Buzz Davis laughed a good hard laugh.
"Oh, I would have loved to know that lady!" exclaimed the Stoughton activist and former Dane County supervisor.
Davis was talking about Sally Baron, who passed away Monday in Stoughton at age 71. Baron did not make a lot of news in her lifetime - she was busy working and raising six kids - but she went out with a message that warmed the hearts of Davis and a lot of other small-town Wisconsin progressives.
No one should slip the mortal coil without raging one last time against the dying of the light. And so Sally Baron did.
"Memorials in her honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush," reads Baron's obituary in today's editions of The Capital Times.
When I read that line, which her family decided to include in the obituary, I didn't need to see another word to be sure that Sally Baron was a native Wisconsinite rooted in the working-class progressive politics of this state.
And so she was.
Sally Baron was born in the far north of Wisconsin in the year that Franklin Delano Roosevelt swept Herbert Hoover from office. When she was growing up around Hurley, Republicans weren't even on the radar. People voted for Democrats for president and for the old Progressive Party - a wild mix of renegade La Follette Republicans and radicals - in state races.
My friend Laurie Carlson used to represent the north in the Legislature as a Progressive, and he swore that the movement's truest believers could be found on the back roads of Bayfield, Ashland and Iron counties. That was where hardscrabble farmers, fishermen and miners nurtured a healthy disgust for the smirking elitists who controlled too much of the economy and, as the years went on, too much of the politics of the nation.
Sally Baron grew up in a time and a place where Laurie Carlson and his comrades battled against the corporate elites and "Tory" Republicans with a passion they traced back to the days of the American Revolution against the British royals and a feudal system that handed power from father to son. Even at 90, Laurie still waded into debates on the side of the workers against bosses, the farmers against agribusiness, and hard-knocks kids against the fair-haired sons of privilege.
No wonder, then, that Sally Baron bristled at the sight of George W. Bush. The wife of a miner who was injured in a pit accident, she raised six kids in a world our inherited and selected president could never imagine. Sally Baron's kids say she did not like the way Bush smirked when he spoke. Considering that he did not even win the most votes in the 2000 election, her thinking went, he could have been more humble.
Even before the recent scandal over Bush's State of the Union address, Baron also thought Bush had trouble telling the truth. Baron's daughter, Maureen Bettilyon, says her mother "thought he was a liar." "She'd always watch CNN, C-SPAN, and you know, she'd just swear at the TV and say, 'OH, Bush, he's such a whistle ass!' She'd get so mad," recalled Bettilyon.
When her family gathered to write an obituary for Sally Baron this week, someone suggested that their mother would have wanted donation to go to folks who were working to impeach Bush. That was tamed down a bit to "working for the removal of President Bush."
I called Buzz Davis to ask if there were any groups in Stoughton, where Sally Baron settled a few years back to be nearer her family, that were "working for the removal of President Bush."
"Well, we sure are," replied Davis, an old-timer in Stoughton, which shares the progressive traditions of Sally Baron's northland.
"We" is the Stoughton Area Democrats, a ragtag group of about a dozen core members that swells to 150 at election time. The Stoughton Area Democrats blanket the town with party literature at election time. When they're not campaigning, they organize town meetings and teach-ins, like the one last year that gave rise to the Stoughton Area Peace Coalition.
As the 2004 presidential race heats up, Davis is campaigning for Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Dennis Kucinich and other members of the group are backing Howard Dean, John Kerry and other contenders. But next fall, Davis says, the first priority of the Stoughton Area Democrats will be removing George W. Bush from the White House.
"We'll beat Bush," said Davis, as he reflected on the fact that "even the obituaries" are going against the president. "It'll start here in Stoughton and sweep the whole country."
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times