By Lynda L. Jones
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition has made several visits to Wisconsin over the past few weeks, putting his support behind Wisconsin’s middle class and workers rights. Jackson has traveled to Madison several times, and last Friday he went back, and added Milwaukee as well.
In Milwaukee, he began with a morning meeting with area ministers and members of MICAH (Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope), who co-sponsored a rally Friday evening at the Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church, 1345 W. Burleigh St. Throughout the day, he talked on local radio, and returned to Madison.
The day before his visit, he sought out the local Black press, and The Milwaukee Courier interviewed him.
When asked, why did he come to Wisconsin to support this cause, he replied; “I have been fighting these fights the majority of my life, and this is the 46th Anniversary of the March in Selma, Alabama. And there is no difference in fighting for rights in 1968 and fighting for workers rights in 2011 in Wisconsin.”
“Milwaukee and Chicago are neighbors. Madison has become ground zero for the fight for workers rights, Milwaukee exemplifies the need for a renewed focus on an urban policy plan.” Jackson continued.
State Senator Lena C. Taylor joined Rev. Jackson in Chicago at the Rainbow PUSH headquarters two weeks ago to give an update on the situation in Wisconsin and explain her rational for fleeing the state.
“It was the only way we could slow this bill down so that people had the opportunity to see what was in it,” said Taylor. “As the only African American woman in the state senate, I could not simply sit down while people’s rights are being taken away.”
Taylor went on to say, “This isn’t about repairing the budget. One third of this bill has nothing to do with the budget. He said the needed concessions on healthcare, wages and benefits. He got that.”
Jackson said that ‘collective bargaining’ is one of the major fights that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for.
The Milwaukee rally brought out a capacity fi lled audience to Metropolitan Baptist Church last Friday evening. Joining Jackson at the rally that was co-sponsored in addition to MICAH, the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP, Amalgamated Transit Union, Milwaukee Area Labor Council, Voces de la Frontera, League of Voters and Wisconsin Citizen Action.
Jackson told the crowd in referencing Walker’s actions and plan, “Suddenly we have gone from Wallace to Walker,” again referencing the 1968 fight for rights, where as an aide to Dr. King Jackson worked to challenge the segregation policies of the defiant Alabama Governor George Wallace. Jackson stated that Wallace was denying Black people the right to vote and that now Walker was denying working people the right to collectively bargain.
“There will be collective bargaining no matter what the governor does,” Jackson shouted. “The boycott in Montgomery was collective bargaining. The march in Birmingham…was collective bargaining. The march to free South Africa was collective bargaining. The march in Egypt, in Cairo, was collective bargaining. The march in Wisconsin is what collective bargaining looks like.”
When African Americans think that this is just a fight for unions, they are far off the mark. Collective bargaining is not isolated to unions, and that is the point that Jackson is trying to stress.
Sheila Cochran, secretary-treasurer of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council spoke at the rally as well. “Scott Walker is the devil and he needs to be stopped.” She called him “foolish” for turning down the $810 million for high speed rail. She said that if Walker was concerned about the budget cuts, he would have accepted the federal funds and put Black people to work. Unemployment is rampant in Milwaukee’s Black community.
“He created a hole of some $140 odd million dollars, she said, referring to the tax cuts he pushed through the Legislature shortly after he was sworn in. “And then he decided the best way to get it back was off the backs of the people who work for the state.”
Among others paying for his tax cuts, were grant recipients under Wisconsin Works, the jobs oriented replacement for welfare. Their grants are being cut.
Newly elected Milwaukee NAACP president James Hall also spoke, he called collective bargaining a “key factor in allowing people the ability to move into the middle class.”
What advice does Jackson have for the middle class and workers of Wisconsin? “Wisconsinites need to continue to fight, bring in the ‘Spirit of Egypt’ “. He also added, “Since 911 five of the top oil companies have made trillions of dollars in 5 years, and still getting subsidies. Manufacturing jobs have left the United States that are never coming back thanks to trade policy, banks were bailed out and got tax breaks, and still refused to lend out the money. Milwaukee the fourth poorest city in the nation, over 50 percent unemployment for Black men, cutting millions of dollars from education are all formulas for more jails on the backside.” Jackson said during his interview with The Courier.
The day of our interview, Jackson had not yet heard of Walker’s most recent ‘bullying tactic’, the issuing of arrest warrants for the “Democratic 14”. His reaction, “Well, he will continue to attempt to attack the ones who are not the source of the problem. This fight done right will involve three things, “Kill the Bill… Repeal the Bill…and Recall the legislative representatives who are not being the voice for their constituents.” he concluded.