“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
In addition to the commemoration of our heroes and ancestors, Black History month is also a time to re-orient ourselves in the purpose that we have been given by those who came before us. The sacrifices in our history put a great impetus on us to make the change that our predecessors envisioned, and one of the ways that we can do this is by getting involved in what is happening in our community and nation’s politics.
We are in an incredible moment in terms of Black and Brown representation in our highest levels of government. The new Congress is the most diverse in the nation’s history, we have the second ever African American to hold a statewide office in Wisconsin and we have just the second black woman to ever run for President. This is not only exciting from a symbolic standpoint, but it is also an important model of what it means to step into the shoes that our ancestors left behind. In the examples I mentioned before, we see some lofty standards to try and meet. Mandela Barnes is trying to continue the legacy of the incomparable Vel Phillips and Kamala Harris is trying to match the bravery of Shirley Chisolm. Despite the challenges that these history makers see in their path, they have stepped up to represent not only us who live today, but the dreams of those on whose shoulders we stand on.
We have to recognize the importance of this representation and respond to it. Our great grandparents may have never imagined it possible to see what is now normal for our children. However, this new climate of political diversity is not a guarantee. There is no contract saying that it will always be this way. To ensure that our community remains represented, we need to be intentional in our support of these individuals who put it on the line to fulfill their calling. The only way to do this is to get and remain engaged.
One of the things that I think we forget about our civic power is that the most politically active communities do not only get the candidates that they want in office, but they also get extra attention paid to them once the election results are tallied and the ink has dried on the paper. Our electoral system is a fairly simple game. To get into and remain in political office, you need 50.1% of people who show up to the polls to vote for you. As a result, if there is a community that proves time and time again to be organized and mobilized to vote in elections, politicians will make sure that that community is on her or his side.
This means your priorities become their priorities and your neighborhood will be an unmissable campaign stop. When we talk about having our leaders listen to us, this is one of the ways that we can demand their attention. Even the most cynical politician understands the idea of taking care of his/her base. Regardless of whether or not we elect people from our community to serve our community, we can and must put our priorities on the top of the lists of the victors. Lip service can’t cut it. We need our leaders to act.
To transform our community into one with the level of engagement that I have described, it is necessary to make sure everyone understands our system and what each of their officials does. In the weeks to come, I will be rolling out a Civics Education program in partnership with Wisconsin Voices to bring this education to our community. Block watches, neighborhood associations, church congregations and families will become places where this fundamental understanding of our system can be fostered and encouraged to grow. Education has to be the terrain of the pathway to a brighter future.
My call to us today is to not waste this moment we are in. We can physically see ourselves in the leadership that we have in this city, state and country. Even though 2019 may seem like the time to take a breather between major election years, there is no room for our community to sit on the sidelines.
There is no room for us on the bench. There is no off-season from being involved. We have to make sure that the people in the seats that lead us are keeping our priorities at the top of their list. And if they aren’t, we have to be ready to replace them with someone who will.