Everyone with Love in their Hearts Must Do More to Interrupt Systemic Racism

Everyone with Love in their Hearts Must Do More to Interrupt Systemic Racism

For Immediate Release: August 27, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org

Milwaukee: Citizen Action of Wisconsin Executive Director Robert Kraig released the following statement on the arrest of the white supremacist militia member who murdered two Black Lives Matter protesters and injured a third in Kenosha, and law enforcement’s apparent lax response to him before and after he shot his victims. See Citizen Action’s statement Monday here.

As a white and gay man, I am struggling like many of you to figure out what I can best do to support our African American friends and neighbors in this horrific moment. I did not make a new statement yesterday because I am trying, as many of you are, to gather my thoughts and listen to the people of color leaders within Citizen Action, my network, and in the media. In the eloquent statements and actions of so many Black Americans, from Marquette alum Doc Rivers, the professional sports strike begun by our own Milwaukee Bucks, Jacob Blake’s parents, scholars such as Princeton’s Eddie Glaude, and so many across the land, they are pleading for all of us to do more. If we are not Black Americans we can never fully understand the depths of their feelings, but we can listen with an open heart and act on their moral appeals.

I believe that each and every person with love in their hearts must look into their souls and decide what they can do to immediately interrupt and begin to unwind systemic racism. If we are being honest with ourselves, most of us, myself included, are not doing enough. Merely sympathizing or signalling that you are on the right side is inadequate. Merely voting for the better candidates is not enough. The scary thing is that despite the progress against overt Jim Crow racism since the 1960s, we seem to be reliving the same pattern of events which led to its re-imposition by other means. The depressing pattern is all too familiar:

  • A Black man is assaulted with deadly official force in a situation that no reasonable person believes a white man would have been, a pattern that is over 400 years old.
  • Community members and allies rise up using the most sacred American right of free speech to demand justice and immediate action to end the structural racism which devalues and dehumanizes all African Americans.
  • When there is not a timely and satisfactory response from official authorities (timeliness is defined by the harmed community, not others), and property destruction takes place, attention is shifted to property damage and white fears, and away from the true victims of on-going dehumanization and oppression, and the act of official violence that perpetrated the chain of events.
  • Often evidence emerges that members of law enforcement took a lax approach to white people committing violence. In Kenosha, in shocking contrast to the immediate use of deadly force against Jacob Blake, there is compelling evidence that law enforcement allowed right wing militia to roam the streets, interacted with the white nationalist who murdered two Black Lives protesters, including the murder before he committed his crimes, and let him flee the scene even as onlookers pointed him out, and he walked towards a police vehicle with his hands up. There is also evidence of some white community leaders  enabling the entrance of right-wing vigilantes with apparent impunity.
  • The politicians that use strategic racism to advance themselves turn attention away from the true victims, and toward the destruction of property, using dog whistle racist appeals such as “looters,” “thugs,” and “rioters” seeking to tarnish the entire largely peaceful liberation movement. They turn attention away from the true victims of racism, and the official violence which sparked the protests in the first place, and to white fears and the traditional racist privileging of property over human life. The evidence is overwhelming that a super majority of the violence now and for the past 30 years comes from far right-wing extremists like the man who murdered two peaceful protesters, but you would never know it listening to the media and our elected officials. The lie that the threat of violence comes from liberation movements and Black and brown people is perpetrated by self-interested politicians, their elite backers, and abetted by media of all kinds.
  • Politicians who sympathize with the Black community and count on it for their elections empathize with the victims, their communities, and the liberation movement, but out of fear or political calculation also start to focus attention on property and further militarize the situation in ways that intimidate and endanger the directly impacted community and peaceful protesters. They counsel patience and obedience to process, and offer half measures that do not even begin to get at the fundamental reasons Black life is so devalued in a country we call the land of the free.

Taking real and appropriate action is hard in real time, it is only easy from the safety of history. It is too painless now to signal support for Black Americans today by identifying with liberation movements and their heroic leaders of the past. But the truth is that the bloody march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge or the 6th Street Viaduct, the Mason-Dixon line of Milwaukee in the 1960s, would not have been necessary if all people of conscience had stepped forward to make the hard and costly decisions required of them. Martin Luther King made an eloquent statement on this theme in his justly famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail.

