As a neurotic over-thinker with slightly masochistic tendencies, I like to keep myself in line by regularly questioning everything I do. So I had to ask myself why my blog posts of late have seemed…different. Luckily, I’ve received both solicited and unsolicited feedback from left and right-leaning bloggers alike about the change in my writing, which pushed my self-flagellation into overdrive and helped me figure out the cause. It’s all about the political evolution of Waukesha County over the past year.
Last April, in all honesty, I really disliked Waukesha County. It felt to me as though most people over here had no problem with the lack of integrity in our electoral process, that they didn’t hesitate to attack teachers and state workers, and that they showed little empathy or compassion toward others.
At the time, when I started my blog, Waukesha Wonk, it was mostly as a way for me to vent my frustrations over feeling like I was all alone with my observations and concerns. I didn’t think many people would actually read it.
But they did.
Soon I had all kinds of vicious hate mail and I wondered if I had made a huge mistake “coming out” with my liberal viewpoints in this conservative area. I was scared for my safety, and every week I questioned whether I should just shutter the blog and resume life as normal because it would just be easier that way, and my house would be a lot cleaner with the extra time I’d have.
But then something unexpected happened.
I began to receive comments and emails from people here in Waukesha who agreed with my viewpoints, thanked me for speaking up, and invited me to events. I learned that I was not the only progressive here nor the only one putting myself out there publicly. There were liberals meeting regularly at the Labor Temple, as they had been for years. There were progressives meeting in Oconomowoc, right down the street from my family’s house.
As my social-political network grew, so did my confidence, and I realized it was ridiculous to be afraid of those who didn’t think like me. What were they going to do, shoot me?
Well, maybe. But living life in fear rather than living life out loud was not okay.
As my blog posts were shared by the “real” media and more people “discovered” me, the swords came out. David Blaska said unpleasant things about me in The Isthmus, James Wigderson took swipes at me in his column, and Mark Belling said mean things about me on his radio show. All of these things were traumatic…but I survived.
In November, Phil Scarr and I established the first-ever official chapter of Drinking Liberally Waukesha. More than fifty people showed up and as the months wore on, it was obvious that this was no fluke. In fact, there were so many of us that we needed to move into a much larger space, and we ventured into Brookfield. Over 100 people showed up on Monday, February 20th, without incident.
The novelty of “Waukesha liberal” has slowly worn off. People no longer gasp or choke when I tell them I’m a progressive blogger in Waukesha. I don’t hear, “I thought I was the only Waukesha liberal!” nearly as often lately.
This has become the new normal. It is now more acceptable not only for liberals to exist in Waukesha County, but for us to talk openly about our viewpoints.
My blogging and Drinking Liberally Waukesha are only a very tiny part of this evolution, of course. It’s been a collaborative effort to create change, to build a larger community where liberals and progressives feel comfortable being wholly themselves.
And that’s why my writing has changed.
It’s not because I’ve recently become a Democrat first and a writer second, as some have suggested (something I, myself, have questioned). It’s not because I’m trying to work with the Democratic party of Wisconsin rather than against it, and have therefore somehow become less “grassroots” (really, we are all grassroots).
My writing has changed because I no longer have that fierce urgency to be heard, I’m not as angry, and I do not feel isolated and alone over here. My priorities have shifted away from getting my viewpoints out there, and toward fostering the community I’ve helped worked so hard to build over the last year here in Waukesha.
Obviously, we’ve got a lot more work to do, and I’m not going to quit blogging. But I’m also not afraid to evolve.
Evolution is progress.