The day after the failed recall of Governor Scott Walker, a coalition of labor, Democrats and a handful of Black activists held a demonstration to demand that the governor restore collective bargaining to public employees.
Eliminating collective bargaining was the match that sparked the movement to recall Walker, which was smothered two weeks ago when Walker beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by 7%.
With the taste of defeat on their lips, coalition members resorted to the historic civil rights tactic of protest to demand the governor reverse his policies.
Of course, Walker immediately called the Republican controlled assembly into special session, restored the 12% contributions now made by public employees to their health care benefits, along with his cross the board cuts to every department except prisons, and announced the hiring of one million people to construct a new train from Milwaukee to Madison.
Just kidding. In truth, the governor ignored the demonstrations, if he even heard of them.
Last week, responding to the heinous murder of 13 year old Darius Simmons by an angry and probably deranged 76 year old white man who thought he had burglarized his home, another coalition of civil rights and clergy groups staged a march and rally against the state’s concealed carry law. They too demanded that state lawmakers respond to their march by rescinding that law.
Again, it’s debatable and highly unlikely that even Milwaukee Democrats knew of the demonstration, and even if they did they were powerless to do nothing more than mention it during a ‘beer and brat’ bar b cue at the governor’s mansion a few days later. Even if through some miracle leaders of the Republican controlled assembly happened to tune into Black radio or pick up the Community Journal, there’s less than a .000001% chance they would have put an early end to their summer vacation and election victory to unscramble that broken egg.
In between those two protests, another much smaller group held a half block march and demonstration to demand the city, county, state and White House produce jobs for even a faction of the 55.8% of Black unemployed men in Milwaukee. That was not the first protest for jobs, which ironically was never mentioned during the gubernatorial recall election by those who say they represent the interests of the downtrodden—which last I heard include Black folks who have been told for 400 years that things are going to get better if we vote, obey the 11th Commandment and keep our mouths closed as we watch White suburbanites working on public sector construction projects in our neighborhoods.
It’s not a matter of whether the citizens and groups that staged these protests were well intended. They were. But as I noted in a column six or seven years ago, I’ve matched hundreds of miles with various groups over years, and rarely did we accomplish anything other than to increase our anger at the powers-that-be for ignoring our plight. I made a decision through that column that I would retire from marching, unless we are specifically going somewhere.
In other words, save the Open Housing, School Desegregation and Ernie Lacy marches, that knight on our civil rights chess board has rarely been able to scale the walls of apartheid, much less force Old King Cole to lay down in submission. Maybe the problem is too many Black leaders think they are playing checkers when the real game is much more sophisticated. Or maybe we keep attaching with pawns, when we should be advancing our knights and bishops. Whatever the case, it’s long since time when we should start reassessing our strategies, and either put together a more comprehensive attack plan, or started playing another game.
That’s not to say marches and demonstrations don’t have value. Sometimes they do, particularly if they supplement a more comprehensive strategy. But too often, most marches and demonstrations are about symbolism and not substance.
Did anybody really think after going through a grueling, sometimes hate filled recall, that the governor was going to suddenly become a liberal Democrat? Did those who protested against concealed carry realize that the elderly murderer, Darius Simmons, did not have a concealed permit, and even if he did, that was not used to kill a Black teenager in front of his mother? And if nobody has done more than give lip service to Milwaukee’s nation leading Black male unemployment rate up to this point, did anyone serious believe a half dozen brothers holding a public discussion would somehow or another force politicians, business leaders and investors to read Deuteronomy 15:7-8 or Joshua 1:14-15?
If there’s one thing I learned over my decades with this Black newspaper it’s that you can’t legislate racism or integration, most of those folks we look to for answers and solutions don’t respond to feel good protests and wishful thinking, and that fat meat is greasy.
My intent here is not to criticize civil rights, labor or citizen groups for attacking issues through their constitutional right of protest. Instead my purpose is to question whether those tactics are as effective as they once were, and if maybe we should focus more on doing for self, versus crying to deaf ears.
The most successful crusade I’ve ever been associated with was the school choice movement, and before that the Save North Division campaign. In the latter, the marches were icing on the cake. Direct appeals to school board members, mass demonstrations at board meeting and selective targeting of board members with threats of recalls forced a reversal of board policy.
The focused protests were all the more successful since three of the board members who decided to deny children the option of attending a new school in their neighborhood were Black. When Black folks, finally get mad enough to seek accountability from Black politicians (and board members are politicians) you know the earth is about to move.
There were dozens of marches associated with the school choice battle, but those were solely intended to maintain awareness and as vehicles to publicly challenge the opposition, which ironically, included Black Democrats, the state Democratic Party and the teachers union. There were also demonstrations outside the homes of key Democrats, one that prompted the chairman of the assembly education committee to reverse her decision to table a hearing on the choice legislation. That specific protest opened the door for an eventual vote before the legislature.
