Lament about chocolate sodas

A recent New York Times obituary of a prominent member of the arts community brought forth a weird recollection.

During my high school years (1943-47), I worked at the corner drug store*, employed as a soda jerk, clerk and stockboy.  If you’re under 40 you may not know what a soda jerk was, but he was the equivalent of the neighborhood bartender, only for high school kids; we dispensed soda and ice cream from drug store counters, complete with barstools.

Anyway, every night we closed the fountain at 10 p.m.  As anyone who has worked restaurant jobs knows, when you get near closing time, you begin cleaning up so that you can leave work on time.

It just so happened that this family (a dad, mom and boy about 12) came in about twice a week just about ten minutes before ten, at a time when I’d have the fountain nearly totally cleaned.  Right on cue, they’d order three chocolate sodas.  How I grew to hate the sight of that family and their son that would force me to clean up a second time.

The memory of that family popped into my head when I opened the New York Times on Feb. 21st to see a large obituary (a full half-page with picture) for Richard Schickel, longtime movie critic for Time Magazine and one of the nation’s most respected, who died at age 84.

Schickel not only reviewed movies; he wrote and directed them.  He also authored 37 books mainly about the movies.  This esteemed person was indeed the little boy who frustrated me many nights in my youth when his family arrived just before closing time for their chocolate sodas. Ken Germanson, Feb. 23, 2017.

  • For those familiar with Milwaukee, the drug store, Whipp’s, was located at N. 72nd St. and W. North Ave.  For years the building has housed the Chinese Pagoda restaurant.

Can Progressivism Survive in Wisconsin?

For the first time since Ronald Reagan beat Walter Mondale in Wisconsin in the 1984 Presidential election, the state went red.

How could that happen?  It’s simple arithmetic: lack of voter turnout.

Hillary Clinton could have easily won the Badger State if those voters who could be expected to favor her had turned out.  She lost by only 27,000 votes out of the 2.94 million cast, less than a percentage point.

Now here is the shocking story:  Voter participation in Wisconsin was down by almost 124,000 in the state, compared with 2012.  Turnout was 66.2%, the lowest since 1996.

election-photoHillary Clinton suffered severely from the low turnout.  She received 239,000 fewer votes than President Obama did in 2012, while Trump garnered only 1,500 more than Mitt Romney did.  (There were 150,000 votes for third party candidates; likely most of those voters went for President Obama four years ago.)  Read more.


Why did potential Hillary voters not show up at the polls?  Here are some theories:

Restrictive voter laws.  The Republican-passed voter ID laws were specifically designed to discourage low-income voters, mainly minorities.  The voter suppression strategy may have worked; there were 62,000 fewer voters in minority-rich Milwaukee County, with Hillary’s totals about 40,000 short of Obama’s in 2012.

Over-confidence toward a Hillary win.  Polls leading up to the election showed her winning Wisconsin by four to six percentage points; thus voters who faced inconvenient work schedules, child care issues or other conflicts may not have taken time to vote.  The cutback of early voting hours – by GOP-supported state laws – may have added to the problem.

Lack of enthusiasm for Secretary Clinton.  No doubt the thirty years of constant attacks on Clinton’s trustfulness, whether warranted or not, helped to build voter doubts.  Trump repeatedly called her “liar” and encouraged his crowds to yell “lock her up;” that helped to reinforce in many voters’ minds a most repulsive (though grossly  wrong) image of her.

The Bernie effect.  Bernie Sanders trounced Hillary Clinton in the April Wisconsin primary.  Most of his supporters, we’re sure, heeded Sanders’ call to support Hillary in the general election, but enough found their bright illusions so dimmed that when Bernie failed to get the nomination they either stayed away from voting, cast a third party ballot or failed to get involved.

Secretary Clinton failed to campaign in Wisconsin.  Though several Clinton surrogates showed up, especially Chelsea and VP Candidate Tim Kaine, they could never garner the attention that the candidate herself could have.  A reprise of the Clinton campaign strategy tells us that Bill Clinton strongly urged greater concentration on the white working class voter, but was overruled by Hillary’s campaign bosses.

A weakened Democratic Party effort.  There’s no question that Wisconsin Democrats have become impoverished since 2010.  With the redistricting forced upon the state by the Republican-controlled legislature, most legislative districts have become gerrymandered so severely that Democratic candidates stand no chance; thus the party withers in those sixty or so largely rural counties and never seek to get Democrats on the ballot.  Lack of down-ballot candidates, even in GOP-trending areas, will cut into Democratic votes at the top of the ticket.

A smaller labor movement.  The impact of the 2011 passage of Act 10 ending collective bargaining rights for public employee unions and the 2015 enactment of so-called right-to-work laws was truly felt in this election.  The labor movement (traditional Democratic party allies) has lost so much membership that the state’s level of unionization has fallen below that of Alabama’s.  The result: there were fewer members to encourage to vote for progressive candidates and fewer numbers available to make phone calls, talk it up at the workplace and do door-to-door canvassing.

The impact of these seven factors, plus others not listed here, combined to make a perfect storm to bring about Secretary Clinton’s defeat.  Some of them also affected Russ Feingold’s effort to unseat Republican Senator Ron Johnson.


No one is quite certain just what President-elect Trump will do, or how much he will be able to accomplish.  To progressives everywhere, the prospects are scary.

