Voces de la Frontera, YES!, BLOC, and other groups gather at the Milwaukee Federal Courthouse to stand in solidarity for policy reform under Biden. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Black and brown communities in Wisconsin are standing together in solidarity with immigrants as the Biden administration continues into its first 100 days. New bonds are being forged as members of Black and Latino groups highlight their shared experiences.
Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) in Milwaukee, highlighted the importance of this work at an event on the steps of the federal courthouse in Milwaukee on Feb. 27. “When I talk about how we do our work,” said Lang, “the last thing that I always say is that we do our work in solidarity with other communities of color and other marginalized communities. Because an injustice for one, is an injustice for all.”
Lang spoke alongside activists and organizers from Voces de la Frontera Action, Youth Empowered In The Struggle (YES!) and others. Supporters and allies from Racine and elsewhere bussed in to help support the Freedom Together press conference.
They organized the event to bring a united message to the Biden administration that their communities are still in need, particularly when it comes to economic and healthcare support during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The stark disparities in COVID numbers and vaccination rates in Black and brown communities are compounded by the stresses of living in an environment that many say is over-policed.
“We understand having our family members being put in cages,” said Lang. “We understand what it means to be over-policed because of the color of our skin, and just merely existing in our Black and brown bodies. And, right now, we are all feeling the injustice of the pandemic.”
“Our community has been hurting, Lang added. “And the pandemic is only a magnifying glass on all of the existing issues.”
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action, told the group that Biden will need to be held accountable to his promises to immigrants. “We had to work really hard to give Biden a chance in our communities,” said Neumann-Ortiz, “because of Obama’s legacy of enforcement and deportations. We need our progressive congressional representatives to throw down with us, especially our progressive Black and Latinx caucuses. We elected this administration to challenge institutionalized racism, so what are they going to do about it?”
Some actions from the Biden administration have already earned respect from groups on the ground. Task forces have been created at the federal level to work toward reuniting the many families separated during deportation operations under Donald Trump. Biden has proposed legalizing the status of 11 million immigrants and ending the limbo of the “Dreamers,” young people in the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. However, undocumented workers were not able to receive stimulus payments, and the lack of support for frontline workers is distressing to many.
“Our immigrant community members have and always will be a staple part of our communities,” said Katherine Villanueva, a member of YES and the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants. “During these challenging times, they have been tirelessly working and haven’t received any government support due to their status. Being able to survive during a global pandemic shouldn’t be something to pick and choose about. We demand them to be included in the next stimulus bill and have a pathway to citizenship.”
‘Sick of being treated like animals’
Rev. Gregory Lewis with Souls To The Polls, emphasized the importance of Black and brown communities working together toward common goals. “We’re 60% of the city, but we don’t have 60% of the power,” Lewis said. “We have to stop letting them pit us against each other.”
In 2020, the reverend was involved in organizing against voter suppression during Wisconsin’s pandemic elections while also battling COVID-19 himself. While he recovered in the hospital, Lewis would hear about friends who weren’t so lucky after becoming critically sick with the virus. “I’m ready to work together,” said Lewis. “I’m sick of being sick and tired.”
Speaking in a booming tone, Lewis declared, “I’m sick of us being treated like animals. The things that are happening to us shouldn’t happen to animals. I think about the folks who were separated from their children. That’s just despicable, and we shouldn’t let things like that happen to us. And if we work together, then we can stop it all!”
Lang added that the next batch of stimulus and relief needs to be comprehensive. “We need to include everyone in relief that we deserve,” said Lang. “Not watered-down scraps, but the relief that our communities actually deserve. We need to include everyone in these packages.”
She noted that some industries have experienced a boom while ordinary people suffer during the pandemic., “This pandemic does not care what zip code you are in. This pandemic does not care about your immigration status,” she said. “But we also know that due to the long-term impacts of white supremacy, we don’t have access to a lot of things, so our communities are harder hit. Our communities are struggling and hurting.”
According to a report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Citizen Action of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, the collective wealth of Wisconsin’s eight billionaires jumped by $11.1 billion, or 28%, during the first 10 months of the pandemic. During that same period, as the virus spread across the state and killed more than 6,000 people, many lost their jobs with few other options. That $11.5 billion increase would be enough to send each of Wisconsin’s over 5 million residents a check of $1,901, while families of four would get $7,603, according to a Citizen Action press release from early February.
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