March 8 Speech to the League of Women Voters

Thank you so much for hosting this wonderful celebration on International Women’s Day.

Our country is a better place today because of the women who have forged the path for us to follow. While in the past 100 years we have accomplished so much, we cannot stop here.

Suffrage is the law of the land for all citizens over 18, but access to the polls and fair representation is not the reality for everyone. Between gerrymandering and voter suppression, there are efforts to undermine our democracy. It’s going to take persistence and hard work to ensure voting rights for all, to make sure all voices are heard.

But there’s one thing I know - we Wisconsin women have never been afraid of hard work.

I’ll be honest with you—there are times when I’m working in the Capitol, and it’s easy to get discouraged. There are days where the pettiness and the partisan fighting gets to be too much. But there are still days where I’m extremely proud of what I do in the legislature.

This session, we did some good bipartisan work.

We passed 10 bipartisan bills to address clean drinking water. We raised the pay for public defenders. Last week, I testified on a bill I coauthored to create a Task Force for Murdered and Missing Native Women and Girls.

These bipartisan victories are the result of representing the people of Wisconsin and listening to what they value.

At the end of the day, we all want many of the same things – accessible and affordable health care, safe roads and bridges, thriving communities and a better tomorrow for our children and grandchildren. We may disagree on how to get there, but we listen to our constituents, activists and experts to arrive on effective legislation that sometimes requires negotiation and compromise. This is how our government should function.

But it’s so easy to get caught up in anger, and I don’t blame anyone who does.

I mentioned that I testified on a bill last week for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We heard testimony from survivors who have been victims of trafficking. We heard testimony from parents and children who lost a loved one.

Imagine, if you can, what it must be like to wait every day for your loved one to come through the front door.

The sad reality is that this bill was heard in an assembly committee after the majority party had adjourned. The result – this bill will most likely die in committee. Why did it take so long to get this life-saving bill to a committee? There are several correct answers.

Here’s one I’d like you to consider:

There’s a lack of Empathy in the state Capitol, across Wisconsin and throughout our country.

Empathy is defined as the capacity to understand or feel what another being is experiencing, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. Empathy encompasses a broad range of emotional states, such as love.

Too often, we no longer see each other as individuals. We put people in perceived buckets. Good, bad, Democrat, Republican. We forget, we are all just humans trying our best.

Many years ago, when I worked for the Red Cliff Tribe, my colleague and I went to Madison once a month for meetings. Every time we crossed over a body of water, he would silently roll down his window and put out a pinch of tobacco. It’s one of the things he did that I will never forget and reminds me, as I cross over water, how important those spirits are. 

Another thing he did, especially if we were having a tough day or I was doubting my efforts, was to tell me I was beautiful, powerful and intelligent.

What if we all started believing that message? Of ourselves, our family members and everyone else? What if we knew when one of us hurt, we all hurt? How would that mantra penetrate our democracy and how we care for each other?

Taking action and advocating with empathy for the issues that matter to you on a local and state level is what’s going to bring the changes we sorely need.

100 years ago, women won the right to vote.

Since then, we have been at the forefront of social and political change.

Let’s keep up the fight and honor the brave work of our mothers and grandmothers.

Thank you to the League of Women voters who honor their legacy and work tirelessly for all of us.

You are beautiful, powerful and intelligent.

Thank you.