By Cassandra Lans
Since the beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in the financial district (Wall Street) in New York City, there had not been many African Americans shown in the demonstrations. And in the beginning there were not many to show, last Saturday proved that things are changing. Hundreds of Milwaukeeans, and a great number of them African Americans and other minoritites participated in the Occupy Milwaukee and Occupy the Hood Milwaukee rally and march that began at Lincoln Park and continued to the home of the old A.O. Smith plant on Milwaukee’s northside.
In the beginning stages of Occupy Wall Street many in the minority communities did not see how the message of the movement affected them. The term “Wall Street” appeared to be removed for those in ethnic communities, yet it seems when the message added “We are the 99 percent”, people began to feel, “Hey wait a minute, I am part of that 99 percent that is getting stomped on economically”. And as the movement began getting more media coverage, and visuals were looking a lot like civil rights video tapes, with law enforcement’s reaction, usage of pepper spray, and individuals being struck down by police, the message became clearer. Now, it’s time to get involved. And here in Milwaukee, young activists in the African American community took it and made the message even closer to home by adding, ‘Occupy the Hood Milwaukee’.
The choice of the former A.O. Smith plant, which got its start making frames for the Model T, once employed nearly 10,000 people and shut its doors in 2006, underscores the attention that needs to be given to the need for jobs, particularly for city residents, speakers at the rally said.
A.O. Smith had to be one of the most long term places of employment for Blacks in Milwaukee. There probably isn’t a Black family in Milwaukee that has been here more than 30 years that doesn’t have a family member who worked at A.O. Smith at some time in their life or even retired from there. And with the stability of a plant of A.O. Smith’s size, this side of town had plenty of other businesses, restaurants, retail stores, small grocery stores, entertainment spots and a vibrant middle class with more homeowners than renters.
One of the reasons for this march on this particular Saturday was spurred by a bill pending in Madison that would allow employers to terminate or refuse to hire someone with a felony conviction. That bill would disproportionately affect Blacks and Latinos and would contribute to unemployment, speakers said.
Rally organizers said they planned to make this the first of several rallies that aim to steer the Occupy Wall Street movement into city neighborhoods where high unemployment is rampant.