A Conversation With Rob, La Crosse Field Organizer

Rob Nipko is our La Crosse field director. Prior to joining Fair Wisconsin, he worked as a campus organizer for the state PIRGs, coordinating student campaigns around issues such as hunger and homelessness, young voter registration and turnout, reducing global warming, and addressing the skyrocketing cost of higher education. Rob was raised in a military family and moved around a lot, but he has always considered Wisconsin home.

In July, we introduced you to Mitch Wallace, our northeastern Wisconsin director.

Why is this issue important to you?
Our country was founded on the ideal of all people being treated equally under its laws. From the Declaration of Independence, to the Civil War, to the women's suffrage and civil rights movements, much of our history has been an ongoing process of more fully realizing that dream of fairness for all. I see this as the latest chapter in that evolution.

My parents grew up and met in Berlin, WI, but by the time I came along, my Dad was serving as an officer in the US Air Force. As such, I never had a "hometown" as most people think of it. To this day, though, most of my family still live at most an hour's drive away from Berlin, and as the one constant through years of nomadism, it's where I've always thought of as home.

As I've moved around the country, I'm frequently asked what it is that draws me to Wisconsin, why I feel such a deep connection to the state. My answer invariably revolves around the character of Wisconsinites--what kind, caring, compassionate people Wisconsinites are. Whether that means taking meals to an elderly neighbor up the road who still lives in the ancestral farmhouse, even though they "don't get around too good anymore," or stopping to help dig a stranger's car out of a snow bank, or just taking the time to chitchat while in line at a grocery store. Wisconsinites understand the importance of community, the role we all play in making a community, and the importance of looking out for each other. Helping to inform fair-minded voters about how this ban would hurt real families throughout Wisconsin is my own way of looking out for and giving back to the community, and ultimately moving us that much further along the path of equality and fairness for everyone.

Describe an average day on the job.
- arrive at the office around 8:30am, make coffee (this is key to the success of the rest of the day)
- catch up on and respond to emails
- morning staff conference call
- follow up on arrangements to have a Fair Wisconsin representative speak at La Crosse PRIDE
- research community events at which we might collect petition signatures and distribute literature; contact event organizers to make arrangements
- make sure Fair Wisconsin web calendar is updated with our most recently scheduled activities
- compile a list of contacts from our supporter database to use for that night's phonebank
- revise phonebanking script
- run phonebank to recruit volunteers for upcoming canvasses, community activities, and volunteer nights
- nightly conference call with other greater Wisconsin (outside Madison and Milwaukee) field staff

What is the most challenging part of your job?
As the saying goes, it's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. It can be easy, after putting a ton of time and energy into coordinating a volunteer activity, to get discouraged when fewer volunteers than I'd hoped for show up. Similarly, one can get momentarily thrown off by one unpleasant interaction at a door or while petitioning, in spite of the dozens of other positive interactions that have preceded it. The trick is to keep motivating myself by constantly reminding myself of the big picture, why I'm doing this and what's at stake, without letting the individual incidents bog me down.

Can you share a positive or inspiring experience you've had while fighting the ban?
Really, the overall reception here in La Crosse, both individually and as a representative of Fair Wisconsin, has been extremely positive. Everyone has been very warm and welcoming.

A great example is last week when I called the organizers of a recurring community event to ask if we could set up an information table at the event. I was told that, oh, yes, they encouraged non-profits to attend and allowed them to do so free of charge. All I had to do was show up and they would help me find a good location. The woman to whom I was speaking paused, and then added, "Personally, I think it's absolutely great what you're doing, and I'm really glad you're here doing it. I look forward to seeing you there!" This wasn't someone I was calling from our supporter lists, or a member of a political organization, just a fairly random member of the community, who was very enthused about the work we were doing. It felt really good.

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