I was watching the Milwaukee TV show Belling & Co today. Although this Right Wing nutbag really deserves no attention, I was struck today by his utter despise for the poor, disadvantaged, and in particular the minority population in Milwaukee. He and several others from both sides of the spectrum were discussing the beating of Mr. McClain in Milwaukee last week. While the liberals on the panel were able to show some empathy toward not the criminals themselves, but towards a community of people who are generationally caught in hopelessness and lack of opportunity (confirmed by Bush, see below) that leads some in the community to take out their anger and frustration in horrible acts of violence.
Belling was arguing with pure passion that their 16 year old mothers were to blame for getting knocked up in the first place and bringing them into this world. He thought that their entire existance was a mistake and really they had no business living and we should just lock all of them up forever.
Here I go being the bleading heart liberal again, but I'm going to tell you a story.
2004 had the lowest murder rate in Milwaukee in anyone's memory. In January of 2005, two Milwaukee Urban poets, Kwabana Nixon and Muhibb Dyer proposed a reason...HOPE.
They theorized that the murder rate in Milwaukee would sky-rocket in 2005 and they knew why, it was an election year.
You see in the summer of 2004, Milwaukee was a battleground state and so, thousands of progressives decended on urban Milwaukee. It was one part of the country that could win and election for the entire country (and they almost did). They were in every poor neighborhood every day without fear. They were white, black, latino, young, old, and they all had a message. Vote and things can get better for you. This politician, or that politican cares for you and will fight to make a difference in your lives. In particular, the poor black community in Milwaukee heard that message and with that hope, they stopped killing each other. It was a murder rate in the 80's for an entire year in a huge metropolitan city where no one had a job and drug use was rampant, but the hope that was spread that summer lifted the despair for just long enough to save some lives...
I worked for a Congressional candidate that summer and in the fall for the Democratic Party's Northside office. I had people coming in daily looking for a job. Begging for work. When I had paid positions, I often hired the volunteer who was there every day, because they would rather work for a dream than sit at home with nothing. I was upfront about that with everyone who asked me for a job. Most took me up on it and soon we had a vibrant volunteer corps working daily in one of the poorest communities in the country. We were Democrats though and we knew that paid positions were desperately needed in this neighborhood and there were plenty of people lined up to take those positions.
So we started with a pilot paid canvass team made up of our best volunteers. They were hard workers and they were honest and passionate about the cause and they did great work. Any company would be proud to call them an employee, but most hadn't had a good job in several years. They just couldn't get anyone to hire them and they told me their stories. Most had been in manufacturing with good Union jobs that had benefits, paid a good wage and helped them raise their families with dignity and respect. The worked for Tower, or Allis Chalmers or one of the many mfg companies that left Milwaukee in the last 10-15 years. They were offered job training and took it, but they had no money for real college, and the job training they worked so hard at was low level and barely prepared them for low wage secretarial jobs. Then, they would get out and start job hunting with their new skills and find that when they came in the door, the receptionist was "out of applications" and they "weren't hiring", but they "could leave a resume, but it would be a long time before anyone would get back to them". This line was repeated over and over at every business they tried to get a job with... So they were in the "underground economy" doing people's hair or nails, trying Mary Kay or doing oil changes for their neighbors, they went on public assistance to feed their children, and hope faded away...
And here I was. We created more jobs and more jobs. There's always something to do in a campaign and if they were doing it already, working hard for the hope, as soon as I could hire them and put some food on their table, I did so. I LOVED each and every one of them. Then news came down from National. Our program was a model for others Nationwide and they wanted to expand it in time for the last few weeks of the election. We were going to hire 80-100 more people and I was in charge of how that was going to happen. I was excited and a bit scared at the responsibility. How do I screen, hire, train and even find 100 people who need jobs in just a few days?
I called everyone who had applied already and asked them to come in for a meeting. Then I told literally about 5-6 people that I was hiring a lot of jobs and to spread the word that I would hold a meeting on Saturday (this was Wednesday). If anyone wanted to work, they had to show up for the meeting. We got a hotel room and crossed our fingers.
Thursday 40 new people showed up for the jobs. I told them they weren't getting paid until they went through the process and that on Monday they would know if they had a job or not, but that they were welcome to volunteer and that may be one way to distinguish themselves while we were going through the campaign. Every one of them stayed and worked hard all day.
The next day, I had 150 "volunteers".
Saturday came around and the entire Statewide staff showed up to run the orientation/training session. Over 500 people showed up! My love and pride for my people was never so strong as that morning. We processed them all, fed them all and trained them all and not one complained or got cranky in the whole process. The mood was upbeat and exciting! We were starting a movement! Unfortunately, I had one 100 positions. I explained the jobs, the hiring process and asked them all to wait for a Sunday night call to get hired. I also let them know that getting on that list would be easier if I knew them from helping out in the office. They got that message loud and clear. On Sunday, I had over 200 volunteers in the tiny Northside office. I made the hard choices of who would get paid and called them all on Sunday night. On Monday morning, I had 200 people ready to work. Do the math, 100 jobs, 200 people. What now?
This is where my heart just broke. Even though I told them personally they didn't get a paid position, 100 people had shown up anyway, because they wanted to do something "worthwhile" that "might make a difference" in their future. The volunteer corps in the office was an army of passion and stayed strong throughout the election. On election day when more paid positions were created, they didn't have to go out of town to find workers, they didn't have to import them from other countries, they didn't have to even go out of the office. Hundreds just showed up as they had for weeks without a paycheck. They had hope.
Conservatives say that there must have been cheating for that many in Milwaukee's poorest neighborhoods to have come out and voted. I have never been so enraged about a charge of cheating. I KNOW why the numbers were so high. I was there to watch as the Black community in Milwaukee came together in a collective of hope never seen before in this city. We beat them with hope...something they can't understand and are extremely threatened by. Their answer. Kill the hope and recreate the despair.
The poor in this state and especially in Milwaukee won. They won a new Congresswomen to fight their battles on their terms. They won a courageous Senator who could now be a President....and they made a battleground state Blue. A victory that nearly gave them a Presidency.
Unfortunately, forces out of their control, are now taking away their food stamps, lunch for their children at school, energy assistance and gas prices are now so high for so long that they can't afford the car that would get them to the jobs that are all now a half hour to an hour's drive away. Their children are still getting a poor education as the conservatives take more and more money out of the system to keep their churches well funded under the guise of schools...and the hope has faded, the violence has increased again and despair is rampant.
I may be a bleeding heart liberal, but it's because I've seen it. I've seen what hope alone can do to an entire community drenched in despair. I can only imagine what a truly sustained effort to rebuild our communties for the long term might do to our society.
I will continue to fight for the glimpse I saw that summer. A glimpse of what could be if anyone cared enough to make it be. For the friends and colleagues I have so much respect for in my community. The hard working masses who just need someone to give them a chance.
Nothing gets me more angry than when I see someone like Belling dismiss the entire community as a lost cause not worthy of his consideration. Or when someone calls my people lazy or unwilling to change their lives. Belling's racism and hatred disgust me.
I spent an entire summer going door to door throughout the entire black community of Milwaukee. Never once was I afraid. Never once did I feel threatened. They had hope that summer and hope trumps all. Mine eyes have seen the glory...