call to action, Commentary, community history, justice, kindness, neighborhood, opinion, organizing, politics, Social Justice, Uncategorized

“We the People” attend a Listening Session: Polite Rage in Action

Two days ago, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. The woman on the other end had a story idea for a paper for which I’ve done a lot of work. Her son, a local orthodontist, was recently back from a medical trip to Guatemala, where he and several other dentists had spent 10 days treating anyone who needed care, at no charge.

We had a pleasant chat before ringing off.

Afterward, I thought about the numbers of people here who need and can’t afford medical and dental care. And I wondered what a medical trip from Milwaukee’s nicer, stable neighborhoods to the ones where boarded-up houses, absentee landlords and gunplay are rampant would look like.

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People lined up to speak at the Community Listening Session about the Milwaukee Police Department (Photo Credit: Martha Pincus)

Part of the reason could be where I’d been the previous Thursday. I went to a Community Town Hall Listening Session hosted by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), a branch of the US Justice Department. The session was part of its Collaborative Reform Initiative for Technical Assistance with the Milwaukee Police Department. It’s basically a giant audit. A group of outside professionals examines every component of your operation and does focus groups with your customers. Then, they ride off into the sunset and come back with a report that includes a naughty & nice list –what you’re doing right, and what you might want to do differently.

More than 700 people packed the public auditorium. Demographically speaking, it was a very heterogeneous house. At least two different groups were dressed in matching T-shirts with printed messages.

There were political types,  incumbents and candidates both, mostly schmoozing with each other and the occasional constituent/voter. The exception was a guy I think of as Alderman Rage-a-holic, because every time he’s on TV – which is pretty often compared to other alderpeople – he’s spitting mad about something. He sure didn’t look approachable, sitting in a seat surrounded by empty seats toward the back of the room. His eyes were narrowed, and he looked as if he had just finished sucking the juice out of every lemon in the city.

Speaking truth

The program began. A sign language interpreter stood to the side of the stage, translating the speaker’s words into ASL. After lining up in front of two microphones posted at the edges of the aisles, everyone would have two minutes to speak. There was also a portable mic for people with mobility issues, and a Spanish-language interpreter. Note-takers were posted throughout the room to capture the information. The moderator invited people to approach the microphones.

A polite stampede ensued. People rose up from everywhere and aimed themselves at the aisles bordering the center section. In less than a minute, two orderly lines stretched back past the doors at the entrance.

I did what I always do when I’m not sure what to do and I have a computer in front of me. I took notes. Nine pages of notes, from 33 people. To a one, the speakers were respectful, even when they were angry, and many had a right to be angry. There were some terrible stories.

There was the woman who’d moved to Milwaukee at 18, and while visiting friends in a different neighborhood, was arrested for prostitution. When it kept happening, she asked one of the officers why, and he told her that then-chief Harold Breier said that if they saw a woman in a neighborhood more than twice, she was a prostitute. She had been ticketed 16 times.

Craig Stingley’s son, Corey, 16, died at a convenience store when three customers and a store clerk restrained him after seeing him shoplift. His death was ruled a homicide. Corey was black. The customers and clerk were white. No one was charged with a crime.

“My son was murdered by four individuals – choked to death … My son made an initial act that was out of order, but four adult individuals took it upon themselves to be the judge, the jury and the executioner.”

The mother of a six-year-old described how police had chased her son down, hit and arrested him after someone attacked him and his friends while they were playing basketball. Her son had begun running when he saw the officers. “He was scared,” she said, adding that “I speak for all the African-American boys who are stereotyped.”

The white woman who began by sharing that she’d “lived in a black neighborhood for 30 years,” elicited a collective gasp, followed by rumbles of disapproval. Someone shouted, “What’s a black neighborhood?”

Craig Stingley, who hadn’t yet spoken but was in front of the other mic, hushed the crowd.

“I have seen terrible, terrible things. Terrible things have been done to my neighbors. A man was kicked in the head by three black women. People have been dragged out of their cars. My tenant, a black doctor, was made to lie on the street in November while his car was carjacked. Our city has been overcome by violent black youth.”

The crowd was roaring, booing, shouting over her. She stood there.

Again, Craig Stingley intervened.

“It’s her truth,” Stingley said. “We’ve all got to get our shit together. Let her talk.”

When it was Maria Hamilton’s turn, she didn’t mince words.

“My truth is that of all these moms across the US whose kids have been taken from us through senseless violence by police departments.”

Her son, Dontre, was 31 when he was shot and killed by a police officer in a nearby park. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he was homeless, and not on medication. His family cared about him and was struggling to advocate effectively for him. The officer was fired, but not charged.

Now, their advocacy work is focused on social and racial justice, with a focus on supporting mothers whose children were shot by police or vigilantes.

Some speakers had specific recommendations.

“We in Milwaukee need a good police department, and we have some good officers but also we have some bad ones. There are always a couple of rotten apples in any barrel, but when these apples have been able to survive, thrive and grow in numbers, there’s something wrong with the barrel,” said a 70-year-old Milwaukee lifer.

“We need to look at use of force as to how we train, how we weaponize and how we humanize.

Chris Ahmuty, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, asked that the review not disappoint the people who live here.

“Don’t just look at what the police want to talk about. It’s an affront to human dignity when people treat people in a third-class fashion.”

At 8 p.m., the session was supposed to end. At least 30 people were still in line. The moderator asked that no one else line up. Then he said the session would continue until those people spoke.

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call to action, Commentary, community history, justice, Media, neighborhood, opinion, organization, organizing, pets, politics, race, Social Justice, Society, Uncategorized

My Write-in Candidate is Dead and Reductive Disrespecters Want Your Brain: An Election Season Guide for the Perplexed

There are a lot of reasons I miss having a dog. Election season is one. Tuki used to come with me when I voted.

