By Urban Media News
“Anyone from Milwaukee saw this coming. It was always when, not if.” So said outgoing State Representative Mandela Barnes this week after nights of unrest in the Sherman Park neighborhood in the wake of another fatal police shooting. The images of stores set fire, police in riot gear, and a community in pain have made headlines this week, but while they are disheartening they do not come as a shock to the community.
The reality of being a person of color in Milwaukee is well understood by those who live here. What is harder to understand is where we go from here.
How do you begin to address racial disparities in education and economic opportunity? Where do you start when it comes to addressing divides decades in the making?
Who can the community turn to for answers and solutions so that we can get past the recent headlines and address the root causes that will lead to the changes so desperately needed?
Answers to the first two questions are many and varied, worthy of more than discussion but action in the days, weeks, and months that lie ahead. The answer to the third question is easier. The community must first look within.
There are every day, ordinary heroes in the Sherman Park Community who have set an example for all to follow in the wake of destruction. Leaders in the faith community who prayed not just for peace, but for justice. Volunteers, including children, who gave of their time to assist in clean-up efforts. That is how the healing has begun, but it cannot end there.
The Sherman Park neighborhood and all of our communities of color in Wisconsin must now look to the past for inspiration and a path forward. Progress, change, and advancement have come far too slowly in our communities, state, and nation. But they have come. Most often, it has taken a combination of good works in the community paired with effective public policy and leaders who understand how to advance a cause.
We are already seeing the community step up. The next step is rising up as a community to demand, en masse, changes to public policy and leaders who will give more than lip service to the challenges we face. This fall, we have an opportunity to do just that in local, state, and federal elections. The surest way to make progress is to ensure electing representatives who have our back, and holding them accountable in the future if they fail to back up words with action.
In the 2012 election, turnout among communities of color was off the charts in Wisconsin when President Barack Obama was re-elected. Sadly, a well established pattern held, as turnout and participation declined in spring elections and the 2014 midterm election. It is simply not enough to only vote in Presidential election years like this one. The policies enacted by the leaders we elect in every election at the local and state level have a profound impact on our communities. Wisconsin has seen that up close in the last five years.
If we are unsatisfied with what we have in terms of elected representatives, we must act at the ballot box to do better. If the policies enacted are failing to address the challenges we face, we must act at the ballot box to remove those who stand in the way of progress. It has to be on all of us, all the time.
President Obama is fond of imploring crowds, “don’t boo, vote!” He’s never just meant for him, nor meant only once every four years. He understands that our surest power as a community is not as individual voices, be they crying out for justice loudly or in quiet, but as a collective community mobilizing ourselves to make the changes we want to see as members of a democracy. In the weeks ahead before Election Day, raise your voices, ask the hard questions, and demand accountability from those seeking your votes. That is the path to the brighter future we need.
Don’t riot. Don’t loot. Don’t descend into the spiral of violence and despair.