In Wisconsin, however, it is certain what will happen; it can only be worse for working people, the poor and minorities.  There will be attempts to weaken labor even more, there will be no increase in the minimum wage, there will be cutbacks in life-supporting assistance such as food share and Title 19, and weakening of the health care system.  All that was promised on the day after the election by Republican leaders of the state.  Read more

The 2016 election is behind us and the question is: what do we do now?

First, what we don’t do is to sit on the sidelines in despair, fretting as we watch the Packers blunder through another season, perhaps awaiting a Aaron Rodgers “Hail Mary” to miraculously bring joy to us cheeseheads.

Secondly, what we must do is to stay alert to every action being planned by the legislature, continuing to question issues with whatever strategy that seems to work, whether it is to storm the Capitol with masses of protesters, to write letters to the editor (or to tweet) or to plan for next election.

Thirdly, we must figure out how to rebuild a progressive movement in Wisconsin.  The possibilities include revitalizing the Democratic Party, working through such groups as Citizen Action, Move On, and Wisconsin Now or by building a whole new movement.

To regain Wisconsin, progressives have to figure out how to win in the rural counties; it means reaching out to a heavily white population, while not losing touch with the minorities that are part of the heart and soul of the progressive movement.  Trump won 59 of the 71 counties, and that ratio needs to be reduced somehow.  The state built its now-fading progressive nature on the old La Follette coalition of organized labor, big-city Socialists and rural Progressive Republicans.

This won’t be easy, but it’s necessary to save the state from being destroyed by a single party dictatorship that threatens to make its citizens among the poorest in the nation.  Ken Germanson, Nov. 10, 2016

Expressions of Gratitude on Zeidler Award

It is difficult for me to fully express the depth of my gratitude to those who congratulated me for receiving the 2014 Frank P. Zeidler Public Service Award from the City of Milwaukee’s Common Council.  The occasion was marked by a 30-minute ceremony in the council’s elegant anteroom, with 50 friends and colleagues showing up to cheer on the presentation; the following evening even more folks filled the Puddlers’ Hall in Bay View at a reception to acknowledge the honor.

I was pleasantly surprised by the many friends, colleagues and former colleagues who took time to show up at the two events.  Also, I need to thank those who could not attend for expressing their kind words in many emails, with written cards and letters and on Facebook. 

In my acceptance remarks at City Hall on Sept. 3, I admitted to “feeling very humble to receive an award in the name of Frank P. Zeidler.  I got to know him as a reporter for the old Sentinel while he was

Frank Zeidler and the blogger at the Bay View Tragedy event, May 1997

Frank Zeidler and the blogger at the Bay View Tragedy event, May 1997

mayor.  Even though that newspaper editorialized against him almost daily, he still treated me with respect and openness.  Later on, we co-chaired a Labor and Religious Coalition and he was a continuing inspiration to our annual commemoration of the Bay View Tragedy.  He cared about this city . . . and I might say, all of humanity.”


I have long admired Frank Zeidler for his commitment and dedication to building a better community for all citizens.  I admire the fact that he not only “talked a good game,” but that he was able to get things done.  While he was truly a pragmatic and practical politician he never sacrificed his principles. 

Perhaps that was why I was most moved by what Frank’s daughter, Anita, said in comparing me to her father.  If I remember the words accurately, she said that I reminded her of her father in my dedication, hard work and commitment to justice.  I could have received no better praise than that.

Nonetheless I was further humbled by many others who commented upon my service to the community; so effusive were the comments that I often wondered who this individual was.  I thank all of those who took time to make such statements.

Ald. Bob Bauman presents the Frank P. Zeidler Public Service Award to Ken Germanson Sept. 3, 2014 at Milwaukee City Hall

Ald. Bob Bauman presents the Frank P. Zeidler Public Service Award to Ken Germanson Sept. 3, 2014 at Milwaukee City Hall

In particular, I need to thank State Rep. Christine Sinicki for nominating me as well as State AFL-CIO President Emeritus David Newby, Wisconsin Labor History Society President Steve Cupery, Milwaukee’s premier historian John Gurda and Anita Zeidler for letters of support to the committee.  My gratitude also goes to Zeidler Memorial Committee, particularly Art Heitzer, himself a tireless advocate for social justice. 

It was most pleasing to have several aldermen at the presentation event, including Ald. Bob Bauman (who made the presentation), Council President Michael Murphy and my own alderman, Terry Witkowski.  Mayor Tom Barrett was unable to attend but issued a proclamation declaring Wednesday, Sept 3, as “Kenneth A. Germanson Day.”  How about that!

Three State Legislators attended the Thursday night reception, including Rep. Sinicki, Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson and Dan Riemer, and presented me with a resolution of commendation from the State Legislature.  Sen. Larson commented that Gov. Scott Walker was not asked to sign on to the action.


All of the accomplishments that were mentioned in the comments would not have been possible without the support of so many committed and dedicated friends and colleagues, whether in my  work or in my volunteer efforts.  Their presence was always reassuring as I pursued all of these quests (many of them likely quixotic) knowing that these marvelous folks were right along at my side.

Last, but most importantly, I must acknowledge the support of my wife of sixty years, Ann, who suffered through many nights and weekends of my absence while bearing the major burden of raising our five children.  Thankfully, she shared my goals of social justice and often participated in the work at my side.

If nothing else the receipt of this award reminded me of the fact that the work of creating a just society never ends and that – regardless of present-day despair – the arc of history bends toward justice as long as we continue in our work.   It seems we all have lots of work to do. Ken Germanson, Sept. 7, 2014