In The News
A smaller, firmer Occupy targets the Hood
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted Oct. 31, 2011
The Saturday afternoon was quite chilly. The rally was a two and a half mile slog from Lincoln Park down Capitol Dr. to the 34th St. road curving slowly toward the former AO Smith/Tower Automotive industrial complex – but only after the march exposed blocks of barren central city along the way.
This was both a demanding and symbolic journey, quite different from a cheerful stroll seven blocks from Zeidler Park to thriving downtown banks demanding better behavior -- the motivation behind the first Occupy Milwaukee rally Oct. 15.
Organizers and law enforcement were clearly prepared for any size October 29 and wound up with 400 boisterous and quite focused marchers, fed by pointed calls to action from MICAH, the coalition of churches allied for hope, co-sponsor Occupy the Hood and many established community groups.
Dozens of city police and county deputies used vans, squad cars, motorcycles and even officers on regular bikes to swoop in patterns to hold back passersby and block traffic. The 400 marchers – less diverse, generally younger with many union members and community leaders participating – filled the traffic lane in a remarkably orchestrated and orderly demonstration of crowd control.
It was one-seventh the size of the first march, while in other locations the Occupy effort tends to grow in numbers.. Perhaps it was the endurance factor. Perhaps it was the inner city locale amid partisan nastiness. Perhaps the suburbanites who turned out Oct. 15 are blindly married to talk radio warnings that it’s dangerous to even drive on inner city streets. Perhaps it was the lingering worries about hardcore elements and anarchists sporting a few Guy Fawkes masks.
Too bad the march was compressed because the focus has clearly sharpened. Attendance would have disabused those fears about the nature of the people involved and deepened the determination of the community that both corporation and government attitudes must change and answer for what is happening.
In fact, about a fourth of the marchers had not been at Zeidler Park on Oct. 15. This march was more attuned to specific interests and agenda, not just general malaise about Wall Street greed. It was drawing attention to those suffering most from the economic downturn, neglected for a generation by public officials in Madison and D.C.
As Jennifer Epps-Addison of Citizen Action Wisconsin told reporters, “I come from these neighborhoods where unemployment has grown to 50% over 20 years while America sat on its hands.” Occupy Milwaukee has joined with Occupy the Hood to make citizens who have been turning their backs and looking away get involved “as if there was a stampede of need, because this is a stampede,” one protester told the crowd. Pumping up the outrages this community has suffered, one minister from MICAH drew cheers with his litany: “If you can’t feel your pulse, you must be dead!”
The specifics and the symbolic blended during the three hour march, which ended with hundreds of people sitting in the street at 34th under the watchful eyes of the law. Several spoke of family members and thousands of others who held jobs at that old complex, using wages to pour out healthy neighborhoods, home owners and educated children. But it was not just technological change and modernization that ended these jobs. It was policy and planners indifferent to people – NAFTA and other trade bills, outsourcing and protection for “money hoarders no matter their color but the higher up they sat the more protection they got” as one protester put it.
Epps-Addison pointed out to the crowd that AO Smith is still making enormous profits, but just not in Milwaukee or even that much in this country. It was heavy on the minds of these marchers that Century City, where the march ended, was on the rebound when Gov. Walker pulled the plug on the federal $890 million for trains. That not only wiped away thousands of state constructions jobs but directly undercut the Century City growth the community and the city had invested millions in.
That history is now framework for Occupy, for mobilization around a city jobs bill introduced by Ald. Ashanti Hamilton to spur jobs in public-private partnership. Attendees were told how and why to call their aldermen and other public officials.
Similarly precise instructions targeted “the shame of discrimination” being pushed by the GOP majority in Madison in SB 207, an attempt to allow employers to terminate or refuse to hire anyone with a felony conviction, even if the conviction was ancient or unrelated to the job in question.
The Milwaukee County Board, perhaps in reaction, has voted to eliminate forms requesting felon information on nonrelated jobs. “Big Brother in Madison may not like our simple humanity,” one supervisor told me (who also thinks it’s a Big Brother tactic to say the country can’t run its own affairs and impose a state mandated comptroller despite the world-class reputation of the current auditor).
GOP legislatures in Madison specifically refused to hold a public hearing on the felon bill in Milwaukee, knowing full well that many families of such reformed citizens – many straightened out after paying their debt and looking for work in an already harsh economy – were eager to bring impassioned and heartbreaking stories to the officials.
They will still get that chance. Occupy Milwaukee organizers passed out leaflets for its own public hearing here, with testimony to be rushed to the Madison legislature while several local officials pledged to show up in support. It will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, at ATU Union Hall, 734 N. 26th St.
The bill was just one rung in a precise ladder of concerns at the Occupy event. Within the range of speakers -- Voces de la Frontera’s Primitivo Torres, Torrie Moffet of 9to5, retirees from Peace Action, school advocates. Occupy the Hood activists – the discussions kept coming back to anger at Gov. Walker’s policies and the tone-deafness of the Madison GOP. It pushed “Recall!” to the head of the line in chants, joined by constant honks from passing cars on Capitol Drive.
And recall fever is s right on top of us. Official recall signups begin Nov. 15 and end Jan. 17, 2012, but training, phone banks and recall offices are already underway.