How forces of “occupation” have taken shape in southeastern Wisconsin and why this demands recognition.
For Part I of “An ‘Occupied’ Milwaukee,” click here.
Milwaukee rests at the center of the state’s viciously polarized political climate. Battles over welfare reform, public education, and crime and drug control, made room for a wide ranging set of divisive discourses to emerge over the last 20 years that help fuel our current state of political “Occupation.”
Political leadership, mostly conservatives and their mouthpieces, have targeted the city to advance these agendas with ferocity and callousness, a special brand of political violence, on several fronts.
When welfare reform was tested, though clearly having failed to alleviate the burdens of poverty, Milwaukee was the petri dish. These plans, though, came after decades of sculpting the urban poor as undeserving of any governmental assistance, propoganda that stripped poor and working class people of any claims to basic rights of citizenship.
Battles over public education find Milwaukee as the primary front; no one can deny the racially charged language surrounding “public schools” despite the devastating impact budget cuts have had and will have on public schools in suburban and rural communities.
Milwaukee has become notorious for gross racial disparities in criminalization. The “mark” of a criminal record severely limits the employment and education options for those attempting to shed the social stigma. Demands to reform the criminal justice system are necessary to abate what has become a human rights issue. Reforms are needed to reengage a significant percentage of our population.
A directly tied outcome of this politically “Occupied” climate can be seen in the thinly veiled mechanisms that strip American citizens of the core democratic right – voting privileges. Far too many people are unwilling to, incapable of, or uninterested in raising alarm since these tactics are directed at what to some are Milwaukee’s undeserving, not-quite-full citizens. This is representative of a political terrain that can potentially erode democratic options for those assuming they are not the targets because they are not being impacted by these decisions today.
It is tempting to lay all the blame on conservatives, but so-called liberal political leaders have to answer for these matters as well. Where are the efforts to protect and expand voting privileges?
Today, more than any moment since 1954, we must remember the debilitating effects of segregated education – particularly the unjust allocation of dollars that denied minority children basic educational resources. Where are the political voices pushing back against attacks on public education? Where are the political leaders willing to admit that our current system of mass criminalization must be overhauled? Where are the voices elected to speak on behalf of the citizens who have fallen in the crosshairs of this political “Occupation?” These are the same citizens whose votes get counted by so-called liberals absent a singular political promise.
Ultimately, this “Occupation” provides fuel for of all types of absurd notions that are byproducts of racial prejudice, class-based arrogance and ignorance, and political maneuvering.
Southeastern Wisconsin could be a region that flourishes with cultural richness, but the social isolation and pockets of regional homogeneity that are unfortunately present in the area breed cultural incompetence.
Milwaukee is the only true urban space in the state. Urban spaces are supposed to be culturally rich and complex. And urban spaces are supposed to centers of cultural exchange.
As movement from suburban to urban living gains momentum, we must guard against reshaping Milwaukee through a set of assumptions informed by this past and by this contentious present.
If we are not deliberate and creative in reimagining our city, we are doing nothing more than submitting to these forces of “Occupation.”
Talking Politics is Milwaukee Magazine‘s weekly political column. For more, commentary and insight, visit milwaukeemag.com/politics.