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She was also my candidate of choice on more than one occasion. I voted for Tuki when it was clear that, compared to the humans on a ballot, she would represent my interests more competently.

I wrote in Tuki for County Supervisor the whole time Lee Holloway was in office. The only time I ever saw him at my door was after a pension scandal (he and his fellow supervisors voted themselves and county employees fat pensions at the expense of the county’s well-being). When I asked him about it, he got owly. His opponent had no political experience and misspellings on her campaign literature. Tuki was the clear winner.

Even before she died in November, I knew there was a viable human candidate for County Supervisor this coming April. When my friend Mike found out I’d been laid off last July, he told me he was running and asked if I’d be willing to help with his campaign.

Lke me, Mike is a progressive communitarian. Of course I’d be willing to help!

Also, I quite adore him. I also adore his wife Trudy, their kids Jon and Carolyn and their special needs dog, Turbo. (Turbo is an epileptic – but courtly – German Shepherd.)

I asked about specific things he could affect as Supervisor.

“Three things,” he answered. “Transportation, parks and jobs.”

“Four,” I said. “Mental health services.”

“Absolutely!” he said.

So, since fall, Mike’s been walking the district, knocking on doors and introducing himself to voters. By the time it was time to collect the 200 signatures he needed to get on the ballot, he’d gotten a lot of exercise. He’d also gotten a lot of information from his prospective constituents.

It used to be that simple. Candidates declared their intentions by going directly to We the People to talk about who they were and what they’d do, and We the People listened, used our brains to make an informed decision, and voted.

But most people are busy. Or lazy. Some are so turned off by having seen nothing change for so long that they’ve abandoned the process entirely and don’t even bother with elections or voting any more.

All that is a big mistake. Because people – on the left and the right – have figured out how to turn that cynicism and laziness to their advantage, and they’re doing just that. They’ve given up on changing the system. They’re just trying to milk it in order to get more for themselves or keep what they have by maintaining the status quo. And they’re using your brain – with your cooperation – to get the job done.

You can see it working right now in the run-up to next year’s presidential election. Who will Hispanics want? What about women? How do we get the Black vote? What about the Jews? How do we reach White Men?

Local party/organization bosses are exactly the same. They go out and find people they think the Hispanics/Women/Blacks/Jews/White Men will vote for and recruit them to run. Then, they pour money and publicity into their campaigns and send out press releases touting their credentials “S/He went to a rally for {insert cause here} and is an activist in his/her {insert demographic-catnip-sounding group name here}!”

It’s all designed to appeal to your emotions.

Which is reductive and disrespectful. Almost as disrespectful as the fact that these decisions are, by and large, made by people who don’t even live in the districts they’re working to influence.

So, yeah. Qualifications aside, I’m a little cranky that Mike, who is in his 50s and white, is being told by the people who don’t live here that they have to support the black woman in her 20s because she’s a black woman in her 20s.

Anyway, all this to say that during this election season, don’t take anyone’s word for what the person who wants to represent you stands for. When those glossy things start showing up in your mailbox, or if candidates show up on your doorstep, find out how long they’ve lived in your district, what drove them to run, what they want to accomplish in office and how they plan to do it.

Then, stick it to the reductive disrespecters. Use your pre-frontal cortex  instead of your limbic system when you decide who’s getting your vote.

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caregiving, Family history, Family story, kindness, lifestyle, love, opinion, personal history, pets, Uncategorized

New Business, Writer’s Block and Preventing Newborn Ignorance, One Baby at a Time

 

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My grandson and his aunt, who was so amazing as a caregiver to her sister that for a second I kicked myself for not hiring her when I had kids. Then I remembered why I hadn’t….

I will confess to not being terribly distressed to slam the door on 2015. Between the job layoff, sending my best non-human  friend Tuki to the Rabbit Field in the Sky and my mother on a slow cruise to Dementia Island, it’s been – and continues to be – interesting times.

Still, there have been bright spots. I’ve got a fledgling dissertation and thesis-writing business, and recently signed an agreement I can’t talk about to do some writing-related work that looks to be fascinating and fulfilling. And I’m pushing myself to write chapters 6 through 13 of my book, which means dredging up things I’d rather leave in the personal history sewer. The good part is that I’ll be able to throw a good number of them back there. The bad part is I won’t know which ones until I look.

Also, three weeks ago I became a grandmother. It’s not something I’d ever imagined. Which wasn’t about vanity or thinking my offspring wouldn’t be fit parents. It was about watching my friends who couldn’t have or didn’t want kids being made miserable by parents and others who were pressuring them about where the babies were.

I had kids because I wanted them. Not everybody wants them, and I had no clue about where my offspring – or their prospective partners – would fall on that spectrum. So I never really thought much about being someone’s Bubby.

But here I am, with a  wee grandson. We’ve spent a little time together, and I’m getting to know him. He’s not doing much other than the usual top four newborn things (sleeping, eating, pooping and crying), but he’s starting to add a fifth thing, staring, to his repertoire. That means he’s getting more interested in things, and that makes him more interesting.

My chief duty so far has been making sure his mother and other caregivers are fed. (My first instinct in any crisis or celebration is to start catering.) But now that he’s starting to get curious, I’m trying to answer the questions he’s not yet able to ask.

So I’m giving him tours around his house, explaining what things are (“This is a stove where food gets cooked. The top gets very hot and you don’t want to touch it then.” “These things in frames are artwork. Art is very important and good for your soul.”) and telling him about different things (“President Obama is trying to make it so assault rifles aren’t so available, which is good news.”) going on in the world.

There’s nothing sadder than a newborn who isn’t up on current events, after all.

 

 

 

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