The ugly truth is that the people just like us in the past did not act because there were costs. Elected leaders could lose votes, organizational leaders could risk their positions, corporate leaders fear a lose of customers or standing with their peers, and average people worry about offending friends, neighbors, and family members, or losing privileges. It is cost free to stand with MLK and John Lewis now, it is not so to really and truly stand with Blacks Lives Matter.

While empathy and individual efforts to increase racial consciousness are useful enterprises, a much deeper and more challenging level of commitment is called for by the leaders of modern Black liberation. In fact, far too many corporations and elected officials are embracing opposition to structural racism and giving symbolic support to Black Lives Matter and yet at the same time draining these terms of their actual content, as if saying the words or putting them on a sign or a website is enough. The same has been done to Martin Luther King, who fought and died for true economic equality, not merely the technical right to vote or a mythical “colorblind” society that has never existed. For the real MLK, people with vastly unequal economic means could never have the power to be truly free. One of the reasons white people are not slaughtered on suburban streets by their own police is both race and the economic power they have to fight back.

The most compelling African American thought leaders I have read on the subject, Michelle Alexander’s penetratingly eloquent The New Jim Crow and Ibram X. Kendi’s brilliant pair of books Stamped from the Beginning and How to Be an Antiracist, call for every moral person to use their power to disrupt and unwind structural racism. For Kendi, you can’t meet his definition of antiracist without both recognizing the deep racism in our society and in each of us, and taking effective action to replace racist structures. For him the defining mark of antracism is effective deeds, not words or personal reflection. A perfect example of this is the professional athletes who have gone beyond words to withdraw their labor until meaningful action is taken. They have used their power to disrupt the system and create a crisis of conscience. The same is called for from all those with substantial power such as our political leaders, corporate leaders, and at a lesser level of power nonprofit leaders such as myself and every person with love in their hearts for all humanity.

There are some immediate policy actions in our Monday statement, but consider these more of a rough draft than all that needs to be done to create a true antiracist America.

 

Chart Graph: Almost All Organized Violence is from Right-Wing Groups

(Source: https://www.csis.org/analysis/escalating-terrorism-problem-united-states)

 

 

 

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Statement on the Racist Police Shooting of Jacob Blake


For Immediate Release: August 24, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org

Milwaukee: Citizen Action of Wisconsin stands in solidarity with the family and friends of Jacob Blake, tens of thousands of protesters across the country fighting for racial justice and every person who loves humanity, in demanding that the officers involved in his shooting be brought to justice and meaningful actions against structural racism are immediately taken at the state, local and national levels.

We very much need the officer who shot Jacob Blake, and other officers who stood by and watched, to be prosecuted quickly. Before we can even begin to heal, justice must be brought to the police officers involved in this racist shooting and anyone else who tries to cover it up.

But the healing cannot stop there, because what happened to Jacob Blake, and all the other victims of publicly sanctioned racist violence, is ultimately caused not by a few bad apples, but the structural racism that is at the very core of the American criminal justice and policing system. The system of mass incarceration grew out of the backlash against the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s and has made the U.S, the most incarcerated and over-policed country in the history of the free world. Only a massive shift in resources away from the publicly funded oppression of Black people, poor people, and all communities of color can begin to reverse structural racism. Ultimately structural racism cannot be addressed unless we deal with the unequal political power communities of color have in American society as a direct result of economic marginalization and inequality.

There is much that needs to be done in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s racial inequality is among the worst in the nation, including the highest disparity in incarceration rates between African American men and whites. In July 2020, a new report from the UWM Center on Economic Development ranks Milwaukee as the worst major city in the country for African American wellness, which includes a series of 30 health and economic measures.

