Friday, January 6, 2012

Library Recap

The library is a fascinating place to gather signatures, and I've gathered around a third of my signatures there so far. My best day ever was at the library when they had their book sale at the end of November, raking in 119 signatures from the time the sale opened until the time it finished.

While I'm less likely to get flipped off at the library, since that's generally a tactic employed by people from moving vehicles, there are other factors that come with the library. Apparently different libraries have slightly different policies about how and where you can stand. In Oshkosh, you're welcome to stand outside near the entrance as long as you're not blocking it or bothering people. I tend to show up with my battered broomstick sign sticking out of my pocket, with the message "Recall Walker: sign here" visible over the top of my head for people entering or leaving the library. For the most part, I don't engage people: a good sign means that I don't have to ask people to sign my petition, because they know exactly why I'm there and will come to me. As a result, people who oppose the recall may not like that I'm standing there, but they can hardly feel harassed. I've had several people question if I can be there, and I've told them that I'm allowed to be on public property. Some have the information backward, thinking that public property means that I can't use it. Some of them are OK with it when they realize that I'm within my rights. Some of them are not.

I stand right next to one of the short outdoor structures that house the periodical dispensers, which means I'm out of the walkway and if taller people want to use the structure as a signing station for stability or if any people want to set their library materials on top of it, they can. Sometimes interesting characters hang around outside the library. I've talked to more than a few conspiracy-theorists there, and some of the homeless people that hang out there struggle with mental health disorders, so sometimes conversations that start out as seemingly unremarkable take unexpected turns. I've had people randomly share their spiritual and religious conversion stories with me. More often than not, people just want you to listen to them.

Lots of people walk past who have already signed, and many of them thank me for standing out there. On a cold day, a little love can go a long way in bolstering a circulator to continue collecting. That's not to say that everyone that comes to the library is a supporter or that they will all be polite to me. People are not in cars, and while sometimes that keeps people from being rude, other times they see my presence as an affront to their enjoyable library visit and feel the need to tell me how they feel about the recall or about me.

On the day of the booksale, I was having a conversation with a homeless man who was explaining to me why he doesn't vote when a middle-aged woman in a painter's cap stepped toward me and hollered, "Boohoo!" She angrily spit out some standard retorts about general elections being the proper way to recall, then shouted, "We had to wait, so you have to wait. We didn't try to recall Doyle." I was still talking to my non-voting fellow citizen, so I know I didn't take a step toward her or otherwise make any threatening gestures, but I did turn in her direction as she was storming into the library and hollered back, "Madame, people DID try to recall Doyle in 2009, you just never heard about it because it wasn't very successful." After she went through the door, I dismissed her from my mind, since she wasn't there to sign and, while she'd been angry and shouting, I hadn't felt particularly threatened. Later, a woman walking to the handicapped spots caught my eye because she had a slight hitch in her gate and I noticed that her hand was curled inward. Since I was only seeing her from behind, it took me a second to recognize the painter's cap and realize it was the same woman who'd yelled at me on her way into the library. Walking next to her was a woman I recognized as a librarian, and when they arrived at the woman's car, the librarian waved a friendly goodbye to her and walked back toward the entrance. It took me a second to register that this woman had asked the librarian to walk her to the car because she saw I was still standing outside. I was pretty dumbfounded. While she'd come up to me and started yelling and throwing insults, and I'd never taken a step back toward her, she was intimidated by me. All I'd done was politely offer a differing opinion with a fact embedded therein, though I did have to raise my voice a little to deliver it because she was still yelling at me and walking away. Somehow, she felt threatened by me. I was mortified that the librarian might think poorly of me, but this wasn't the first day I'd been there, and she offered me a smile and a secret thumbs up in front of her body as she rounded the entrance to go back inside. Later, a friend of mine who works at the library let me know that she'd heard from another librarian that some woman had walked up and tried to start something with me and then was afraid to walk past me on her way out, so I was happy to know that the librarians knew that I hadn't instigated anything or ever intended to harm the woman.

That same day I had a sweet older woman stop to sign, and as she noted the date, she observed that it was her son's birthday. I looked at her last name, remembered about a birthday party announcement, and asked her. It turned out that she was the mother of a local representative. I also had a Walker supporter who thanked me, because even though he didn't agree with me, he's excited to see people get involved with their government. He told me about his plan for government reform and that he's working on a few books. A woman randomly observed that I looked like a nutcracker because I was standing pretty straight up and down, limbs close to my body at that point for warmth, supporting my sign up straight with my elbow. I laughed, thinking to myself that some of my friends might find that an apt description for recalling the governor. Madrigal singers showed up in the afternoon, high school students dressed in long flowing garb. (If you're ever wondering how many madrigal singers you can get into a single revolving door slot at the library, the answer is four.) One eighteen-year-old girl signed but blanked on an exact detail about her address, so she left me her phone number so I could call her after I got home. Her friend said that she would be turning 18 in three weeks and would be signing then. Another madrigal singer said that she happened to like Governor Walker but she respected my opinion, to which I cheerfully responded that I respected her opinion, too. An older woman told me to get a life, while a hipster in Nightmare Before Christmas gear signed my petition.

When I had gone home for a brief hot lunch, I realized that after 20 minutes the skin on the back of my legs still felt cold to the touch despite wearing long underwear under thick jeans, so I added a third layer by pulling a pair of grey sweatpants over the top. That afternoon, a man in his late 30s to early 40s walked out of the library with his two young children, then began to grill me with typical finance-related GOP talking points. Like the man at Fleet Farm, he didn't stop to listen to my responses for logic and facts but instead talked over the top of me anytime I tried to answer him. He insisting on staying there and bothering me, despite my efforts to deflect him. I tired to remain polite because he had his children with him, but he was pushing it. When I maintained that the state constitution protected my right to collect recall signatures, he told me, "You don't know anything about constitutional rights." He proceeded to complain that "you people" were going to waste the money of "people like me with real lives and kids..." As it always does when people say, "you people," I'm sure my smile got a little edgier. "I'm sorry, do you know anything about me? What makes you think that I don't have a life?" His response? I must not, because I was wearing sweat pants. I know that I was starting to lose my patience, because I addressed him with the D-word. "Dude, it's cold out here, I'm wearing three pairs of pants. What does that have to do with anything?" Before the conversation could degenerate, a woman whisked up to the sidewalk and asked if she could sign my petition. "I'd love to have you be my 105th signature today!" I told her. As she was signing, I ignored the man while she raved about how happy she was to sign. I didn't get the impression that she had heard the conversation before she got there, and I was grateful for her sudden influx of enthusiasm. While the man looked like he wanted to say something more, he changed his mind, took his kids, and left.

So many people talked to me while I was there, expressing a range of beliefs about the recall resting on an even bigger range of reasons. The most touching moment of my marathon day at the library, though, was when a woman offered me her gloves and scarf if I got cold. I had gloves of my own and a bomber cap on by that point, so I was OK, but in seeing how long she was at the library and with whom she was interacting, I think the woman may have been staying at the homeless shelter. I was very touched by her generosity--her offer didn't come from shared politics, but from concern for a fellow human being standing out in the cold wind. That, my friends, is someone who truly had a real life and a real soul to go with it.

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