From Politics to Mifflin, Let's Stop the Trashing

Let's start respecting our city

I’d really like to lighten up a little bit. I mean it. This column is occasionally supposed to be about the many positive and wonderful things happening in this city that I have the good fortune of hearing about. I’m an optimistic guy by and large, and I do have a sense of humor. I don’t like how easy it’s become to take everything so personally and feel sorry for ourselves.

In fact, at one point I planned to start this month’s column by asking if we knew how lucky we are (in the midst of the relentless whining and complaining that has infected out political and civic rhetoric.) But then my good friend’s husband died—and boy does THAT change your perspective in a hurry—and a couple of other good friends lost their jobs. And I’ve got a cold, so I’m easily frustrated. And the Mifflin Street Block Party put me over the top.

When did it become OK to trash our city? When did it become OK to get trashed and trash our city? For some reason people who oppose Governor Walker’s political agenda get really upset when you bring this up, but why was it necessary to trash the Capitol and the grounds around it during what were otherwise peaceful—if large—demonstrations? (And supporters of Governor Walker get really upset when the demonstrations are referred to as peaceful. Which they were.)

I actually think this is serious stuff and we have to address it. The alcohol issue is finally getting the attention it deserves. Thanks to former county exec Kathleen Falk’s brave initiative there are a lot of good people working hard on changing the culture of alcohol abuse that is so much a part of our lives in this community. But that effort has to be comprehensive beyond education and awareness. Which justifies ending the Mifflin Street Block Party once and for all.

There’s not a single good reason to keep allowing the drunk-fest to happen. In fact, doing so simply condones the violent, stupid, nasty, irresponsible behavior that Mifflin Street inevitably spawns. There’s a time and place for political rallies and demonstrations. There’s a time and a place for true neighborhood block parties where you put out a few card tables and a grill or two and spend some time with your neighbors. But more and more these exercises of civic and community living have become mindless venting. And venting what exactly?

I’ve been affected by the expressions of anger, envy and disillusionment that our power-hungry, greedy political leaders and Wall Street types have fostered. But it seems bigger than that.

I had an interesting conversation the other day with Michael Schuler, parish minister at the First Unitarian Society and all-around good thinker on big issues, and he’s been doing some thinking about our changing attitudes toward authority. We don’t respect people they way we used to, whether they are clergy or presidents or editorial writers. And I don’t think we respect each other, either. We’ve changed our views on privacy and bullying and personal attacks and adding alcohol to the mix makes it all more toxic than ever. My point, as always, is this: Our city is better than that.

Mayor Soglin has a history of publicly setting the standard by which he thinks our city should function. We don’t tolerate violence. We don’t tolerate disrespect for our fellow citizens. That was also Giuliani’s approach in New York, and Daley’s in Chicago. Let’s raise the bar again. Let’s show we care about our city and our neighbors and ourselves. And let’s start by admitting that we don’t need, or want, the Mifflin Street Block Party.

Neil P. Heinen is editorial director of Madison Magazine. Contact him at

Find more For the Record columns here.

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