While we commend Governor Tony Evers for calling a special session of the Legislature and proposing some interim steps towards police reform, we urge the Governor to go further in addressing the root causes of structural racism and biased policing. We would like to see the Governor introduce his own major package of reforms up to the scale of the problem, including:

  • Take meaningful steps to end the system of mass incarceration and biased policing, and instead invest in harm reduction, restorative justice, and both mental and physical health and other social supports which reduce the role of police in our communities. This should include the Wisconsin African American Civic Engagement Roundtable’s proposals to shift resources away from police and towards healthy communities and public health.
  • Follow up on the campaign commitment you made in 2018 by supporting WISDOM /EXPO’s goal of ending mass incarceration, and take meaningful steps to reduce the incarceration rate by half by 2022 and create alternatives to prison for offenders.
  • End police impunity for racial violence by eliminating qualified immunity, creating an independent prosecution section in the Department of Justice, so that conflicts of interest between local DAs and police do not stand in the way of justice, and the elimination of special rights for police not also held by all other public employees.
  • Require that police who patrol Black and Brown communities also to live in those specific communities, to create a real stake for those charged with protecting public safety. If you are unwilling to live in the communities you police, you should not carry live and death powers over their residents.

“First, let me send peace and blessing to Jacob Blake and his family. No one should have to go through what y’all did yesterday. I hope justice will be done,” said Rafael Smith, Climate and Equity Director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Unfortunately, what happened in Kenosha is as American as apple pie. The killing of Black and Brown people by the state and it’s racist vigilantes has been a permanent feature of our democracy. It is in our national DNA. As a proud Black man, I am tired of all the talk and demand real, substantial policies that will lead to the free abolishment of these racist systems.”

“Our words are no longer enough. Our actions and deeds are how history will judge us in this moment,” said JoAnna Bautch, Movement Politics Director for Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Be sure you can say you did all you could to make sure this never happens again.”

“It is hard for us to believe that anyone other than a police officer would be able to avoid immediate arrest when such damning video evidence of a crime is available,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Jacob Blake should be with his family today, not fighting for his life in an intensive care unit, and prosecuting officers for his shooting is the start, not to the attainment of justice.”

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Loss of Federal Unemployment Stimulus Will Devastate Wisconsin Working Families, lead to over 65,000 additional jobs losses

For Immediate Release– July 24, 2020
Contacts: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org
Kevin Kane (414) 550 8280, kevin.kane@citizenactionwi.org

New Report: Loss of Federal Unemployment Stimulus Will Devastate Wisconsin Working Families, lead to over 65,000 additional jobs losses

Report finds every metropolitan area to see substantial job loss as families lose funds.

STATEWIDE: On a media webinar today Citizen Action of Wisconsin was joined by State Senator La Tonya Johnson to release a new report showing the economic consequences of a failure of Congress to extend the $600-per-week benefit for out-of-work and partially working Wisconsinites. Without a renewal by Congress and the President, the benefits will expire on Saturday in Wisconsin. Republicans in Washington remain gridlocked, and will not make a counter proposal to House Democrats (who passed an unemployment extension in May) until next week at the earliest.

 A video recording of the news conference is available here.

The report breaks down the economic impact of cutting the $600-per-week federal funding stimulus for major Wisconsin metropolitan areas. Over 200,000 Wisconsin unemployed workers and underemployed workers participating in Work-Share programs will lose more than half of their family incomes. Taking this money out of the pockets of working families across Wisconsin will have a cascading impact on local economies, cutting demand for groceries, auto repairs, and other basic services, damaging already struggling businesses and forcing additional layoffs. It will also force many to go without enough food and other basics, and spark an unprecedented wave of evictions and foreclosures.

Key Findings

  • For workers, the drop in the $600 enhanced UI stimulus weekly will result in an over 60% drop in weekly earnings for those out-of-work. (Figure 1)
  • Statewide, Wisconsin could expect to see a loss of 65,635 jobs over the rest of the year by a drop in consumer demand from the ending of the $600-per-week federal support to out-of-work Wisconsinites. (Figure 2)
  • At current levels of unemployment, $3.1 billion in federal funds will be taken out of the pockets of working people and local Wisconsin economies from August through December. An extension through the end of the year is included in the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives in May but stalled by the U.S, Senate and the President. (Figure 2)
  • Because metropolitan areas often cover large regions, county level unemployment figures alone do not fully capture the impact. The 3 metropolitan areas most impacted are Greater Milwaukee (20,458 jobs at risk), Greater Madison (6,842 jobs at risk) and Greater Green Bay (3,238 jobs at risk).
  • As covered in Figure 3, every county in Wisconsin would be impacted, hurting rural and urban Wisconsin alike as dollars are not spent consumer-to-business then business-to-business.

