Yesterday was the kind of day that gets you contemplating the business end of a razor blade here in southern Wisconsin. Whispers grew to rumors, rumors to cries of dismay. Those cries of dismay were answered by General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner yesterday morning, and he confirmed the worst: Janesville's General Motors assembly plant, in operation since 1919 and GM's oldest, will be boarded up and shut down by 2010.
It's terrible news. Janesville was the last working city between Chicago and Madison. Seriously, all one needs to do for a preview of what's ten years down the line for Janesville is scoot a little further south along I-90 to Beloit, or even a little further to Rockford. 2700 people are losing their livelihoods. In all likelihood, that number is closer to 10,000 when you factor in their family members that depended on those union jobs to get by.
Those people aren't going to hang around for the ambience. They'll go where the work is, if they can find it, and unless something fortunate happens, Janesville will round out a trifecta of ghost towns along the I-90 corridor.
So until Barack Obama's speech last night, I was feeling a little down and out. Watch it and judge for yourself. Can one man single-handedly prevent the closure of the Janesville plant? Not a chance. But is this a guy that working people, moderates and progressives can all get behind to end the economic policies that lead to this closure? An experience I had this weekend convinced me that's so.
As a reporter, one of the toughest skills I've had to master is the ability to withhold judgement on a person when they say something that strikes me as awful. Be it county board members or guys in the farm fields, I've heard some of the most hateful things I've ever heard on the job, and it IS my job to keep smiling, keep jotting notes and try and empathize.
So when Kyle and I sat down at the bar in Rio next to a guy in overhauls this weekend as part of the inaugural Dive Bar Project voyage, I was more prepared than Kyle when the conversation turned to politics. I was also able to keep my food down when the guy said, "Ya know, my Dad would be spinning in his grave if he knew I was going to be voting for a nigger this fall."
Maybe I've finally broken my brain, but I can't help but see through the racial epithet to something maybe just a little positive beneath it. This man, who I won't name, works days for an agriculture company and nights tending bar at a rural hole-in-the-wall. He meant everything he said, including "I'm no idiot. This John McCain's nothing more than a George Bush three, and I'm tired of being lied too."
Maybe it took the collapse of an institution like the Janesville plant, but people might finally be seeing through the rhetoric to the true effect the current administration's policies are having on our country.