Max and Me

The other day, my good friend Denny Burke, who has been sending his friends a musical selection a day since March, 2020, sent us the lyrics to “We Can Be Together” from Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” album. Here’s most of it:

We can be together
Ah, you and me
We should be together

We are all outlaws in the eyes of America
In order to survive
We steal, cheat, lie, forge, fuck, hide, and deal
We are obscene, lawless, hideous, dangerous, dirty, violent, and young

We should be together
Come on all you people standin’ around
Our life’s too fine to let it die
We should be together

All your private property is
Target for your enemy
And your enemy is we

We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are, we are
And we are very
Proud of ourselves

When I was in college I loved that song. I played it over and over again. I had come to Madison to take part in the revolution, but it was 1979 and, it turned out, the revolution had been cancelled. (Most place the cancellation date in August, 1970 when Sterling Hall was bombed and an innocent man was killed.) I just couldn’t understand why my classmates were so disinterested in politics. They weren’t outraged like I was. I guess they weren’t paying attention.

I loved this album. Now it just seems goofy.

I bring this up now because it reminds me of comments I get occasionally from a reader named “Max.” Sometimes it feels like Max is the twenty-year old me criticizing the 62-year old me.

Just a sample of Max’s brand of gentle persuasion in response to a piece I wrote last week: “Your views on race are just a few steps to the left of Tucker Carlson, this should tell you something about yourself you are too chicken sh*t to admit to yourself. When you look around and most of the people who would be willing to publicly agree with your views on race and racism are white, male, and conservative maybe it is you who has the problem.”

Now, I’m not sure who Max is, but I suspect he’s a young former Madison alder. In any event, Max’s comments are spirited. He should know Grace Slick. And he should know me 40 years ago. But, unfortunately for us both, Max knows my writing, if not me, now. I am no longer a revolutionary.

What made me a moderate, more than anything else, was eight years as mayor of one of the most liberal places in America. For one thing, mayor is the most hands on, practical of political jobs. People want you to collect the garbage, plow the snow, fix the streets and mow the grass in the parks and medians. And then, in Madison, they’d also like it if you could tidy up 400 years of racial politics.

And it was the left, my own people at the time, who drove me most to distraction. They were constitutionally incapable of being happy. They saw a compromise in which they got 75% of what they wanted not just as 25% short of their goal, but as a 100% sell out. Because their identity was so steeped in victimhood they could not get their heads around being “the man.” The ability to actually govern — and the compromise and nuance that that requires — was just not in their DNA.

After awhile I came to the realization that the biggest thing that stood in the way of the policy goals we shared was the left itself. They tripped over their own rhetoric. I entered office in 2003 as idealistic and liberal as I ever was. I left in 2011 a moderate who wanted to figure out a better way to get the snow plowed.

I don’t regret that. I was better at my job at the end than at the beginning because I had a deeper understanding for how things worked and what I could actually achieve. I’ve come to believe that most big social movements don’t happen through government or politics. In fact, government is a lagging indicator. Change happens in culture, business, media and then government policies follow later on.

If Max is who I think he is, he’s in his early twenties. I’d like to check in with him in 40 years when he’s may age now and compare notes about how things turned out. But that would make me 102. Not impossible that I’ll still be around, but not likely.

Anyway, by that time, I would hope we could be together.

Welcome to the 167th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

7 thoughts on “Max and Me

  1. Kinda likin’ the new & mature version of Mayor Dave. Makes me think there’s hope yet for a moderate approach to life & politics that would benefit us all.


  2. Hey now it’s time for you and me
    Got a revolution
    Got to revolution
    Come on now we’re marching to the sea
    Got a revolution
    Got to revolution

    “Volunteers” -Jefferson Airplane

    “Marching to the sea”, when I was twenty years old I thought of General Sherman when I heard the line. Now I just think of lemmings. The more my eyesight fails, the more other things come into focus.


  3. Not the Max you speak of, I am far closer to your peer than junior, and no you don’t know me and I don’t know you personally. Your narcissism shines through in your idea that your life lessons are the correct ones everyone will eventually learn because you are one of the few objective truth holders as you uphold the holy ideology of moderatism

    To the point, this was one of the most narcissistic, self-righteous pieces I’ve read in quite some time. Buried with your usual dog whistle, this was quite a lot of words to say “uppitiy negros asked for too much and made me this way.” Now, looking to national politics it doesn’t seem the left is the part of the party holding up good governance, from eviction to voting rights and the infrastructure bill it is your dear moderates mucking up the gears.

    It is always rich to see someone pontificate on the left being steeped in victimhood when they are neck-deep in white racial grievance politics themselves.

    Lastly, for someone who says change is rooted in social movements you love to bloviate in attempting to dismiss current social movements quite a lot.

    PS. I doubt you were ever a revolutionary, I am sure you thought of yourself as much, as narcissistic and self-righteous as you are. But we all know you don’t have the convictions of justice to have ever been one. With one last point in your hypocrisy of denouncing revolutionary violence as you continue to support the United States imperial wars that have killed tens of thousands of civilians, just by US forces, in the name of “protecting freedom.”

    In the end, I’m sure one day I will become quite bored with your writings, as derivative and repetitive as they are. Your views, opinions, and rhetoric are as generic as any well-enough-off white man over the past 400 years. You think you have some great insight, hold some great objective truth about man as you twist and turn to justify a status quo that upholds a violent order of racism, class, and gender.


    1. Max, your anger is apparent. How long have you felt angry, and what positive tangible results have come about because of it? Last year we all watched as a whole summer of anger unfolded. The result? Policing now has been “re-imagined” and crime and violence are rampant. Black Lives Matter took in billions of dollars from citizens and corporations eager to buy their bona fides as “allies”. The people at the top bought homes, properties, cars,etc, and local chapters couldn’t even get a “call back”.

      I am obviously not a Liberal, (nor a Moderate). I’m not a racist/sexist/homophobe/fascist/ or anything else in the arsenal,(so just save it). I’m just a pragmatist, supporting ideas that “lift all boats”, and produce positive results.

      Max, my question would be this- If 500 angry protesters protested for ten hours per day for one week, that would amount to Thirty-Five Thousand hours of volunteer service. What if instead of being angry, they actually went into the neighborhoods, served the community, and asked ordinary people what they need in order to make their lives better? What could be done in Thirty-Five Thousand Hours? Now multiply “that” by a couple of Thousand times and what, on a national level, could the angry people have actually accomplished? (and at a savings of billions of dollars and multiple lives)

      Max, I’m sure you will say that you devote every minute to humanitarian concerns, (me too, 25 hours a day, 8 days a week) I am skeptical. Your anger buys you nothing other than an inflated sense of self importance and makes you sound haughty and condescending on-line, so save the “virtue routine” for your fellow flock members. Maybe I don’t belong here (maybe). Your comments weren’t to me, so it’s none of my business,(got it), BUT– (it’s just something you needed to hear).


  4. Yo, Mad Max, what’s your solution? The anger I can understand. How are you going to use it to make the world a better place? While I might disagree on many points with Dave, he did move the ball forward while he was in office.


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