The Rev. Jesse Jackson led a rousing Milwaukee rally that gave vent Friday night to outrage over the abruptly new direction in which Gov. Scott Walker is taking Wisconsin.
“Suddenly we have gone from Wallace to Walker,” Jackson told some 550 cheering people – a full house – at the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 1345 W. Burleigh St. As an aide to Martin Luther King Jr., Jackson helped challenge the segregationist policies of the defiant 1960s Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Jackson said Wallace was denying black people the right to vote and that now Walker was denying working people the right to collectively bargain.
Jackson called for a mass march for jobs and voter registration in Milwaukee, and an organizing meeting for such a march was set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the offices of the Milwaukee County Labor Council, 633 S. Hawley Rd.
Another speaker – Sheila Cochran, head of the Labor Council – called Walker “the devil.”
The rally merged two anti-Walker movements. The first came in response to his rejection of $810 million in federal funds to build a high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison – a project that promised to create thousands of jobs. That movement morphed into a general demand for jobs. The second movement came in response to Walker’s effort to strip away almost all collective-bargaining rights from public employees. That movement has featured continuous protests by tens of thousands at the Capitol in Madison and a walkout by Senate Democrats to thwart a quorum and thereby delay action on the bill.
By taking place in the heart of Milwaukee’s black community, the rally highlights the depth of animosity toward Walker among African Americans – a fact that may be visually lost in the mostly white Madison protest. African Americans make up 6% of Wisconsin residents and live mostly in Milwaukee.
"There will be collective bargaining no matter what the governor does," Jackson thundered. “The boycott in Montgomery was collective bargaining. The march in Birmingham … was collective bargaining. The march to free South Africa was collective bargaining. The march in Egypt, in Cairo, was collective bargaining. The march in Wisconsin is what collective bargaining looks like."
Cochran said, "Scott Walker is the devil and he needs to be stopped." She termed him “foolish” for turning down the $810 million. If Walker was as concerned about the money as he claims to be in making draconian budget cuts, He would have accepted the federal funds and put black people to work, she said. Unemployment is rampant in Milwaukee’s black community.
"He created a hole of some 140-odd million dollars,” she said, referring to the tax cuts he pushed through the Legislature shortly after he was sworn in. “And thern he decided the best way to get it back was off the backs of the people who work for the state."
Among others paying for his tax cuts, Cochran said, were grant recipients under Wisconsin Works, the jobs-oriented replacement for welfare. Their grants are being cut.
"We can go up to the capitol and we can scrub it down with holy water," she said.
James Hall, president of the Milwaukee NAACP branch termed Walker’s efforts to strip away bargaining rights "a direct attack on middle-class principles and values." He called collective bargaining a "key factor in allowing people the ability to move into the middle class."
The crowd cheered State Rep. Fred Kessler like a battle-scarred war hero. He told of the Democrats’ losing battle to stop the budget-repair bill in the Assembly. “The battle is not over,” he said, adding that Walker was cutting many valuable programs.
The meeting was sponsored by MICAH (Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope) and the Milwaukee NAACP branch as well as the Amalgamated Transit Union, Milwaukee Area Labor Council, Voces de la Frontera, League of Young Voters and Wisconsin Citizen Action.