This week's protests are a revolt in defense of the right of public employees to self-organize. But not all the protesters here are public sector workers, or their family members. Many have recognized the role of college and high school students in initiating and energizing these protests. But few journalists have yet noted the efforts of Hmong, African American, Latino, and other activists of color to deepen and broaden the protests.
Monica Adams of the Madison-based community justice organization, Freedom, Inc., is one activist who has tried to add some color to the standard portrayal of this uprising. In an unpublished submission to the Wisconsin State Journal, earlier this week, she wrote that:
"Let’s be clear: Gov. Walker has been after all of us from day one — and not just on the union issue. The Republican legislature's drafts of Arizona-style anti-immigrant bills threatens immigrants and would make it more likely than ever that people of color would face discrimination while driving. Unemployed workers took it on the chin when Gov. Walker vetoed high rail jobs. And Gov. Walker's threat to cut BadgerCare, FoodShare, and other life-saving services for millions of Wisconsinites imperils the health and welfare of our residents."
"Gov. Walker's mistake is the orchestrated political attack on all of us. Such an attack requires an orchestrated response. Labor unions must work to unite their struggle for their members with the struggle of the unemployed, threatened communities of color and abandoned low-income communities in Wisconsin."
I spoke with Sangita Nayak, communications director for Freedom, Inc., just now. She informed me that the organization has succeeded in mobilizing scores of southeast Asian and African American youth to participate in the protests. And she expressed frustration that, as of yet, this solidarity has not been noticed. As one African American MATC student told Sarah Manski yesterday, "protesting while Black" is often a risky business.
For both students and for youth of color, the risks they have taken this past week may pay off next week, when Governor Walker begins to release the details of his next full biennial budget proposal. Will public sector unions, already mobilized and in the fight of their lives, come to the aid of students facing 26% tuition hikes? Or unemployed youth of color facing drastic cuts to life-sustaining services? After this week, more of them may.
And that's what the organizers at Freedom, Inc. are counting on -- the broadening of the uprising to unite all the poor and working people of Wisconsin. As Nayak put it to me on the phone just now, "there are more young people, youth activists, coming out here every day, and we need to keep this movement growing."
Special Op-Ed from Ben Manski of the Liberty Tree Foundation