Dear LMU, My favorite symbol of my college experience is not a framed diploma. It’s my LMU Crimson Circle ankle tattoo. To many, the sad-looking tattoo is nothing more than faded ink from a night of poor decision making. However, the truth is the faded lion represents critical experiences and life lessons that are as bright as ever in my mind.
Following four historic years in Los Angeles that ended with the Rodney King verdict and uprising, I moved back to Milwaukee to attend graduate school with a plan to become a political science professor, like Fernando Guerra, director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles, who inspired me at LMU.
I attended University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and seemed headed for a Ph.D. and a life in academia when one of the political movements I had studied at LMU came calling — the labor movement. As a graduate teaching assistant, I became very active in my union and eventually became its president. This experience led me to leave school and become a full-time union organizer. I spent nearly a decade helping healthcare workers throughout the Midwest form unions and build power for themselves in the workplace and politically.
My experiences helping workers organize unions allowed me to see firsthand what I learned at LMU: Political power is not distributed equally in our democracy, and sometimes government structures play important roles in creating and perpetuating inequity.
For the past two decades, I committed myself to organizing Wisconsinites to participate in their democracy to ensure all voices are heard. I co-lead a nonprofit organization, called Citizen Action of Wisconsin, which brings people together across racial and geographic differences to make Wisconsin a more just place to live and raise a family. We engage the leadership of everyday people to build an economy and a democracy that puts people and the planet first. We register people to vote throughout Wisconsin to ensure our democratic structures are fair and equitable — applying the lessons I first learned at LMU in Guerra’s classes.
So LMU, although you are 30 years in my rearview mirror, your memories, lessons and tattoos remain bright beacons on my horizon.
Matt Brusky, a Milwaukee Bucks fan, is deputy director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. He hosts the Battleground Wisconsin podcast.