Take down the billboards

Anita Johnson points toward one of the many ‘Voter ID Suppression billboards’ at the press conference held on Monday, Oct 15. Johnson is a community organizer of Citizen Action of Wisconsin and at her right is Mike Wilder, Director of the African American roundtable and a member of the staff of Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund.

Community leaders responded this week to Wisconsin Voter Suppression billboards that have cropped up in minority majority communities throughout Milwaukee. Members of the African- American Civic Engagement Roundtable in Milwaukee and community partners held a press conference to demand that Clear Channel take down billboards that display threatening messages intended to intimidate voters in primarily low-income communities of color. The coalition has requested that Clear Channel replace the biased and misleading advertisements with information that will help voters exercise their fundamental right to vote in this year’s election.

“Voter suppression threatens the very foundation of our great democracy. For more than 150 years, our nation has been expanding access to the voting booth. Yet this year, voting rights have been attacked with an aggression not seen since Reconstruction. A democracy is judged it’s ability to ensure that all of its citizens participate and have a say in their Government,” said Mike Wilder, Director of the African American roundtable and a member of the staff of Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund.

“Since many of the Voter ID laws have been found unconstitutional, the proponents of Voter ID and other voter suppression tactics are using these anonymous ads to mislead and intimidate voters. These ads serve no other purpose than to confuse voters and prevent people in low-income communities of color from Voting on November 6,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, Economic Justice Director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund.

At least twenty billboards have been placed throughout the metro-Milwaukee. Hundreds of others have been placed in low-income communities in states like Ohio and Florida.

“In the Latino community these signs are particularly harmful,” said Juan Carlos Ruiz, spokesperson for the Latino Roundtable. “Our community deserves accurate information aimed at helping people access the ballot box, not suppressing the vote.”

As of Monday, Clear Channel has yet to return phone calls from Coalition members asking that the misleading billboards be taken down.

The Roundtable’s “Silent No More” civic engagement program is a nonpartisan effort that seeks to increase the African-American vote share by engaging drop-off and non-traditional voters. These voters include new voters, voters who have moved since the last election, and voters who voted for the first time in 2008 and haven’t voted since.

Members of the African- American Civic Engagement Roundtable include Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund, Wisconsin Voices, ATU Local 998, The Transit Riders Union, The Advancement Project, The League of Young Voters Education Fund, 9to5 Milwaukee, Urban Underground, True Skool, Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association, Reproductive Justice Collective, MICAH, NAACP Milwaukee Chapter, Afro World Enterprises, and the Center for Progressive Leadership. The Institute for One Wisconsin, United Steelworkers, Wisconsin Election Protection, and League of Women Voters Wisconsin also participated in the media event.