Thursday, December 30, 2010

Busses to go to inaugural protest in Madison

Prayer will take place inside and outside of Monona Terrace in Madison Monday morning. Inside will be a prayer breakfast in honor of the inauguration of Scott Walker as Wisconsin governor. Outside will be a prayer rally in protest of the actions Walker has already taken to scuttle thousands of anticipated jobs in the state.
The rally and other protest activities during Monday’s inauguration will give residents a chance to show the state and the world their anger and concern over the incoming governor’s cancellation of a federally financed, $810 million, 110 miles-an-hour rail line between Madison and Milwaukee.

The rally will take place at 9 a.m. Monday. No passenger train connects Wisconsin’s two biggest cities, so Milwaukeeans who want to participate can board busses at 6:30 a.m. in a parking lot at 27th and Hopkins Sts. MICAH (Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope) has details.  (For background, see my earlier post, "Rail backers to 'crash' Wis. governor's inaugural.")

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Business community paralyzed

Would Milwaukee’s business community have stood silently by had a Democratic governor-elect chased a manufacturing company out of town and rejected hundreds of millions in free economic development money, killing a project that (1) had already hired dozens of construction workers and would eventually have hired hundreds more, (2) would have created dozens of permanent jobs directly and hundreds indirectly and (3) would have linked the state’s two top economic engines by fast passenger rail?  I think not.

The business community’s silence in Walker’s case, I submit, betrays its bias in favor of Republicans. That bias made it too paralyzed to head off a Republican-engineered economic fiasco.

In announcing it would move its manufacturing operation out of Milwaukee in light of the state’s anti-rail climate, train-maker Talgo expressed disappointment about that silence, which, the firm said, stood in contrast with the encouragement it got from business leaders to come to Milwaukee in the first place.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce blames its non-action on a poll that found its members evenly split on the merits of high-speed rail between Milwaukee and Madison.

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Other states cheer Walker

“California's high-speed rail system is slowly coming together, thanks to a commitment to 21st-century progress and political games over federal funding by the Republican governors of Ohio and Wisconsin.” Fresno Bee.

“Thanks a billion, cheeseheads.” Los Angeles Times.

“California is not too proud to take leftovers.” The Orange County Register

“U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla), welcomed Thursday the news that Florida is getting ‘an early Christmas present.’” News Chief  (Winter Haven, Fla.).

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Let them eat donated goods

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle donated proceeds from his inauguration – $233,000 in 2003, $323,000 in 2007 – to the state's Boys & Girls Clubs. Walker plans to split the proceeds between the state Republican Party and his own campaign chest. He is, however, asking inaugural guests to bring canned goods for the Hunger Task Force. Not a bad idea. Given Walker’s job-killing propensities, hunger may well rise during his governorship.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rail backers to "crash" Wis. governor's inaugural

Seething over the jobs lost because of the cancellation of high-speed rail in Wisconsin, a church full of people in Milwaukee cheered calls Thursday night to “crash” Gov.-Elect Scott Walker’s inauguration on Jan. 3.

“What Scott Walker has done is despicable, is shameful,” Father Tom Mueller, an Eastern Orthodox priest, told the more than 300 people on hand. “He slams the city. He spits on the city. … He doesn’t care what we say. We have to take our message where he is.”
Father Tom Mueller

Added Marilyn Miller of the Reformation Lutheran Church: “We need to crash the party on Jan. 3.” Organizers did not specify what they meant by “crash.”

The emotional meeting was a reminder that the high speed rail issue is not just a political game. It affects real people. It could mean the difference between having a livelihood and not having one.

A long string of residents went to the microphone at New Hope Baptist Church on Milwaukee's north side and expressed dismay and anger that Walker turned down an opportunity to create thousands of jobs, which they described as badly needed. Several said they themselves were unemployed. Others spoke of the travails of living in a community with high unemployment.
Marilyn Miller

A church coalition called MICAH joined forces with labor unions and other groups to sponsor Thursday night’s event and the upcoming demonstration in Madison.

Walker had vowed to reject $810 million in federal money, mostly for building a high-speed rail system between Milwaukee and Madison.  As a consequence, the federal government took most of the money away and handed it out to rail projects in other states. Construction had begun on the project, but present Gov. Jim Doyle halted it in light of Walker’s statements.

Citing Walker’s anti-rail policies, Talgo, which makes trains, plans to move its manufacturing operations out of Milwaukee in 2012, but would leave a maintenance crew behind.

Walker’s rationale has been that, although the feds would fully cover construction, he didn’t want the the state to be saddled with up to $7.5 million a year in operating costs. The rationale makes little sense because the project itself should have generated more than enough state taxes to cover those costs.

“When you throw away $810 million, that’s a colossal mistake,” one audience member, a pastor, told the crowd.

“Who in his right mind gives away all that money?” asked a young woman.

Said another speaker,: “This man is on drugs. … That’s the only thing I can figure out. His brains are fried.”

Eddie Tipton, a bus driver said of Walker, “He doesn’t care about you or me.”

Rubin (Ben) Ciriacks carried a sign with the numbers “250,000,” the amount of jobs Walker has pledged to create in Wisconsin, and “-55,” the number of workers idled by the  halt in high speed rail construction that was already under way. During Walker’s tenure, he said, keep asking, “Where are the jobs?”

