By Representative LaKeshia N. Myers
Dr. Vernon Johns, former pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (Montgomery, AL), once said, “If you see a good fight, get in it.” For him, and many of his generation, he was disillusioned with the pace at which African Americans were granted equal protection and equal treatment. From his pulpit, he began to preach sermons that encouraged his congregation to take more direct action to combat the segregationist policies of the day. Instead of waiting for the courts to change the law, direct action—marches, boycotts, sit-ins, pray-ins and other public protests—helped speed up the otherwise lengthy judicial process. This direct defiance of the law helped tear down the last bastions of the Jim Crow-era segregation. Similarly, in Milwaukee, it was young people who decided to take to the streets in protest of the lack of affordable housing and the use of restrictive covenants that prohibited blacks from certain neighborhoods. Together, they marched en masse, for two hundred consecutive nights until Milwaukee had open housing. Those youths, members of the NAACP Youth Council, saw a “good fight” and they got in it.
This week, the members of the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus saw a “good fight” and they too, decided to get in it. They decided to recognize Milwaukee native, Colin Kaepernick in their annual Black History Month Resolution. While the passing of a joint resolution is usually not controversial, Assembly Republican leader Robin Vos made the unilateral decision that the resolution would neither have been heard, nor voted on unless Kaepernick’s name was removed. The members of the black caucus felt this was a classic case of “plantation politics”—meaning the notion that white approval was necessary for the resolution to be passed. This is akin to white overseers dictating what activities were appropriate for enslaved people in the antebellum era. These insidious actions are nothing more than an exercise of white privilege. Why else would Robin Vos think it necessary to dictate to the black caucus who in the African American community was deserving of being honored for black history month?
While the “good fight” this week was one of principle and not physical means, it was no less important. The people of our districts elected us to be steadfast, independent thinkers; they did not send us to the legislature to cower to the whip of a puppet master drunk on the wine of his own power. Just as Colin Kaepernick took a knee to take a stand, the members of the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus took a vote. We shall not be moved.