Figure 1: Percent of Income Reduction from Drop in UI Benefits

Impact by Worker Characteristics Weekly Benefit Currently Weekly Benefit Without Stimulus Reduction in Earnings
Full-time worker who normally earns $20/hour or more* $970 $370 61% reduction in spending potential
Worker who normally earns $10/hour, 30 hours a week $756 $156 79% reduction in spending potential
Worker on a “Work-Share” plan, hours reduced 50% to 20 per week, $20/hour $1,185 $585 50% reduction in spending potential

* – Unemployment insurance amount is based on the quarterly earnings, a combination of hours and hourly wage. Data gathered from Department of Workforce Development’s Weekly Benefit Rate Calculator. UI weekly benefits are capped in Wisconsin at $370 per week at most.

Figure 2: Statewide and Metropolitan Economic Impact of Not Extending the $600/Week Unemployment Stimulus Until the End of 2020

Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) Jobs at Risk Federal $ Taken from Wisconsin Working Families
STATEWIDE 65,635 jobs $3.1 billion not coming to families
Milwaukee-Waukesha, WI MSA (covering Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington & Ozaukee counties) 20,458 $975.1 million
Madison, WI MSA (covering Dane, Iowa, Columbia & Green counties) 6,842 $326 million
Green Bay MSA (covering Brown, Oconto & Kewaunee counties) 3,238 $154.3 million
Appleton, WI MSA (covering Outagamie & Calumet counties) 2,344 $111.7 million
Racine, WI MSA 2,204 $105 million
Janesville-Beloit, WI MSA 1,873 $87.2 million
Wausau-Weston, WI MSA 1,490 $71 million
Oshkosh-Neenah, WI MSA 1,644 $78.3 million
Eau Claire, WI MSA (covering Eau Claire & Chippewa  counties) 1,583 $75.4 million
La Crosse, WI-MN MSA 1,160 $55.2 million
Sheboygan, WI MSA 1,030 $49 million
Fond du Lac, WI MSA 874 $41.6 million

* – Source: US Census designation of Metropolitan Statistical Areas

** – Methodology: Using the state-level calculation of job loss from the Economic Policy Institute, we estimate the local impact through adjusting for the proportion of unemployed Wisconsin workers eligible for the $600-per-week benefit by multi-county Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). MSA’s are preferred as they better capture the flow of money between adjacent communities and local economies.

*** – Based on DWD UI Week 26 estimate of weekly claim recipients by county, grouped by MSA, multiplied the number of weeks remaining in 2020 and by $600 per week. Figures may be low, as they do not count residents waiting for unemployment determinations and UI funds.

 

Figure 3:Number of Residents Unemployed by County, as of DWD Week 26, and Estimate of Jobs at Risk Per County from End of $600 Unemployment Stimulus.

