“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
In Milwaukee, we are in the midst of a movement. For so long, this has been a majority non-white City where the priorities of people of color have not dominated the discussion of our politics. Development of downtown, the East Side, and Bay View has been important for the re-vitalization of Milwaukee broadly, but all of that development has not changed the status quo of how this City operates. However, we currently find ourselves in an era of Black and Brown leadership where the priorities of our communities are finally being heard and addressed. We owe much of this progress to the younger generation of leaders of color who continue to push the envelope. And now, as our City leaders are responding to the advocacy work that exists at the grassroots level, we are finally seeing a momentum shift in Milwaukee.
Nationally and locally, we are having conversations that many people would not have predicted we would be having 3 to 4 years ago. We are having a meaningful debate about the Climate Crisis, spearheaded nationally by the young leaders in the Sunrise Movement. Locally, a coalition of progressives young and old has been formed in partnership with Citizen Action of Wisconsin to push for municipal policies that address not only issues of climate, but also of the racial inequities of our City using new green industries. Groups like Leaders Igniting Change and Wisconsin Voices feature young progressives of color fighting for things like the Divest/Invest movement, aimed at having local leaders take a closer look at how we budget for policing and public safety. Youth Justice Milwaukee advocates for reform in our Juvenile Justice System to bring healing and resources to young people instead of more punishment. Our young progressives of color are organized and motivated to see victory on the issues that matter to them. And the advocacy work I listed above is just the tip of the iceberg.
As I have watched these movements take shape and engaged with these young leaders, one thing that has stood out to me is the sense of urgency with which they operate. There is a profound understanding that these issues cannot wait. Black and Brown priorities to not originate with ideology and theory, they come from harsh realities. We do not fight for a set of principles; we fight for the right to survive and thrive in a system that was not meant for us. It is because of this passion and urgency that people are starting to respond. For the first time in my life, I have heard national political candidates have meaningful discussions around reparations, criminal justice reform, policing policy, and maternal health disparities. While these issues are new to the national media landscape, they are all too familiar for those of us who have had to endure the oppressive circumstances that have needed solutions for too long. We have our young, progressive leaders of color to thank for the prioritization of these crises.
As a City, we are seeing a renewed commitment to these priorities as well. Just in the last few months, the Council has passed legislation on a number of issues that our communities have sought for so long:
• Alders that represent the affected area spearheaded a 53206 Task Force to target the disparities that plague the neighborhoods in this ZIP Code
• The Equal Rights Commission worked with my office to declare racism a public health crisis in the City of Milwaukee, and design a comprehensive plan for our City Departments to ensure that our internal practices are rid of systemic racism.
• We have established a Climate and Economic Equity Task Force to put the voices of activist’s front and center as our City develops a municipal policy strategy around Climate Change.
• Youth Justice Milwaukee presented a “mobile resource center” concept to the Black Male Achievement Advisory Council, and was awarded funding to carry out their vision.
• Young Leaders like Supervisor Marcelia Nicholson, lead the charge to create Community Oriented, Responsible, Equitable Development Zones. This City policy will help to ensure that development projects in key areas have community benefits.
• Alders have come together to address the issues of gentrification and displacement with the creation of an Anti-Displacement Fund and have established a resident committee to advise on future anti-gentrification policy and weigh in on development in their neighborhoods.
• The Divest/Invest movement has been pounding the pavement in City Hall meeting with as many alders as possible before we enter our budget negotiations.
These examples are just a taste of the change that is happening in our City, and it is being fueled by the next generation of leaders of color.
As a high school teacher, I used my platform to help our young adults find their power and exercise it to bring the change they so desperately sought. Moments and movements like the one we are in make me proud to be from Milwaukee and remind me that this City has a history of being on the cutting edge of progress. I look forward to continuing to listen to our young leaders and working with them to change this City. It is our duty to fight. It is our duty to win.