Lee Abbott (Ph.D. Candidate, English) offers the following report and analysis of last week’s Day of Action in Milwaukee.
On Tuesday November 10, low-wage workers took part in several workplace demonstrations to support the movement for a $15 minimum wage. In Milwaukee, an estimated 1,200 people participated in the struggle for fair wages and immigrant rights. The movement for a $15 minimum wage has been active in Milwaukee for several years, led by the Wisconsin Jobs Now. Tuesday’s actions saw low-wage service workers across the country lead strikes and walkouts against fast-food restaurants. The day of action started early in the morning as workers walked off the job and into the streets, moving from one franchise to the next demanding union recognition and the right to a living wage. The turnout also reflected a massive and vibrant rebuke of the Republican agenda, after a series of national debates that have seen candidates promote a racist discourse against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. Galvanized by the presence of the third Republican presidential primary debates held downtown at the Milwaukee Theater, crowds of people took over the streets of downtown, representing a wide section of public and private sector unions, student organizations, and Latino and immigrant movement activists.
The pinnacle of Tuesday’s events occurred when the wave of workplace actions combined with the members of several unions and student organizations in a coordinated march against the third Republican presidential debate. The march I had joined arrived at City Hall where more people were already gathering to hear speakers including Nate Hamilton of the Coalition for Justice, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, and veteran union organizer and immigrant rights activist Dolores Huerta. Voces de la Frontera’s march arrived from the South Side, while anti-war activists marched from the MATC campus area to converge on the street outside the debate. I had brought my drum, as I often do to protests and demonstrations, and the echoes of chanting, cheering, and drum beats beneath the archway at City Hall gave the atmosphere a charge of anticipation.
A block from the theater, a circle of people grew, encompassing the intersection of 4th and Kilbourn. A few counter-protesters scuffled and taunted the marchers. Activists with Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES), Students for a Democratic Society, and Students for Justice in Palestine set up their amplification system and delivered speeches against the dehumanization of immigrants, the escalation of war and bombings in Syria, the deaths of black people at the hands of police, and attacks on workers’ rights. Overpass Light Brigade’s “holders of the light” framed this gathering with the message “GOP CIRCUS,” lit up in white LEDs. There was something certainly dynamic and charged about being there, feeling like that place had been made more meaningful and unusual by the flows of people. We had certainly attracted the police’s attention, who had erected several enormous lamps over the intersection.
I think that events like these — each protest, demonstration, and rally — ultimately mold the alliances that emerge in the next round of social and political struggle. UWM AAUP’s participation in the struggle for public education and against the corporatization of higher education, is only just beginning. But it may do well to remember that it is emerging in a city that is also fighting back against the consequences of austerity and social injustice on multiple fronts. Our fight might seem like a small part of the struggle in Milwaukee, one where the campus’ slow disaster of budget cuts and fiscal emergency can seem isolated from the rest of the city’s pressing struggles for public education, freedom from police violence, and racial and economic equality. Bridging the broader concerns of“urban” politics with the specific struggle against the imposed fiscal crisis at UWM is a task that local AAUP members can and should make with simple gestures of solidarity and creating an organized presence in community events like November 10’s march. But if Wisconsin’s continuing fiscal emergency, combined with the ongoing senselessness of the Republican debates, offers any indication, there will more opportunities for UWM AAUP to join in Milwaukee’s growing circle of resistance.