The President’s Perspective
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
On Monday, our City was celebrating. For the first time in Milwaukee’s history, we will be hosting the convention of a major national political party. With that comes many economic and social benefits, but it also carries with it a lot of symbolic weight. We will be on a stage on which we have never been. The region, nation and world will be watching this convention intently to see who will be chosen to challenge our current President – in doing so they will be watching us. We must harness that opportunity and recognize what it means to have more eyes on us than ever before.
Many community leaders talk about the concept of “changing the narrative.” National news stories about Milwaukee have rarely been positive in nature. They reference segregation, health-related disparities, dismal educational outcomes and rates of incarceration. However, we are in a very different moment. As residents, we know that we are not the negativity spoken about us. We are a vibrant and resilient community that just needs the opportunity to show our strengths, and we are in a moment where that is possible.
Nationally, Milwaukee is generating excitement. People across the United States were talking about the Brewers during the summer and fall, and the National League MVP was a player in this City. The Milwaukee Bucks have the best record in the NBA and arguably the most talented player in the Association. Marquette’s women’s and men’s basketball teams are showing out on the national stage. Vogue Magazine called Milwaukee the “Midwest’s Coolest (And Most Underrated) City.” Now, Milwaukee is making headlines with the convention. What do we do with all this positive energy?
We have to be sure that we aren’t only known for sports teams and hosting conventions. We have so much more to offer. We are a city steeped in a rich history, geared at making innovative steps towards our future. From Wisconsin’s Black Historical Society to revitalized America’s Black Holocaust Museum, our city offers powerful spaces in which we can explore our history. The natural beauty of our lakefront, state trails and County Parks is unparalleled. Our historic neighborhoods each have unique identities and stories waiting to be told. We have innovating community redevelopment projects happening across Milwaukee. This is an exciting place to be for so many reasons and we have to be all hands on deck to show it off. Getting ready for the spotlight starts now, and we must meet the challenges to make this opportunity work for all of us.
First, we must have all communities at the table. This convention cannot just be about downtown. So much of who we truly are as Milwaukeeans exists beyond the areas that get the most attention. We are a majority people of color City and our diversity is our strength as a City and is the strength of the Democratic Party. Businesses, schools and community organizations from the overlooked parts of our City need to start thinking of ways they can be a part of this special moment in Milwaukee’s history and bring those ideas to the Host Committee (www.milwaukee2020.com). We need to make sure there is representation at this event.
Second, we must take it upon ourselves to address the roots of the stereotypes that exist about Milwaukee. We absolutely can have a summer of 2020 that is characterized by a profound level of peace and unity. As a matter of fact, we can get the momentum going now with a renewed commitment to these qualities. When Milwaukee is in the world’s spotlight, we can show what it means to be the community of caring and united people that we truly are at our core.
Third, we need to continue to show up. Milwaukee, not six months ago, carried the State wide elections to put Democrats in power. We are a stronghold for the party that we are hosting. Even historically, our City has an incredibly progressive history. We were on the forefront of so many groundbreaking policies, from housing co-ops to city-wide sanitation systems, community parks and improved public education programs. We are pioneers behind many of the principles that the Democratic Party now values. This is why they chose us and we must continue to embody this forward-thinking spirit.
Everyone who comes to our City for this convention needs to walk away knowing, understanding and respecting our oft forgotten history. For that to happen, we must participate in the political discourse that will be taking place and tout our successes.
All of these things are not just important for a couple days in July. They are important for the continued revitalization and development of our City. Our residents know that Milwaukee has so much to offer, yet we are bogged down by the negative rhetoric that hangs over our heads. On a global stage, we can proclaim our greatness to the world. In doing so, we not only generate positive energy in the national and global spheres but locally as well. Imagine turning on CNN and seeing footage of our City with a positive message being spoken instead of the usual stereotypes. How proud would that make you to be a Milwaukeean? And how much could that pride change the way we see our neighborhoods and ourselves?
DNC Chairman Tom Perez said it well. Milwaukee is a microcosm of the United States and the values that have always made this country great. In July of 2020, we will have the chance to remind people of our greatness. Let’s capture this moment and turn it into a launching point for a brighter future. Landing this convention is an accomplishment, but being able to turn the tide on some of our most pressing issues will be the lasting legacy of this opportunity.