Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Don't Count Your Conspirators Before They Crack Their Windows

On Friday night, I had a very strange encounter with a gentleman who asked to sign my petition. It was around 7:00 pm in front of the Walgreens on Koehler. A blue station wagon pulled up behind me and a man asked to sign my petition. When I patted my ironing board and indicated for him to come up and join me on the sidewalk, he asked me to bring the petition to him. Since the Christmas tree seller who was renting the corner of the parking lot where the man was parked had seemed supportive, I decided to go ahead and take the petition to him.

As he was filling out his address, he said to me, "You're probably going to have a whole bunch of people coming to sign, but you're not going to like where they're coming from." At this point, my warning flags were replaced with flashing lights and sirens. "Oh?" I asked politely. "There's a whole bunch of Republicans on Facebook who've decided we're going to sign to help you finish this and just get it over with." I had an overwhelming urge to snatch the clipboard back from his hands before he could finish signing, but instead I told him that he shouldn't be signing my petition unless he wanted to recall Walker. He told me that he supported Walker, but that he and his fellow Facebook group members wanted to recall him in order to prove in a year that a Democrat couldn't do any better and then they'd recall the new governor. He told me that someone had posted my location in the Facebook group and that I should expect a bunch more to show up.

All in all, he understood what he was signing, though I didn't agree with why he was signing it. I didn't have a reason to not allow him to finish, but I didn't feel comfortable with this at all. He told me that Walker was doing what the people wanted, and that putting a Democrat in power would prove that when the new governor ultimately failed. He made it sound like he fully supported Walker but would recall him, vote against him to elect someone new, then recall the next governor. He was a mild-mannered man who looked to be in his 40s, a recently-returned Iraq vet who was proud of his certification as a storm chaser.

As we exchanged some polite but baffled (on my part, anyway) banter on Walker and his policies, I tried to size up this man and his motives. I felt like there was a large chunk of the conversation that was missing at times, like he was operating out of knowledge that he assumed was Gospel fact of which I would also be aware. He was armed with some pro-Walker talking points, some of which I was able to address, some of which were supported with things I'd never heard before (something about Milwaukee schools doing better because they were hiring two special education teachers and didn't need any other teachers). When he praised Walker's balancing the budget, he said that he knew that Doyle hadn't balanced the budget because so-and-so had a sign in his yard that said he hadn't. When I mentioned the Balanced Budget Act, he'd never heard of it.

I try not to make assumptions about people, but I found myself trying to explain why this man was in the parking lot, signing my petition. He talked about being a vet, and he seemed proud to have served his country. He talked about being a storm chaser, and he focused on the role of the storm chaser in providing 15 minutes of warning rather than just 5 minutes and how that saves lives. He was very proud about being a certified storm chaser (he credits Walker with coming up with funding; I'd never heard of this, and a Google search isn't supplying any useful answers), and I wondered if the same things that motivated him to join the armed forces had motivated him to chase storms. He also seemed very trusting. He was willing to believe something he'd read on a sign in someone's yard because he'd trusted the person who'd erected it. I suspect that he drove down to sign because he'd read that I was there on Facebook, and while I have no idea which group he was referring to or its content, I have a nagging feeling that people were speaking hyperbolically about what they should do so they didn't have to see people like us out on the streets anymore, never intending to actually follow through. This man took them seriously, I suspect because he believes that everyone is as honest as he is.

We parted amicably, but I wondered if I should consider calling it a night. He was only my 29th signature, and I'd originally hoped to end the day with 35 signatures, one for each of my 35 years. I waited nervously to see if the influx of Facebook conspirators would arrive. I debated with myself how I should handle people who came to sign from this group. While others might say that I should be happy to have more signatures, I also have to sign off on the bottom of the page at the end of the day. I want to make sure that I feel comfortable with every signature on there. I have told people before that I didn't want them to sign my petition, that they should instead do some research first and then stop in at the office on the corner of Main and Merritt if they decided that they want to sign. As I waited, I alternately imagined cheerfully collecting their signatures with grasping my clipboard to my chest and refusing to let them sign.

When the first vehicle stopped after that, I was a little on edge, ready to interrogate my potential signer before proceeding, but the woman who arrived was someone who'd already signed, bearing gifts of hot chocolate. It was a huge relief and encouragement to stay. Only three more people showed up to sign in the next hour, and I half-jokingly asked them if they were part of this Facebook group. None of them were. Another woman stopped with hot chocolate. When that cup was done, I decided to call it a night. I was relieved that my storm chaser was the only person who stopped with this story, because I still wasn't sure how to comfortably deal with any others. It was odd and unsettling, and I needed time to process it. Ultimately, I think the suggestion on the group was just talk. It's the rare Walker supporter who goes out of his way to engage with circulators beyond yelling out a car window. In retrospect, I shouldn't be surprised that the only person actually willing to drive out in the snow and wind to sign my petition was a storm chaser who wanted to do what he thought would best benefit his community.

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