County Estimated Job Loss from Conclusion of $600/week* Weekly unemployment claims as of DWD UI Week 26**
Adams 109 jobs at risk 375 people unemployed
Ashland 197 681
Barron 337 1,164
Bayfield 121 419
Brown 2,821 9,744
Buffalo 75 260
Burnett 99 341
Calumet 558 1,929
Chippewa 550 1,901
Clark 221 762
Columbia 711 2,456
Crawford 131 453
Dane 5,604 19,354
Dodge 778 2,687
Door 259 894
Douglas 276 954
Dunn 345 1,190
Eau Claire 1,033 3,567
Florence 12 43
Fond du Lac 874 3,020
Forest 140 485
Grant 359 1,240
Green 257 889
Green Lake 152 524
Iowa 270 931
Iron 53 184
Jackson 285 984
Jefferson 710 2,453
Juneau 301 1,039
Kenosha 1,498 5,174
Kewaunee 134 462
La Crosse 1,160 4,007
Lafayette 107 368
Langlade 161 557
Lincoln 269 930
Manitowoc 899 3,106
Marathon 1,490 5,146
Marinette 362 1,250
Marquette 141 488
Menominee 87 301
Milwaukee 14,475 49,994
Monroe 336 1,161
Oconto 283 979
Oneida 309 1,066
Outagamie 1,786 6,167
Ozaukee 829 2,862
Pepin 40 137
Pierce 236 816
Polk 305 1,055
Portage 708 2,445
Price 109 377
Racine 2,204 7,613
Richland 126 435
Rock 1,873 6,468
Rusk 95 328
Sauk 890 3,075
Sawyer 150 519
Shawano 362 1,250
Sheboygan 1,030 3,556
St. Croix 576 1,989
Taylor 113 391
Trempealeau 272 940
Not allocated to a specific county*** 5,419 18,718
Vernon 197 681
Vilas 133 458
Walworth 774 2,675
Washburn 147 506
Washington 1,296 4,477
Waukesha 3,859 13,328
Waupaca 392 1,355
Waushara 194 670
Winnebago 1,644 5,677
Wood 526 1,817

* – Methodology: Using the state-level calculation of job loss from the Economic Policy Institute, we estimate the local impact through adjusting for the proportion of unemployed Wisconsin workers eligible for the $600-per-week benefit by county. While county level spill-overs no doubt occur (money is not only spent in the county one lives in) we assume spillovers occur in both directions between counties. 

** – Source: Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Initial and Weekly Claims Filed, UI Week 26

*** – DWD statistics do not account for the county of origin for all UI recipients. 

Figure 4: Wisconsin UI Weekly Benefit Rate Compared to Other States, National Average

Data source: CNBC story, 7.17.2020, link

“It is absolutely stunning that in the middle of a pandemic-induced depression, conservatives in Washington are forcing the cut-off of the unemployment payments that keep millions of working families afloat,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The important data in this release document the needless economic pain that will be inflicted on Wisconsin working families in every corner of the state, and the additional working families. The data also document the cascading impact this cut-off of support will have on tens of thousands of additional working families who will also lose their jobs as a consequence. With enhanced unemployment payments ending next week in Wisconsin, and Republican in Washington in gridlock, the State Legislature must come back into immediate emergency session. This is a time for leadership, and it is time for conservative politicians at the federal and state level to start doing their jobs,” Kraig concluded.

“For many families the extra 600 federal unemployment benefits means the difference between financial security during a time when they are struggling due to no fault of their own, and the risk of losing their home”, said State Senator La Tonya Johnson. “We need our leaders at both the state and federal level to take immediate steps to support Wisconsin families, including removing red tape that makes it difficult to successfully navigate the UI system and maintaining the $600 federal lifeline that families-and our economy- depends on.”

Web Link to News Release

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Citizen Action of Wisconsin Applauds La Crosse County Board Approval of Resolution Supporting Universal Healthcare

For Immediate Release: July 16, 2020
Contact: Ben Wilson, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, ben.wilson@citizenactionwi.org

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Applauds La Crosse County Board Approval of Resolution Supporting Universal Healthcare

La Crosse County Joins Over 70 Community Resolutions in Demanding Guaranteed Health Care for All

La Crosse, Wis. – Citizen Action of Wisconsin and La Crosse County residents today applauds the County Board of Supervisors for approving a resolution calling on Senator Ron Johnson, Senator Tammy Baldwin, and Representative Ron Kind to work toward the immediate implementation of universal health care.  Current legislation for universal health includes the Medicare for All Act of 2019, H.R. 1384 / S. 1129.

The resolution is one of more than a dozen that have been passed in 2020. The effort is being organized by numerous local, state, and national organizations and elected officials, including Citizens Action of Wisconsin, the Coulee DSA, Public Citizen, and Our Wisconsin Revolution.

