Keeping the Issues Real in Milwaukee

Milwaukee       In what will be a monthly set of sessions for the over a six-month period focusing on leadership development, organizer training, and organizational planning and development, we started discussing issues to get the ball rolling.  It was a good experience, and the response was excellent by the dozen or so participants from the lower income, Amani neighborhood in Milwaukee.

We began at the basics.  What separates an organizational issue from a personal problem or grievance?  The point of course is to allow people to build an internal checklist allowing them to filter through the myriad issues that are visible in the community, but do not trigger action or build organization either because they are amorphous, seem unwinnable, or people don’t see a way to act and make a difference.

The examples focused on propositions that the community leaders understood well like lead and poverty itself.  Lead has been outlawed in paint for decades.  The dangers have been well known and widely documented for children and others.  Yet, only recently has lead become a front page issue in Milwaukee and in Amani where tests have determined it is the worst, when the connections to drinking water and the city’s lead pipes have emerged as the biggest culprit.

“End Poverty Now” is a great slogan but a poor organizing campaign.  I raised the issue of welfare to see if that would get the discussion going by citing the researchers view from the book about living on less than $2 per day that many lower income families no longer believe there is a welfare program.  I couldn’t get a bite the first time I threw that question out.  Everyone in the session said they knew there was a welfare program.  We went on, as I searched for another example, but then about fifteen minutes later a woman raised her hand and told about her experience in recent years in trying to get on welfare when she lost her job with a young baby.  She was rejected because she could not verify the income of the baby’s father who of course was long gone.

A dam was broken then.  Another woman had been an intake worker at W2, the Wisconsin welfare department.  She told of the problem for the homeless and people facing evictions in getting welfare or food stamps without a “stable” address.  Another person suggested the work around there of using a family member’s address.  We were flooded with examples of issues concerning welfare and the systemic efforts that were ongoing to prevent people from receiving benefits.  When I then asked who knew the discount rate for trying to convert food stamps to cash, everyone raised their hand, and the market of 50% was universally agreed, and everyone knew where it could be done.

All of which confirmed what so happens in doorknocking for these leaders.  People often don’t respond when asked about issues until they realize that what they may have seen as a personal problem is revealed to be a common occurrence and therefore an issue throughout the community that demands action and solution.

***

Please enjoy Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones with Florence Welch

Thanks to KABF.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Our Wisconsin Revolution is a Different Twist with a Great Future

Madison       Frankly, the Bernie Sanders campaign’s successor organization, Our Revolution, has been confusing to me.  In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, its maiden voyage seemed covered with the controversy of staff hiring and firing with counterclaims roiling the organization over who and what was best able to carry forward the Sanders’ vision and program.  My conversations with Larry Cohen, former president of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), convinced me that his steady hand as chair of the outfit could make it interesting to watch.

The major asset of Our Revolution was the huge small donor list that had fueled the Sanders campaign sufficiently to challenge Hillary Clinton’s presumptive nomination in 2016, almost to the final weeks before her ascendancy.  Our Revolution was going to endorse a group of candidates at different levels who had either been Sanders supporters and sometimes renegades with the Democratic Party’s Clinton consensus as well as others who seemed to share the vision.  Some won.  Some lost.

Many of the other headlines around the Our Revolution program seemed to be focusing on internal fights within the Democratic Party over control and leadership positions in various states.  That strategy was confusing to me.  It seemed a fight over an empty suit that no one really wanted to wear or would look good in, particularly in the short term and without a campaign finance report.

Talking to people in Wisconsin, there seems to be something very different happening here with Our Wisconsin Revolution (OWR).   They are a separate membership organization with a c3 and c4 that is one of the very few state offshoots of the national formation.  Another fledgling effort is in Texas where Local 100 United Labor Unions has bumped into them several times.  From what I gathered, they did get the names of Wisconsin donors at their founding, but rather than assuming this could be a cash cow, they used it as an organizing tool to hold public meetings to organize OWR throughout the state.  Talking to my longtime comrade and friend, Joel Rogers, University of Wisconsin professor, who is also the OWR treasurer, he participated in a 28-city barnstorming tour in 2017 to help build the organization.  Now that’s real grassroots organizing!

The OWR program is clear from their website.  They are decidedly NOT interested in taking over the internal workings of the Democratic Party, though in terms of political and ballot activity they are promoting and endorsing candidates who are Democrats.  They are transparent and detailed in their political program and their openness with their members and the public.  They have a leadership structure that includes representatives from every one of the state’s Congressional districts.

It’s an all-volunteer army, as so many of the most important base-building developments around the country are now, but it has big time ambitions.  Obviously, the organization is just in its early days, so no one can guarantee its future, but this is an organization that clearly is being tailored for a different kind of outfit.  This is a potential statewide party in the making.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail