Segment Synopsis: Question: Why graduate school? Answer: Lenora Hanson (LH) describes her decision to pursue graduate study. She studied English as an undergraduate and entered a terminal degree to pursue her M.A. degree after completing her undergraduate study. Her family was uninterested in higher education, but her interest in English led her to decide to pursue advanced degrees in English.
Keywords: educational background; undergraduate experience
Segment Synopsis: Question: Why UW Madison? Answer: LH chose to study at UW-Madison in order to work with Sara Guyer of the English Department. She also chose to the school because of what she learned about Madison’s culture. Follow-up: Previous graduate work? Answer: She received her M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Keywords: Sara Guyer; educational background; masters program
Segment Synopsis: Question: Research interests? Answer: LH studies British romanticism from the 1780s to the 1830s, though she is also branching out to European continental romanticism in Italian and German. She focuses on the canonical authors of this period. She works from a critical perspective that might be identified as deconstructionism and post-structuralism. Although she was initially interested in American Transcendentalism, she shifted to British romanticism in part due to a dearth of opportunity to study Transcendentalism as an undergraduate. In approaching this topic, she initially wondered why Britain, after 1688, did not have a revolution in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries comparable to other countries, such as the United States, France, and Haiti. She sees poetics and aesthetics as a way to understand the case of revolution and radical politics, and the relationship between aesthetics and politics more broadly.
Keywords: Romanticism; research
Segment Synopsis: Question: Past experience in politics? Answer: Very minimal before coming to UW-Madison. LH grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Her family raised her to possess a “fundamentalist, conservative notion of politics.” She sees her current level of political activity as a sign of her acculturation to Madison. She thinks that her liberal education allowed her to develop concern for political justice issue, but she was not directly involved in politics while pursuing her undergraduate and M.A. degrees. Her experience as an employee in the restaurant industry primed her to be interested in labor rights and unionism; LH learned what it meant for her and her co-workers to live with job insecurity and no sense of collective well-being. In the South, there were no models for collective action that would allow workers to articulate their concerns regarding their labor and work conditions.
Keywords: food industry; labor rights; political activism; unions
Segment Synopsis: Question: First contact with the TAA? Answer: LH joined the TAA at a benefits fair. She spoke with Alex Hanna, an eventual co-president of the TAA. She also attended a meeting introducing graduate students to their union, and from there became interested in, though not a member of, the Bargaining Committee in Fall 2010.
Keywords: TAA; collective bargaining; graduate unions; teaching assistants
Segment Synopsis: LH’s involvement in the TAA has changed over time. She characterizes her first semester with the TAA as one of outside participation. Since the protests at the Capitol in early 2011, she has co-chaired the TAA Stewards’ Council. She desired greater involvement in the TAA due to her involvement in the protests. Her social network came to center on the TAA because of the time she spent in the Capitol during the protests. Many of her close relationships grew out of her experiences of the Capitol and their “emotional and psychological solidarity.”
Keywords: TAA; teaching assistants
Segment Synopsis: The English Department offered LH, and many of their other graduate students, four-year long-term packages in which students spend their first year working as a project assistant. LH has been a PA for her advisor since she entered UW-Madison. During the Spring 2011 semester, LH was fortunate that her PA work, which was a 33% appointment with Sara Guyer and Theresa Kelley, provided her with ample time to devote to work for the TAA.
Keywords: project assistant
Segment Synopsis: LH became aware of potential conflicts between Governor Scott Walker and unions such as the TAA from Fall 2010. After attending a panel on WikiLeaks at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery in the Fall 2010, she learned that she had missed many calls from TAA staffers regarding potential language in the bill. She went to the TAA offices that evening and spent hours with other staffers, strategizing a response. From then on, she spent most of her evenings at the TAA. The TAA shortly thereafter held a general membership meeting regarding the issue. She cancelled plans to visit home and to attend the annual Modern Language Association conference over her 2010-2011 winter break so that she would have additional time to prepare strategy for the TAA.
Keywords: "nuclear option"; TAA; Wisconsin Institute for Discovery; union legislation
Segment Synopsis: LH recalls that many members of the TAA, and others in Wisconsin, were concerned with what they called the “nuclear option”; that is, that Governor Walker had campaigned prior to the election that he would take a hard line with unions. He had suggested that he would disenfranchise and delegitimize unions. Many expected that Governor Walker would make minor modifications such as raising health insurance premiums. Others feared that Governor Walker would take the “nuclear option” in which he curtailed the items for which unions might bargain, limiting unions from the items they could address in negotiations to wage only, capped at inflation.
Keywords: "nuclear option"; collective bargaining; union legislation; union rights
Segment Synopsis: LH remembers that she was very busy in the Spring 2011 semester, though she had support from her supervisors and professors to pursue her work with the TAA. She worked to prepare for the TAA’s February 14th event. She also joined an ad hoc group of TAA members, called the Action Jackson Committee. This committee included people who became involved in responding to Governor Walker’s anticipated bill from an early date. They met weekly, and essentially functioned as a stewards’ council by keeping students in their departments updated. Her academic life remained normal until the protests began.