The Rev. Leonard Fuller, who works with ex-cons, noted the tough time they had finding jobs, the lack of which fuels crime.

One woman advocated “following Scott Walker everywhere he goes.”

Attendees signed up to go to the protest in Madison on Jan. 3 and to get others to go.

The sponsors of the event: Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), the Services Employees International Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, the League of Young Voters and Wisconsin Citizen Action.

Photos by Gregory Stanford

Thursday, December 9, 2010

NAACP alienates civil rights leaders in Milwaukee

The behavior of the NAACP’s national office in a contentious branch election has left a sour taste in the mouths of much of Milwaukee’s civil rights leadership, which was rooting for the reform slate, the side that eventually won.

Victory was sweet, but not enough to negate the sourness – raising the question of how well will the NAACP’s Baltimore headquarters and the new Milwaukee board relate.

James Hall
Branch President-Elect James Hall, a civil rights attorney, says he’s looking “forward to a positive, constructive” relationship with the national office.

But others involved in the movement to reform the branch cite a continuing sore point: The national office went berserk with suspensions, ousting from the organization eight people in the reform camp. Members of that camp find it hard to forgive and forget while their comrades in struggle remain suspended. Some suspensions are for three years; others are indefinite.

The suspensions are in fact astounding. Kicked out were revered stalwarts of Milwaukee’s black community. The most illustrious is perhaps Lauri Wynn, who in 1973 became the first African American to head the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s umbrella teachers union. Before that, she was on the front lines of the struggle to desegregate Milwaukee’s schools. And in 1983 she became an aide to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Earl.

A picket line protested the suspension of Milwaukee NAACP
before voting took place across the street.
Among the other prominent evictees are Wallace White, chair of the Milwaukee African American Chamber of Commerce, vice chair of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage Commission and CEO of a business consulting firm, and Elmer Anderson, former second-in-command at the Milwaukee Urban League and a former administrator at the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Their crime? Publicly speaking out against the administration of the local branch.

“Outrageous” and “incredible” was how former Milwaukee Alderman Fred Gordon, a lawyer, described the behavior of the national office, adding, “I think it sucks.”

Picketers end their demonstration with a prayer.
Interviewed on Nov. 20 on his way inside Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church to vote, Gordon theorized that the national office behaved the way it did because “the current NAACP leadership and the branch have been very close.” He noted that a few years back the branch had hosted the national conference, which, he said, had made money for the NAACP.

Frank Atwater, who formerly headed agencies serving the black community, found particularly incredible the suspension of Wynn. “She’s an icon of the community,” he said.

The national office has not yet responded to my request to give its side of the story.

Widespread discontent about the performance of the branch led to the movement to reform it. A pivotal date in the drama was Sept. 18, when, according to an e-mail message from Hall to his supporters, a branch membership meeting “was improperly adjourned and the lights were turned out and police summoned to disburse approximately 150 members assembled to elect a nominating committee and conduct other business.”

About 50 people re-assembled across the street in a restaurant parking lot and put together a nominating committee. It was members of that committee who got suspensions, which made them ineligible to vote. Representatives of the national office came in and conducted the election instead.

Gloria Gilmer – an educator, civic leader and mathematician – described that meeting as the turning point in that it showed many in attendance how bad the branch leadership was.

Jerry Ann Hamilton, branch president for 10 years, had chosen not to run again and picked her second-in-command, activist and businessman Wendell Harris, to succeed her.

The reform camp had accused the incumbent leadership of mismanagement of funds, nepotism, and failure to deal effectively with a complex of problems crushing the black community, such as high poverty and unemployment rates. That camp has noted that the branch has gone without a financial audit for 10 years.

Hundreds turned out for the election. Many were turned away because, even though they vowed they had paid memberships, NAACP officials could not find their names in their records. Some went home to get proof of membership and returned. Among them was Atwater, who came back with a cancelled check for his membership dues and was allowed to vote. The news media was not allowed inside the church.

Almost everyone appeared to be under the impression that they could run in, vote and leave. But such was not the case. Nominations took place first and the voting procedures were explained. The wait was a couple of hours and more for some voters. A woman who left without casting a ballot said she couldn’t wait any longer. She had a wedding to attend.

"I would say a good 100 people left without voting because they had other plans,” commented Jenelle Elder-Green, an NAACP member who once handled public relations for the Milwaukee Public Schools. “It really is unfair. People were denied the right to vote. If that had happened in any other election, the NAACP would be filing a lawsuit”

Notable about this whole episode is the passion the reformers show for the NAACP.  They could have just given up on the organization and attempted to form an alternate group. But they believe in the NAACP, or at least the ideals of the NAACP. Mary Glass, a suspended member, talks about restoring the NAACP brand, making the organization true to its purpose – a notion echoed by other reformers.

Gilmer said, “I think what happened here can be a resurgence of the NAACP.” She stressed she was referring to the national organization, not just the Milwaukee branch. Reformers have emerged at other troubled branches, she said, and the national office, to judge by its attempts to tamp down reform in Milwaukee, has also lost its way.

Photos by Gregory Stanford