Wednesday, September 19, 2018


It Seems to Me: An open letter to Sanders

  • Carlson-Steven-071318


    Contributed photo

Dear Sen. Bernie Sanders:

I want to start by telling you how heartening it was to read your public remarks on the occasion of Fighting Bob Fest founder Ed Garvey’s passing in February of 2017. You said he was one of the smartest, funniest and most decent people you’ve ever known, and I know a lot of Wisconsinites felt the same way. He was one of a kind, and we all miss him dearly.

Some of my best memories of Garvey stem from listening to his weekly radio show on WOJB Woodland Community Radio, broadcast every Wednesday morning from 2005-2015 across all of northern Wisconsin. But my fondest memory was from when I first met him in 2009 after I became Wisconsin’s volunteer coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America. I traveled to Madison to meet him and then mostly listened as he gave me an accelerated, first class and hilarity/​profanity laden graduate course in all things progressive. One of the stories he told that day illustrates perfectly the kind of man Ed was.

In 2007, Garvey invited both prominent peace activist Cindy Sheehan and a progressive Wisconsin congressperson to speak at Fighting Bob Fest. This was after the Democrats took back the House of Representatives in 2006, and Nancy Pelosi had become speaker. 

Sheehan, whose son Casey died in the war in Iraq, was furious at what she saw as the Democrats’ betrayal of the anti-war movement that helped them win back the House, and her fury led her to announce a Democratic primary run against Pelosi. This, apparently, didn’t sit very well with Democrats.

So one morning Garvey gets a call from the Wisconsin representative who tells Garvey that they can’t appear on the same stage with Sheehan.

“Why not?” asks Garvey.

“Because she’s running against my quarterback,” says the representative.

Like lightning Garvey says, “Oh my God, she’s running against Brett Favre?!?!?”

“No,” blusters the representative, “she’s running against Nancy Pelosi!” and then says they won’t be coming if Sheehan is going to be on the stage.

“Well,” replies Garvey. “We’ll miss you.”

The representative didn’t show, Sheehan did, and I left Garvey’s office that day with a better understanding of what the word “integrity” really means.

Speaking of Fighting Bob Fest, Sen. Sanders, that was where Garvey first introduced Wisconsinites to you. If I remember correctly one of your first 2015 presidential campaign rallies was in Madison, and Garvey was in the front row with his wife, Betty.

Over the years Garvey introduced us all to a host of progressive voices from across the country, among them political reform activist Mike McCabe, who’s running for governor of Wisconsin. McCabe, like Garvey 20 years ago, is running primarily against the corrupting influence of big money in politics.

I’d bet no one has spoken more times at Bob Fest than McCabe except Garvey himself.

During his campaign, McCabe has logged over 85,000 Wisconsin miles with a message of restoring Wisconsin’s progressive tradition. He’s rekindled a determination in many that government really ought to be for all of us and not just the billionaires. He’s a lot like Garvey, in some ways. In some ways, he’s a lot like you.

So, Sen. Sanders, if you’re serious about starting a political revolution, there’s no truer path to it in Wisconsin than giving your unqualified endorsement to McCabe as our next governor. I think he’s earned it and so do a lot of other folks. I know we all deserve the Wisconsin he envisions.

I’m sure you get requests for endorsements all the time, and I’m sure that deciding who to endorse must be difficult. I’m not in any position to understand all the factors to be weighed, but I can tell you this: When Wisconsin progressives ask themselves, “What would Garvey do?” regarding who he’d be supporting for governor, there’s no doubt in our minds what the answer would be.

Garvey would endorse McCabe.

Carlson, of Trego, worked in Eau Claire from 2013-2016 as a community/​union/​political organizer.

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