Keywords: I Heart UW campaign; TAA; union organizing
Segment Synopsis: By one week prior to February 14th, LH and other TAA members spent most of their time in the TAA office. LH recalls feeling frustrated that other students in the English Department did not see the existence of the situation; their happy Facebook posts certainly seemed unconcerned with Governor Walker’s anticipated bill. She believe that students did not realize the seriousness of the problem until the February 14th rally. She and other protestors began to occupy the Capitol on February 15. They also held teach-outs, to which her professors were amenable. LH did not attend classes for approximately 1.5 weeks. She recalls being very sleep-deprived, though she experienced few other problems due to living in the Capitol, compared to some other graduate students. When the protests concluded, she ended her semester with lots of catch-up work. She nonetheless was very productive that semester, and wrote one of the best paper of her career that semester, which was subsequently published. Her experience of the protests also transformed her sense of her place in graduate school.
Keywords: department reactions; teach out
Segment Synopsis: LH’s experience of the occupation of the Capitol was exhilarating. She had a strong sense of the importance and urgency of her work there. She recalls the difference between day and night during the protests. At night, the Capitol building became almost silent as people rested or chatted quietly amongst themselves. She also found it much easier to see the posters and paraphernalia in the building when the protestors laid down to rest. She spent time at the War Room of the Capitol building, which the TAA used for strategizing. The AFSCME and SEIU were also present. LH’s also remembers the protests as emotionally difficult or intense, however; she at times was uncertain of her and others’ effectiveness.
Keywords: Capitol occupation; TAA
Segment Synopsis: The protests at the Capitol also led to some strained relationships. Some of the female activists noticed a gendered imbalance or disparity. LH believed that the women handled it well, though it built to a minor point of crisis. Some tension also developed between the TAA as a union, and its members as students. The TAA gained street credit for occupying the Capitol at night, but struggled to articulate and stress its differences from other unions. Nevertheless, the experience as a whole was very affirming. LH notes that power dynamics do not simply disappear during an intense experience such as the 2011 protests at the Capitol.
Keywords: female activists; gender imbalance; graduate union; power dynamics
Segment Synopsis: The TAA has had a strong contingent of female participants and activists. Many leadership committees include more women than men. LH remember that, during the protests, some members who were previously inactive showed up, were excited, and failed to acknowledge the work of long-term, active members. She characterizes these members’ acts as “assumptions of masculinity,” which displaced, hurt, and insulted those who had worked for the union already. She does not see such errors as evidence of maliciousness, but instead a “kind of ignorance or blindness.” She notes that other random instances of condescension might have also occurred. Eight to ten women noticed this phenomenon while at the Capitol. They had a dinner together to discuss the issue, and later addressed it in a wider meeting. She also thinks that the particular women working with the TAA tend not to be proprietary or territorial, which left them less interested in press coverage.
Subjects: female activists; gender dynamics; gender imbalance; power dynamics
Segment Synopsis: The TAA disseminated news through its preexisting union infrastructure. Though some members of the Stewards’ Council had been inactive, the Council’s member activated themselves and disseminated information. The TAA also relied on Facebook and the DefendWisconsin.org website developed by some journalism students. The union struggled with providing, at times, too much information or some false news. Protestors also disseminated information by texting people and working in phone banks.
Keywords: Facebook; Stewards Council; news; social media
Segment Synopsis: LH does not pay attention to national, mainstream media. She noted that the New York Times, in its coverage of the protests at the Capitol, paid more attention to petty details, such as damage to the Capitol building and lawn, than to larger issues at stake, such as democratic participation. She also remembers the discrepancies regarding reported numbers of protestors at the Capitol, which the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the New York Time underreported, while other outlets offered numbers ranging from one hundred thousand to one hundred twenty five thousand. She and other protestors watched the Daily Show episode depicting the protests at the Capitol. LH primarily kept up with news update through Facebook. She sensed a lack of investment from sources such as the New York Times, which seemed uninterested in maintaining its allegedly objectivist stance.
Keywords: Jon Steward; New York Times; mainstream media; national coverage
Segment Synopsis: Although LH considers a tenure-track job to be part of her future academic plans, she is not sold on the notion of taking just any academic job for the sake of remaining in the academy. She cares about her work, but does not believe that she would necessarily find all academic jobs to be satisfying. She feel less job pressure than do some other graduate students because she feels no pressure to economically support a family. She has a fellowship from the Department of English that will allow her to finish her Ph.D. One can maintain an intellectual or academic lifestyle without the academy. She is particularly interested in union and labor issues related to higher education.
Keywords: academia; political activism; tenure
Segment Synopsis: LH describes the protests at the Capitol as a transformative experience. The political dimension to life is fulfilling and affirming. A collective of people can detract from individual interests by reshaping those interests. LH believes strongly in participatory democracy, and considers a lifestyle vested in participatory democracy to be pleasurable, affirming, and joyful.
Keywords: graduate students; graduate unions; higher education; students rights