“This pandemic should especially open our eyes and spotlight the systemic inequities at the root of our healthcare system that wrongly treats health care as a privilege rather than a human right,” said 4th District Supervisor Freedland.

County Board Chairperson and Citizen Action of Wisconsin member Monica Kruse stated, “Our voices will join those of the many other counties across Wisconsin and throughout the nation demanding a more equitable, more efficient and more inclusive healthcare system.”

“Single payer, publicly funded, national healthcare insurance is the most economical and most equitable way to achieve full healthcare services for all people,” agrees Citizen Action of Wisconsin Driftless Co-op member Mark Neumann.

The Medicare for All Act of 2019 would guarantee comprehensive health care coverage for all Americans and would eliminate co-pays, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs that are keeping needed health care out of reach for residents of La Crosse County.

Information about Medicare-for-All and the growing demand for Congress to pass Medicare-for-All can be found at medicare4allresolutions.org and medicare4all.org.

 

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Senator Baldwin & Citizen Action Call for Bold COVID-19 Economic Relief

Senator Baldwin & Citizen Action Call for Bold COVID-19 Economic Relief

Baldwin legislation would extend unemployment and work-share before July deadline, create New Deal-style publicly subsidized jobs program, begin climate transition, improving racial equity, and revitalizing rural areas

Statewide: In a virtual town hall meeting this morning over 160 Citizen Action leaders and members heard a full report from U.S. Senator Baldwin on the need to maintain and further extend economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch Tammy Baldwin’s entire 30 minute presentation and Q&A session here. Milwaukee small business owner Ryan Clancy also joined the call to discuss the urgent need for further economic relief.

The COVID-19 induced economic crisis requires an urgent and large scale federal response. The duration of the pandemic, which is growing in Wisconsin and most of the country, and the persistent depression-like economic repercussions it is producing, could not have been fully anticipated in March when the last large scale relief passage was enacted. In addition, most of the minimal relief targeted to middle class and working people is set to expire July 25, including the enhanced unemployment benefits keeping tens of millions of working families afloat.

Tammy Baldwin’s Jobs for Economic Recovery Act would create a national subsidized jobs program to create hundreds of thousands of frontline jobs reminiscent of the Community Conservation Corps from the New Deal. The Rebuilding Main Street Act extends the $600/week unemployment stimulus payments to those out of work and applies the increased benefit to work-share programs, which subsidize workers for wages lost as a result of a company-wide reduction in hours. These two bills would prevent layoffs and put jobseekers back to work. Senator Baldwin is working with a coalition of Senators pushing for the inclusion of these provisions in the next COVID-19 relief package, expected to be considered this month.

In Citizen Action’s view, a large scale publicly-subsidized jobs program would also be an opportunity to initiative the green transition we need to prevent a climate genocide, and to employ people in the most depressed areas and constituencies, including people of color and folks who live in depressed rural regions.

“The ongoing public health and economic crisis in Wisconsin demands real solutions from Washington. We have to prevent further layoffs in our communities and put Wisconsinites back to work, so I’ve introduced legislation to do both,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m proud to have strong partners like Citizen Action Wisconsin in this effort as we work together to support workers and businesses in our recovery from this economic crisis. Our reforms present a better way forward and we must seize it now.”

“In this great national emergency, the American people deserve and expect bold leadership up to the scale of the crisis,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “As working and middle class families confront employment conditions not seen in this country since the 1930s, they need both the continuation of the temporary economic relief enacted in March, and bold new investments in job creation that can only come from the federal government. We commend Senator Tammy Baldwin for stepping up with powerful policy proposals on the scale of the original New Deal. Her proposals, for which she is building support with a diverse coalition of Senators, are of the magnitude needed to address the current economic crisis, and lay the groundwork for a new economy needed to prevent a climate cataclysm, and extend opportunity to all those who have been shut out, especially people of color and the residents of depresses rural areas.”

