By Dylan Deprey
After experiencing political whiplash from the 2016 election, people were left scratching their heads confused and concerned.
Whether it was the slew of scandals on either side of the ballot, new voting rules at the polls or the lack in candidates’ community engagement, organizers were staring at plenty of reasons for the drop in the Black vote.
Angela Lang, BLOC Exectutive Director, said after the election, people were brainstorming how to really engage their neighbors to bring the power back to the community.
“We’re really trying to understand how we take this political process that has not been met for black folks and people of color and engage with and put it on the hands of people’s doorsteps,” Lang said.
After speaking with several elected officials that wanted to see what real black organizing looked like, Lang had taken her experience in advocacy and reached out to others and literally started showing up on doorsteps in the 53206.
“I think people disengage because people feel that they’re not being heard and in turn don’t participate. So, we want to go block-by-block in every neighborhood and say that, ‘when we come together we can make change,’” Lang said.
Black Leaders Organizing Community (BLOC) was created in 2016 to revitalize civic engagement in the Black community, and empower Black leaders with tools and training to represent their issues and concerns to the fullest.
Lang attributed the relatively low number of Black votes in the 2016 Presidential election to the confusion with new Voter ID laws and lack of community canvasing and engagement.
“They’ll come into the neighborhood knock on doors and be like, “Hi, I’m running for such-and-such and I’m not from your neighborhood and I’m not from Wisconsin, and this is how you and your people should vote,” Lang said.
Since the end of November, the ladies at BLOC have knocked on just shy of 8,000 doors in the 53206 and 53208 neighborhoods.
“We’re asking folks at doors, ‘If you had one question to ask the governor, what would it be?’” Lang said.
BLOC plans to take what they have heard going door-to-door and inject that information into conversations with elected officials.
“I think what we’re trying to do is really flip this idea of civic engagement because when you have undocumented folks and people who can’t vote due to mass incarceration, we kind of write them off, but they have issues,” Lang said. “Civic engagement is more than getting people to simply vote, but to engage with people year-round.”
Arkesia Jackson, BLOC program director, said people find value in the system when they actually feel as if they are being heard. Jackson began her advocacy work in 2014, and said that engaging the people was the number one key to success for communities across Milwaukee.
So, when elected officials started reaching out to Jackson to hear what BLOC had been hearing, it inspired the Silent Canvas. BLOC invited elected officials to tag along as they knocked on doors and engaged the community, but the only stipulation was candidates were unable to speak about their campaign.
“This provided elected officials who did not live in the area the ability to hear issues that other people were facing, and could get a new perspective who weren’t from this district,” Jackson said. “We need to make sure that there is legislation made for the people.”
With the 2018 run for Wisconsin governor coming up, there are multiple people running and Lang said it can be hard for the community to learn and access every candidate.
BLOC will host the Speed Dating Governor Candidate Forum on March 6 at MATC.
“How powerful could it be if we targeted people from 53206 and young people in the room for a one-on-one in an intimate setting to discuss things like mass incarceration and have those tough conversations,” Lang said.
As the 2018 Wisconsin Governor election is in BLOC’s foresight, the organization’s future is to become a community resource hub. From hosting seminars on local government positions, or a Resource Saturday’s, where people can learn their rights at the polls, on the job and dealing with police, BLOC plans to educate and inspire.
“I think on a broader level this is for people to feel that their voice matters because for far too long we’ve been disengaged,” Lang said.
For more information visit https://www.blocbybloc.org/