In the last 3 days I've had a number of friends invite me and my family to join them at the World’s Largest Brat Fest over Memorial Day Weekend here in Madison. For over 25 years, folks have gathered to set the world record for most brats eaten and to raise funds for charity. For many years, Johnsonville Sausage has donated the brats that are sold at the fest and over $1 million dollars has been raised for area charities. I've probably been to about 10 of these events and eaten over 50 brats there, but for the third year in a row I’m passing.
It’s been over 2 years since Scott Walker tore apart Wisconsin with his attack on working families and their rights. It’s also been over 2 years since I've enjoyed a Johnsonville brat. The Stayer family, who founded Johnsonville, has been a consistent supporter of GOP candidates in Wisconsin. Based on findings from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the family gave Scott Walker $34,000 during his initial gubernatorial run. When this news was made public, I like many others invested in protecting the Wisconsin we love, walked away from “Tasteville” and Brat Fest.
In 2011 there were 3 alternate brat fests with proceeds still going to charity. I ended up sitting out everything and I honestly can’t remember if that was other plans or just being pained that I was missing out on the main event. Many people, including those that were against Walker, still attended Brat Fest in 2011 as they cited the benefit that the area charities received. They were right that the charities were still benefiting, but so was Johnsonville as their brand was still put on mount high for their generosity. In 2012, there were 2 alternatives and even more people I knew returned to the Brat Fest fold. Some on the basis of the more good than harm argument, and others because they were too tired of fighting everything related to Walker and his agenda.
This year there are again two alternatives but recent discussions lead me to believe that, for many, time has healed the busted skin on Brat Fest. I sat on my deck last night weighing invites, doing a little soul searching out loud on Twitter, and in the end, I can’t do it. Maybe it’s the fact that Walker got another $7500 from Launa Stayer since the 2011 Brat Fest. Maybe it’s the fact that I love food and that I hate to see a food I love be associated with Walker. Mostly though, I think it comes down to the fact that I’m still angry and sad over what Walker’s Wisconsin has become. I’ve watched teachers marginalized, attacked and dismissed. I’ve seen our land sold off. I’ve seen our basic rights questioned and legislated against. I’ve seen people say tearful goodbyes to jobs, friends, and our state. I’ve seen my mother in law, the oldest probation officer in the state, who would have worked for many more years; retire out of fear for her pension and her job.
I’m sure I've inadvertently bought a Koch Brothers product in the last couple of years and I may have even had a Johnsonville product without knowing it at a friend’s BBQ. Likewise, I know skipping Brat Fest and abstaining from Johnsonville products is admittedly a small drop in the bucket but I’m still mad, I’m still fighting and these wounds are still open.