Reconciling Forgiveness and Accountability: Making sense of our two lawsuits, my own mistakes, and the love that created "Rainbo Land"

Reconciling Forgiveness and Accountability: Making sense of our two lawsuits, my own mistakes, and the love that created "Rainbo Land"

As I was driving up from Madison to Minocqua last Friday, I reminisced about the summer of 2020 that turned me into an unlikely progressive activist.
I had lost my wife to cancer in late 2018, and subsequently had to stare down bankruptcy while trying to run a brewpub during a pandemic. 
For the first time in my life, I realized how my government had a direct impact on my survival—both financially and physically—and was disgusted by how terribly they were handling things.
Not only had Trump convinced half of our population to ignore Covid altogether, but Wisconsin’s Republicans overturned our Governor’s plan to slowly re-open our economy and turned us into a Covid Wild West.
I decided I had to do something, so I ran as a Democrat in Wisconsin’s deeply conservative 34th assembly district on one issue alone—giving a shit about Covid. Losing that race was a foregone conclusion given how red our area was, but I somehow landed on front page of the New York Times because Wisconsin was under a magnifying glass and the dynamics of that race were playing out in small towns across America.

Besides learning what it felt like to get sorely beaten, that race also forced me to confront my demons. Most of you don’t know that before I moved back to Wisconsin, I was a speechwriter for Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral race that was engulfed in scandal. What I learned from that campaign was that if you planned to run for office, you had better get in front of any personal issues that could be used to hurt you publicly.
So I started writing a campaign blog to discuss some of the mistakes I’ve made, such as intermittent drug use throughout my adult life and the marital strife that accompanied being a caregiver to a terminally ill wife. What started out as an attempt at personal damage control turned out to become a habit. Not only has writing on Sundays become a balm for my soul, but through the Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC, I believe this weekly essay has, in part, helped protect Wisconsin’s democracy.
I write all of this prologue today because while reading some of my brutally honest essays from 2020, I rediscovered this beautiful version of How Great Thou Art,  a Christian hymn that emphasizes my religion’s ultimate tenet—the forgiveness of sins.

While listening to this song in the car and shedding a few tears, I juxtaposed the concept of forgiveness with the fact that I’m currently leading two lawsuits—one against the Town of Minocqua for political retaliation, and the other in which I’m ultimately going to sue the state to overturn Wisconsin’s parasitic private school voucher system.
How can I reconcile both asking the public to forgive me for my past sins and also asking the public to help me sue a lot of people to punish them for their sins?
One only needs to turn to the Gospel, Matthew 18: 21-35, to learn how to reconcile forgiveness and accountability. 
In the “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant,” a servant who was caught defrauding the king was forgiven and his debt was erased, but that same servant refused to forgive a debt owed to him by another servant. This hypocrisy was reported back to the king, who became angry and put the “unforgiving servant” in chains.
In this story, the king both forgave the servant for his sins, but held him accountable after the servant showed that he hadn’t learned anything from the mercy shown to him.
Thinking about this parable helps me reconcile both asking the public to forgive my past mistakes while running for office AND ALSO suing to hold others accountable for their mistakes.
Will I ultimately forgive members of the Minocqua town board for trying to put me out of business?  Absolutely. 
Should I still hold them accountable by suing them so the town can ultimately restore its reputation as a fun tourism destination that is both welcoming to small businesses and inclusive towards all, regardless of their belief system? Absolutely.
Will I ultimately forgive members of the voucher school lobby who are getting rich off of your property tax dollars to the detriment of Wisconsin’s kids and teachers? Absolutely.
Should we still sue to rid ourselves of this vehicle they’re using to illegally enrich themselves, which is part of a larger political scheme to destroy public education in America? Absolutely.

At the end of the day, we all want life to be as simple and innocent as the scene from the mural that was painted on my southern-facing taproom wall earlier in the week. 
This mural is called “Rainbow Land,” and it was painted in conjunction with the release of our new non-alcoholic soda for kids that teaches inclusiveness and love. I told the crazy story of how we came up with the idea for this soda at our official launch yesterday, and we invited representatives from the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce to say a few words about how they bring together businesses that promote inclusiveness and equality.  
No one was born wanting to destroy someone else's business.
No one was born wanting to enrich themselves off of the backs of kids and teachers.
And most importantly, no one was born wanting to maintain political power through public manipulation and misinformation.
These moral shortcomings that we’re seeing from our political leaders at the local, state, and national levels are the result of being exposed to pain, fear, loss, and any number of other traumatic life experiences.
At the end of the day, we’re all flawed, we all sin, and the best we can do is to try to learn from our mistakes, be empathetic to and forgive others who make mistakes, and protect our families and communities from those who haven’t yet learned from their mistakes.

Over the last month, our Super PAC has raised an extraordinary amount of money from you to both sue the Town of Minocqua and to rid Wisconsin of its private school voucher system. 
You collectively donated approximately $120K to sue Minocqua, which I believe is sufficient for the time being. And so far you’ve donated about $40K to the voucher school effort, which should be enough to talk to all the folks who have reached out to become plaintiffs, gather evidence, write a complaint, and file the actual lawsuit.
I’d like to ultimately raise $200K for this effort, which is a conservative estimate on what the lawsuit might cost in its entirety.  If you can help chip in, please do so here.
While you’re donating, I’ll be working behind the scenes to partner with other organizations to not only help fund this lawsuit, but to also bring together a coalition of groups who are all opposed to the parasitic school voucher system so that we can work together towards our common goal.
In the coming weeks, I will announce those partnerships in these Sunday essays, and starting September 7th, I’ll resume my weekly “Up North Podcast” to shed a light on what happens to teachers and kids when private school voucher dollars sap their public school districts.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking with the Minocqua Brewing Company.
Together, we can work on forgiving each other AND holding ourselves accountable, one beer (and sugary cherry soda) at a time.
Kirk Bangstad
Owner, Minocqua Brewing Company
Founder, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC

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