so I could financial afford to have a house, and live, and not have to worry about having two or three jobs to make ends meet. I got this job working at the state, and it wasn’t that great paying, but the state does have good benefits. That makes up for not having the money. I finally bought a house last spring, and you don’t buy a house with the assumption your pay will go down! I am going to take in a room-mate, or get a second job or both, to keep my house. ”

“A lot of people are retiring out of fear. We were told that it was a federal law, that once retired it was like a contract and that couldn’t be touched, and they should get what they have coming. We’ll see. A lot are hurrying up to leave is because one of the benefits we get is the sick leave that we get, doesn’t expire, and many have saved up a thousand or more hours. They double the amount of hours accumulated and pay that on maintaining your health care when you retire. People do the calculations and when they figure they have enough saved up to get health care for a few years until medicare, they retire. People have been banking this up for their retire so they are leaving now before they lose it. For those of us left, it is guaranteed by statute, but with this Governor and Senate, people are afraid they will just change the statute. There are all kinds of rumors that Walker will take away our sick leave and vacation unless it is used. I am supposed to increase what I pay into a pension, with no choice, that now I may never see, and I have to do it after paying income taxes on it! ”

Does it have broader effects than just collective bargaining?

” I have a friend at work, a single mom with five kids. She lives about an hour out of Madison because that is the only place she can afford. She already gets EIC state benefits, and other programs because she can’t afford to care for her family. This is an accountant, we are professionals,  and we should be making enough money to live on!  We aren’t, and then they want us to take a pay cut of up to 12%. The union says Walker wants to end our health program completely and set us up with individual health accounts.  ‘ We’ll just let you pay for it pre-taxes. ‘ They will gut our environmental protection of our waterways so paper mills can go back to dumping waste in them, its cheaper. These took years to establish, and they are taken out in the budget bill.”

What do you think will happen next?

“There was already a big rally planned for Saturday. We had a union meeting yesterday and they had union people from California, Maine, and all over, and they said the whole county is watching this because what happens here is going to effect the whole country. My friend said as we walked to a rally, “The war has started, that is what this is”.  This is the beginning if it, class war, we are seeing it right now. People are being called down to the Capitol every day. They expect way more down here, than the 100,00 we saw the last week. They really downplayed the numbers. Whether this vote will make people not come to the Capitol, well, I don’t think it will keep them away. My sign last week was , “If this bill passes, it is proof we are no longer represented.”  The people of this state have spoken and said they are not okay with this, and they went ahead and did it anyway, not representing their constituents anymore. It will take a few months for the recall to get set up, and take effect. This is unprecedented, one or two in the country would be a lot in most years nationally.”

What do you find at the protests?

“When I go to the Capitol, I try to sense energetically what the crowd is like. I always get a sense of hope and compassion. I expected anger, and it wasn’t there. It was such a positive energy and peaceful. In mid-week, their were signs all over, many reminding us this is a peaceful protest. Someone said Tea Party guys are coming down this weekend with the intent to cause violence, and they may be bringing guns. That is why there are ‘no firearms signs’ everywhere. They have about a hundred of them following the ‘bus’, and then there are like 60,000 of us. Everywhere they go even out state, they are outnumbered 10 to 1. People should remember to vote Tuesday April 5th, there is a supreme court judge up for election, and a poor choice can thwart any legal action to resolve these issues!”

 

Darkness falls on Capitol photo: Nataraj - Eyedance

Basia, a Madison Pagan, was interviewed at the Capitol rally last Saturday. She works for the city but is not a union employee.

Why are you down here?

“I’m a lead usher for the Overture Center, and under walker’s budget there will be cuts to the arts. I am mainly a private citizen, and am here to support the people out here who are literally fighting for their lives. This about rights, it isn’t about money. Who we are as a people, and having our voice be heard. I am here in solidarity with those in unions, teachers, nurses, and everyone who will be directly be effected by this horrible, despicable bill.”

Are you concerned these issues could affect your religious freedoms?

” Absolutely, this can trickle down to many of our rights being denied. Walker is delusional. He is a dangerous person. He is not intelligent, and he is sticking both feet into his electoral coffin in 2012. People will hopefully stand up and speak with their vote in the next election. ”

Laurie, a Madison  veterinarian and Pagan, veteran of the Capitol occupation, and knitter.

How did this all happen?

” The people of Wisconsin, the voters, are responsible for this mess we have gotten into now, and its up to us to fix this. We are pretty angry and we are not going to forget. Not in April, not in November, not next year. Not the year after. “

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