I took a phone call from a reporter for a Madison media outlet a couple of weeks ago. He had recently returned to Madison after several years abroad and was shocked by the breakdown of community in Madison since he had left. Because of the developments in state government and the protests, deep fissures have arisen in Madison. Debate has given way to name-calling, and as he put it, everything seems black or white. I could do no more than concur with his assessment, having experienced myself that any attempt at nuance is often perceived as betrayal or attack.
For this, both sides share responsibility. The effects on our civic life will be felt for a very long time and our community may never be the same. But in the midst of this polarized and polarizing situation, there are signs of an alternative.
During the height of the protest, talk show hosts and others were quick to spew forth epithets. When one radio personality called police and firefighters who were protesting, “lousy, rotten people,” who used violence and intimidation, Lt. Laura Laurenzi of the Madison Fire Department challenged her to provide video proof of such behavior, or to make a substantial donation to a local charity. No proof was forthcoming.
Lt. Laurenzi wanted to make something good out of this, so she challenged members of Firefighters Local 311 to make a donation and promised that she would match their generosity. The firefighters donated $1000 to Porchlight. In return, Lt. Laurenzi wrote a check for $1000 to Grace’s Food Pantry. Her donation will help purchase food and other supplies for people suffering during these difficult economic times.
Lt. Laurenzi did something quite interesting. She demanded that her opponent examine the language she used; she attempted to open up a conversation with her opponent, and she demanded that she be treated as a human being. That her opponent didn’t respond is not suprising. What is surprising is that Lt. Laurenzi made something good out of a dehumanizing situation.
As the dust has settled on the budget, and the protests have diminished, we are left in a community and in a state that seems to be at war with itself. The hard work of reconciliation lies ahead. I wonder who will take the lead.