Another strategy employed was to bus hundreds of poor parents and their children to Madison during the legislative session. I vividly recall strategically placing dozens of small children behind a Black Democrat prior to the vote. The children wore t-shirts questioning why the Black Democrat was trying to block their path to a quality education, and whom the legislator held allegiance to, her party or the people. (You can read my book, ‘Not Yet Free at Last’ for details, or wait for the updated version later this year.)
Historically, one of the most powerful tools of the civil rights movement has been boycotts. But they are only effective if planned out, and if organizers can rally sustained support for them. When they are randomly announced, they tend to backfire, and undermine our most effective tool of protest.
Last year, for example, an irate Black politician called a boycott of a toilet paper factory owned by the infamous Koch Brothers. The Black politician also called for a boycott of a central city gas station whose owner contributed to Scott Walkers’ election campaign.
I probably don’t need to tell you how disastrous those boycotts were. The politicians didn’t inform or seek support from any organization or group prior to declaring the boycotts. The gas station continued to make money primarily from Black customers, who weren’t challenged with picket signs or educated about the rationale behind the boycott.
The toilet paper boycott ended with criticism of the politician, since most of the employees were members of Wisconsin unions. The Koch brothers probably laughed all the way to the bank (and it wasn’t North Milwaukee State).
There’s no doubt we have to think through traditional strategies of protest, and at the same time, introduce new strategies that can be equally if not more successful.
For example, instead of marching on 16th and Vine Street hoping someone in Superior, Wisconsin is going to create a 1,000 jobs or have a Jesus moment, why not focus that energy on a ‘Buy Black’ and ‘support those who support us,’ campaign.
The quickest way to create jobs is to support those institutions that support us. Equally important, it has long been known that if we circulate our dollars to insure they touch three hands before existing our community, we can create thousands of jobs in short order.
It’s simple math. I get a check from the Community Journal. I utilize a Black plumber or buy gas or eat at a Black restaurant. If they in turn purchase good or services from a Black vendor, my dollar has touched three Black hands. The plumber hires a Black intern, the gas station will hire a Black night clerk (or unfortunately a security guard) and the Black restaurant hires a new cook. Net result: jobs created and a stable community.
The secondary strategy is to support Community Journal advertisers. Those businesses not only support one of our community’s most important vehicles for social change and Black empowerment, but also our community through jobs and philanthropic contributions.
In keeping with that strategy, I buy many of my clothes from Boston Store (up to date fashions and quality merchandise), and most of my groceries from Pick N Save, both of which have excellent diversity track records as well. Northwest Funeral Chapel funeralized my late son. I get my prescriptions from Walgreen’s and other health products from Carter Drugs. They support us, I support them and everybody benefits.
As you may know, Milwaukee has the fourth highest poverty rate for African Americans in the country. We can’t protest or march that away. But we can lower the rate by advocating marriage and two parent households. One reason the White poverty rate is much lower than ours is because most of them have two parent incomes. Seventy percent–that’s right 70% –of Black women, 72% of which are listed as working poor, head households.
Maybe a march will influence a decision to return to traditional African values and mores and spirituality. But a much more effective strategy would be for the churches to provide collective leadership, the media to repetitiously bring to light statistics, data and the human faces of Black children who are victimized by adult decisions. As a community we must commit to re-establishing the nuclear family and all of us must push our young sisters and brothers to see themselves as something behind young parents. We must instill our children with culture, accountability and discipline. We must stop referring to them as ‘nig..ers’ and instead as princes and princesses who will lead a mighty nation.
We must give them hope and understand the first code of parenthood, which is to make sure they go further than our generation.
Motivate them everyday, lead by example, and make sure they are positioned to stand in God’s shadow. Simple, but effective strategies to change the world, or at least our world.
Lastly, circumstances should finally force us to realize the necessity of developing a Black United Fund. There is a reason why more and more philanthropic and government dollars are being redirected to organizations outside the community for poverty, social welfare and training programs. Couple that with a lack of adequate investment and venture capital for Black businesses, and the need for a Black United Fund is all the more obvious.
For the record, the Black community is not poor. We generate and spend more than $4 billion annually. Black churches collect more in offerings than the city and county collect in taxes. Of the money circulating in the Black community, research show we spend more on fluff, entertainment and tattoos than MPS did on last year’s summer reading program. No wonder our Black fourth graders have the lowest reading proficiency rate in the United States of America!
An overwhelming majority of that fluff money goes to businesses who take your green backs out of the city. Just think of the snowball effect it would have if all you sisters brought your wigs and extensions from Black beauty supply outfits. But we are so brained washed, we think white ice is colder and Korean hair is shinier. We invest our dollars anywhere but where it will benefit us, and then we wonder why no one respects us.
Yeah, we still need marches, demonstrations and boycotts. But it’s obvious they need to start in our homes, in our businesses and on our streets.