Detail of a mural inside the Madison Labor Temple building celebrating unions and worker rights. (Wisconsin Examiner photo)
Two years after its initial introduction into the state legislature, State Reps. Francesca Hong (D-Madison) and Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay) reintroduced their Economic Justice Bill of Rights (LRB-1728), surrounded by supporting public officials and social justice organizations on the Assembly floor at the State Capitol (WisconsinEye recording). They have re-opened a door to reviving Wisconsin’s democracy by introducing this bill.
Representative Hong set the tone: “This resolution is an outline of a vision to protect the American Promise of a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It identifies a clear path forward to ensuring economic stability, for working and caring Wisconsinites, small businesses, farmers, and beyond.” She ended by quoting abolitionist Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Representative Shelton then added: “Working people in Wisconsin are facing real valid anxiety about their security and safety and are anxious to know if Wisconsin will provide a place for them … Economic security for working people has never been less guaranteed.”
On the floor were other Democratic members of the Legislature, as well as key social justice warriors who spoke out in support of the bill.
Angela Lang, the executive director of BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing for Communities), said: “Economic freedom and security is a safety issue. If people have their basic needs met, we will see safer communities.”
Stephanie Janeth Salgado Altamirano, a Madison-area organizer from Voces de La Frontera, also spoke, as did Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, executive director at Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice.
Senate Minority Leader Melissa Agard (D-Madison) also gave some remarks: “The Economic Justice Bill of Rights is a framework that not only we need to live by, but we need to be working by. To me economic justice is working toward a society that’s fundamentally fair. We are asking for equity, for fairness.”
The last speaker was Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), who praised the legislators for introducing the bill, which he called a “bare minimum,” and said it was in the tradition of Fighting Bob La Follette and Gaylord Nelson. Larson also hailed the front-line activists defending democracy in the social justice movement.
The Economic Justice Bill of Rights calls for:
1. A job that provides dignity at work and pays a living wage
2. Adequately funded public education and affordable, accessible child care
3. A union, public or private, and collective bargaining
4. Affordable, accessible, and comprehensive high-quality health care
5. A clean, sustainable environment and healthy planet
6. Decent, sustainable community infrastructures including safe, affordable housing, transportation, and broadband
7. Equitable access to capital, investments, financial institutions, and retirement
8. A fair, restorative, and equitable justice system
9. Recreation and participation in community and civic life
10. Life, self-determination, and freedom from oppressions Live free from fear of racial, religious, and gender oppression(s).
Hong and Shelton’s bill would require a redistribution of wealth to the new majority in this state, which includes women, young people, and people of color. Although not explicitly named in their statement, this also includes the undocumented working-class migrant communities that are too often forgotten when talking about progressive and 21st century agendas.
Twelve years after Act 10, it’s only right that Wisconsin starts reclaiming its reputation as a laboratory for democracy. Hong and Shelton’s aggressive approach is a good start.
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