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We Need to Stand Up to Bullies Targeting Vulnerable People in Wisconsin and Across the Country | Opinion


by Ruth Conniff, Wisconsin Examiner
July 20, 2023

Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan is an affable guy, a progressive Democrat with a reputation for getting along with conservative Republicans. His long-term friendship with Wisconsin’s Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is a matter of puzzlement for many of Pocan’s supporters. So it was particularly dramatic to see him rise to chastise his GOP colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee this week for behavior he described as “bigoted” and “insane.”

The Republicans, as Jennifer Shutt in our DC bureau reported, decided to strip $3.6 million in earmarks from a massive transportation and housing bill — projects they had previously approved, but then decided to reverse with an amendment solely because the funding was going to support a handful of LGBTQ community projects. Rep. Mark Pocan 

Pocan poignantly declared that he loves and respects the Appropriations Committee and its collegial, bipartisan atmosphere. He became emotional as he described his sense of betrayal as the committee took up an amendment he could only view as a personal attack on him as a gay man. 

Had he ever told them about the homophobic death threats he received when he first ran for office? he asked. Or about being beaten bloody and unconscious by strangers wielding a baseball bat when he was leaving a gay bar as a young man? “This is what you guys do by introducing amendments like this,” Pocan told the committee, drawing the connection between hateful political rhetoric and violent hate crimes Republicans don’t want to confront.

Political attacks on LGBTQ people are creating the atmosphere that prompted the Human Rights Campaign to declare a “state of emergency for LGBTQ Americans.”

As Pocan put it, the Republicans’ culture-war posturing is a “slippery slope.”

“You went from attacking the trans community to now affecting everybody in the community,” Pocan said. “Who’s next?”

Bullying by emboldened bigots is getting worse. Republicans in Congress and Wisconsin are targeting residents of an LGBTQ home for the elderlytrans kids, women who need reproductive health care  — not just abortion but also birth control, and college students who receive scholarships offered to students of color.

Anyone who doesn’t already feel personally targeted yet had better think about seeing yourself or a loved one on that list.

These are scary times. Instead of retreating to safety, we need to stand up for each other.

In our neighboring state of Michigan, Attorney General Dana Nessel just charged 16 fake electors for their conspiracy to undermine the will of the voters in an attempt to reinstall ex-President Donald Trump.

Michigan is an inspiring example. Despite overt intimidation by protesters carrying automatic rifles who converged on the state Capitol and hung a Barbie doll meant to represent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer from a noose, Whitmer and other Democratic women, including Nessel and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson won in a historic sweep in 2022, and flipped control of the Legislature to Democrats for the first time in 40 years.

Now they are leading the charge against the Big Lie conspiracists whose actions fed the Jan 6 insurrection.

Wisconsin — where one of our fake electors is, incredibly, still overseeing the next round of voting as a member of the statewide elections commission — should follow suit.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said Wednesday that he couldn’t comment on whether similar charges will be filed against our state’s fake electors.

It’s critical to push back on every front against the coordinated right-wing attack on civil socie

Even at the most local level, as John Norcross wrote for us last week, Republicans are fomenting thuggish attacks on teachers and school boards.

In the small city of Antigo, in northeastern Wisconsin, a group calling itself Antigo Advocates for Freedom and Liberty, which includes members of the school board that was recently taken over by conservatives, pushed out popular superintendent, Julie Sprague. Sprague faced relentless hostility from the board for “promoting CRT values, ICS equity, DEI, no behavioral expectations, no punishment or consequences, and all the other acronyms that mess up our kids and community,” according to an email obtained by the Examiner, calling on conservatives to show up at a board meeting and support firing Sprague. (Instead, Sprague announced her retirement at the meeting Monday.) 

Sprague’s supporters praise her leadership and are raising the alarm about a rash of resignations in the district because the MAGA board, which is focused on rooting out Critical Race Theory and diversity initiatives, has made their lives miserable. 

A handful of loud bullies can do a lot of damage. We need the majority of people who want a better, more civilized community to stand up.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.