The empty pedestal after protesters took down the Forward statue on the grounds for the state Capitol June 24 in Madison. (Photo © Andy Manis)
The empty pedestal after protesters took down the Forward statue on the grounds for the state Capitol June 24 in Madison. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Opinion: Our comfort level should be challenged if real change is to occur.

There is something different about the protests of 2020, something that does not lend itself to the usual cycle: sad event, thoughts and prayers, momentary outrage, calls for action, legislative roadblocks, time passes, all returns to a comfortable “normal” until the next sad event.

That is not happening this time. 

You may feel discomfort at the news that some protesters Tuesday night tore down the state Capitol’s two statues of beloved figures. One –”Forward”– was a symbol of Wisconsin progress, especially for women. The other was of Civil War abolitionist Col. Hans Christian Heg who died during the fight to end slavery.

It is understandable that your first thought may be that the people involved have moved from “legitimate” protest to criminal damage to property, and that their momentum for police reform will be slowed.

But once again, your discomfort is the point.

You are being compelled to weigh your concern for objects –even objects that represent just causes–  versus your concern for what’s happening to real people.

Just consider these points of view, made online: 

– “Statues can be replaced.”

– “In the State with the worst racial disparities in the country, these ‘progressive’ statues are hypocritical. They are a slap in the face to Black people left behind every day by ‘Forward’, and are a beloved illusion of Whites on the left of moral superiority. It’s more honest that the statues are down. Hopefully one day we’ll earn the right to display true symbols of progress, rather than clinging to outdated and impassive White icons.”

– “Tony Robinson’s body was NOT a replica! George Floyd’s body was NOT a replica.” 

– “None of the people being killed are replicas. Their families won’t be able to roll out a replacement or have another statue put in place of the original. By all means though, let’s keep getting all worked up over some statues.”

Perhaps, instead of feeling discomfort over the protesters’ actions, it is time to feel discomfort with our discomfort. Perhaps it is time, as one writer said above, to “display true symbols of progress.”

You are being asked to break the usual cycle that runs out the clock, a clock controlled by very comfortable politicians who today will rile up a different crowd, the ones demanding “law and order.”  

But like statues that lose their luster, that phrase has become antiquated. It’s shorthand for “protect us from anything that might scare us or demand we stop turning a blind eye to injustices we’ll never know.”

It appears a whole lot of people are going to be pulled out of their comfort zones until certain politicians are willing to step out of theirs. 

Politicians like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who, when asked when demonstrators can expect to finally see the Legislature do something… anything… to show it’s taking these issues seriously… responded: months. Maybe a special session after the election. Maybe wait until next January.

That is the sound of a legislative roadblock in a cycle of inaction. 

Again, to be clear: no one should fault you for thinking Tuesday night’s actions cross a line. That is your right. The governor certainly thinks so, as he told us first on Wednesday morning. But count me among those who have moved their needle on what constitutes “going too far.” 

No, people shouldn’t be hurt. And destroying others’ property is wrong. But how much more wrong is it to have to continue enduring fundamental injustices, only to hear that we must wait months for some action and, in the meantime, let’s unleash the troops in order to save… statues.

Let’s save our values first. Liberty and justice for all would be a good start.