On this Sunday, June 19th, also known as Juneteenth and Father’s Day, it is worth remembering how Wisconsin's fathers played a role in the abolitionist movement, and how the pride of fatherhood and family propelled the progressive and labor movements in our state.
As many Wisconsinites know, the Republican Party was formed in 1854 in the small town of Ripon by a bunch of egalitarian Scandinavians who were super angry at how the fugitive slave act allowed southern slave owners and their hired bounty hunters to come into our state and force escaped slaves back into slavery.
Similarly, a bunch of Norwegian farmers (fathers) helped propel their “son,” Bob LaFollette, to his first election victory as the Republican Dane County District Attorney. “Fighting Bob" would then become our governor, "drain Wisconsin's swamp" of political corruption, and get 17% of the vote for President in 1924 after leaving the since-corrupted Republican Party and forming his own “Progressive Party” ticket.
From Wisconsin’s beginning, there’s always been a tradition of strong, proud, egalitarian hard-working fathers who cared more about lifting up their families and communities than being rich.
Here’s a passage from Dan Kaufman’s book “The Fall of Wisconsin,” that quoted an open letter written by some of these early Norwegian settlers.
“We have no expectation of gaining riches, the letter read. “But we live under a liberal government in a fruitful land, where freedom and equality are the rule in religious as in civil matters, and where each one of us is at liberty to earn his living practically as he chooses. Such opportunities are more to be desired than riches.”
From hard-working egalitarian middle class farmers sprang hard-working egalitarian middle class union workers after World War II, which saw the strongest period of middle class prosperity in our nation's history.
Unfortunately in 2011, Scott Walker broke the back of the teacher’s union in Wisconsin by passing Act 10. Then in 2015, he crippled the private sector labor movement by passing “Right-to-Work” legislation, which is understood to mean "Right-to-Work-for-Less" to anyone who has studied what goes into these bills.
During the public testimony for this bill, another father, Antony Anastasi, president of Iron Workers Local 383, broke down in tears as he pleaded to the Republican-majority legislature, “Please think about the families that will be impacted by this.”
One year later, private sector union membership in Wisconsin fell to 6.4% from a pre-NAFTA high of 15.7% in 1993. Now in Wisconsin, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased dramatically, and there are countless studies that show how increased inequality is directly correlated to the decline of the labor movement.
Wisconsin’s fathers have always had a proud and independent streak in them. They may not be rich, but they work hard and have a pride in that work.
But that pride has taken a beating when year after year of Republican disinformation has convinced us to vote for policies that decrease our wages and suppress our hopes that through hard work, we can support our families.
For so many, it feels like we no longer have a voice in our own destinies, the system is rigged against us, and the only people that seemingly win in this system are those who cheat...
...Thus the rise of Trump, the "deplorables" who support him, and the complete loss of gentlemanly and distinguished behavior in politics and political discourse.
Just yesterday, as videos were shared of our 79-year-old President and grandfather falling off his bike, Scott Walker tweeted “this is pathetic,” and Donald Trump Jr. tweeted “we have a winner, folks.”
A day before Father’s Day, our soft-spoken, hard-working, working-class president, was ridiculed by the Trump Cult for simply falling off his bicycle.
Is this how America now treats its grandfathers?
We treat people this way when we lose our pride, and we lose our pride when we no longer believe we have agency in our own lives. We lose that agency and our hope when we consume right-wing media full of hate and fear, when our democracy and respected institutions crumble around us, and when our votes no longer count due to gerrymandering and the flood of money into politics.
We have to get our pride back in America and Wisconsin--the pride that chooses our communities over party affiliation, and the pride that chooses fairness over cheating.
I for one had a renewed sense pride when I saw retired judge J. Michael Luttig, an arch-conservative who had mentored both Ted Cruz and John Eastman (legal architect for the insurrection), say in halting words that Donald Trump and his allies were still a "clear and present danger" to American Democracy.
I had a glimmer of hope when I listened to Greg Jacob, lifetime conservative lawyer and counselor to Mike Pence, testify about his discussions with Pence leading up to January 6: "there's just no way that the framers of the constitution, who had divided power and authority....who had broken away from George III and declared him to be a tyrant...would have put in the hands of one person the authority to determine who was going to be president of the United States."
I felt a bit of hope when Wisconsin's longest serving Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, acting as interim president of the UW-system, rejected a directive from Republican lawmakers forcing him to seek their approval for scientifically-supported Covid-19 regulations.
Now if only Tommy or other respected lifetime Wisconsin Republicans would step up to reject the "Big Lie" and choose their state over their party. We're still waiting...
Until then, I implore all Wisconsin fathers to hold onto our pride and organize to get our state back. We can be strong and “live practically as we choose,” like those early Norwegian settlers wrote, but we have to work together to help our communities and reject the politics of cheating, lies, and dishonesty.
The politics of “hope and change” are so cliché, but hope is all we have. Although the Democratic Party is deeply flawed, it's the only one left where we even have a chance at hope, because the other one has been poisoned from within.
And that’s why I sell "progressive" beer and not "cult-of-personality-conspiracy-theory" beer.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for sticking with us.
Together, we Wisconsin fathers can convince a few others to find their pride again, one beer at a time.
Owner, Minocqua Brewing Company
Founder, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC