Taking the temperature of Milwaukee voters

Advocates see enthusiasm but also disappointment and frustration

By: - October 25, 2022 6:30 am
Voting rights activists and others gathering at the Midtown Center in Milwaukee on the first day of early voting in July, 2022. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Voting rights activists and others gathering at the Midtown Center in Milwaukee on the first day of early voting in July, 2022. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

“I think what’s at the top of people’s minds are things like housing and good jobs,” Angela Lang, executive director of Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) in Milwaukee told Wisconsin Examiner. BLOC operates largely on Milwaukee’s predominately African American North Side, where 65 volunteers have been knocking on doors five to six days a week. In addition to its  field operation the group relies on  texting and phone banking to reach voters,  said Lang. BLOC sends out “Wellness Wednesday” text messages to community members throughout the year — not just during election season..

During outreach this year, Lang says BLOC organizers have noticed more enthusiasm among people in the community. Some conversations have revolved around sorting out fact from fiction. “The really terrible racist attack ads against Mandela Barnes a few weeks ago was really tough,” said Lang. “And we had to have a lot of conversations to kind of break through what was real, and what wasn’t.”

Some of the ads painted Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate  Mandela Barnes — who is challenging incumbent Republican  Sen. Ron Johnson — as pro-crime, or being “with them not us.” There were images of  Barnes juxtaposed with footage of shootings and of people dodging the  SUV that plowed in the Waukesha Christmas Parade last year.

In late September, a brief protest was held outside of the Wisconsin Republican Party’s field office on Milwaukee’s North Side to denounce the advertisements targeting Barnes.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a lawsuit attempting to block a privately funded get-out-the-vote effort praised by Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson. Milwaukee Votes 2022 is a nonpartisan effort supported by GPS Impact, an organization that works to elect Democratic candidates and advance progressive causes. “Defendants’ partnership with a private, partisan organization to get out the vote compromises the integrity of the upcoming November 2022 election, and harms the Republican Party of Wisconsin,” the Wisconsin GOP and Milwaukee voter Elizabeth Burke wrote in their complaint. That suit was denied by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Gwen Connolly Friday.

Latino voters disappointed

On Milwaukee’s predominantly Latino South Side, during the Trump administration, community members  organized and pushed for immigration reforms, including resisting plans to make local police departments work with federal immigration agents and fighting to restore  drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrant workers. Immigrant rights advocates say they notice a frustration and unease with the lack of progress on these issues  from Democrats.

“There has been disappointment with the lack of progress on restoring drivers’ licenses for immigrants here in Wisconsin,” Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action, told Wisconsin Examiner. After President  Donald Trump lost in 2020, expectations for the incoming Democratic President Joe Biden were high. Voces de la Frontera has conducted voter education on the  South Side , not only informing voters about the candidates and where they stand, but also explaining why certain reforms have yet to be achieved at the state level. “We actually tried working with Republicans to introduce a bipartisan bill that was really sabotaged by Republican leadership,” said Neumann-Ortiz.

Still, Neumann-Ortiz sees a lot of motivation and enthusiasm among potential voters on the South Side. Last week, Voces de la Frontera Action joined labor organizers and other groups in denouncing the hiring practices of GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Michel’s construction company.

The rally came after Madison Times reported that the Michels corporation lacks ethnic diversity, and has faced lawsuits claiming sexual harassment and discrimination. While acknowledging Wisconsin’s dependence on immigrant labor, especially in the service and agricultural industries, Michels does not support granting drivers licenses undocumented workers or allowing their children to get in-state college tuition. Anxieties have been high among young people who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program, which protects people who arrived undocumented as young children or infants with their families, has been under fire in recent weeks.

“Our community, members are very motivated in making sure that Latino voters know the danger that Tim Michels represents,” said Neumann-Ortiz. “But I would say that, in general, there’s deep disappointment with the lack of progress and change under Democratic leadership.

Still, she sees support for immigrant reform growing among lawmakers. “It’s a matter of time,” she told Wisconsin Examiner. “Our power has been growing.”

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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