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Citizen Action of Wisconsin Supports Milwaukee Mask Ordinance

For Immediate Release–July 6, 2020

Media Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org

The public health measure is essential, but must also be equitably enforced

Milwaukee: With the COVID-19 pandemic dangerously accelerating, governments have a moral obligation to take every step necessary to save lives. In Wisconsin, due to the hyper partisanship of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court and the conservatives who control the State Legislature, the onus falls entirely to local units of government.

With COVID-19 cases accelerating, the proposed City of Milwaukee mask ordinance (MKE Cares) proposed by Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic is a great first step. It is scheduled to be considered this week. Public health experts now agree that wearing masks in public is one of the most important steps we can take to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and yet public compliance is mixed at best. The Milwaukee proposal is modeled on the ordinances enacted by the Cities of Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

In Milwaukee and in Wisconsin, the virus is again spreading at an alarming rate (see data below). There is also a critical racial equity element of the crisis, as COVID-19 continues to infect and kill people of color at shockingly disproportionate rates. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 24% of Wisconsin COVID-19 deaths have been to African Americans, and 30% of the people infected have been Latinx.

While racial equity demands bold action to contain the spread of the virus, there are major equity concerns related to enforcement and access to face masks that must also be addressed. A shocking report by Wisconsin Watch documents massive racial and ethnic disparities in arrests related to the now expired stay at home order. A stunning 77% of arrest were of African Americans, 22% were of Latinx, and only 6% were of white. The city map produced by the investigative journalism outfit shows that arrests were highly concentrated in African American and Latinx neighborhoods. Another concern being raised is access to masks for low-income Milwaukeeans. Citizen Action urges the Common Council to address both concerns by holding Milwaukee police strictly accountable for racially biased enforcement, and providing face masks to Milwaukeeans who cannot afford them.

By the Numbers: The Milwaukee COVID-19 Crisis is Growing Worse

The Milwaukee Health Department reported Friday that COVID 19 testing positivity rates have skyrocketed to 12.2%, a dangerously high number that rivals some of the most impacted southern states. Georgia has a 13.1% positive test rate and Alabama, has a 13.6% positive test rate. In Alabama many cities have already enacted mask ordinances. In addition, Milwaukee’s critically important reproduction rate R0 (also called infection rate) has risen to 1.07. (The number of additional persons each COVID positive person infects). According to academic public health experts a reproduction rate over 1 means the pandemic is growing and will over time overwhelm local hospitals. Many of the countries who have been most effective in controlling the pandemic are shutting down regions with reproduction rates over 1.

“We applaud Alderwoman Dimitrijevic for introducing this lifesaving ordinance,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “While our top priority must be a pandemic which is infecting and killing very unequally, it is also important that public health standards be enforced fairly and equally. We therefore also urge City of Milwaukee leadership to ensure equitable enforcement of the measure, and provide masks to those who cannot afford them, so that we do not exacerbate already severe racial disparities in Milwaukee.”

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Report: 8 Billionaires in Wisconsin See Net Worth Jump $14.2 Billion or 36.1% in First Three Months of COVID-19 Pandemic

Report: 8 Billionaires in Wisconsin See Net Worth Jump $14.2 Billion or 36.1% in First Three Months of COVID-19 Pandemic

 Meanwhile Wisconsinites, State & Local Governments Face Financial Hardship as Congress Stalls on New COVID-19 Financial Aid Package

MILWAUKEE—Wisconsin has 8 billionaires who collectively saw their wealth increase by $14.2 billion or 36.1% during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic even as the state’s economy was reeling from a huge spike in joblessness and a collapse in taxes collected, a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and Citizen Action of Wisconsin shows.

Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were in place—and June 17, the total net worth of the state’s eight billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $53.6 billion, based on an analysis of Forbes data. Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the most recent real-time data was collected June 17 from the Forbes website.

Three Wisconsin billionaires—John Menard, Jr., Diane Hendricks and Herbert Kohler, Jr.—saw their wealth grow by 65%, 39% and 29%, respectively. During about the same period of the pandemic 629,000 of the state’s residents lost their jobs, 26,000 fell ill with the virus and 700 died from it.

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
June 17, 2020 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of worth that day.

 

Among other COVID-19 victims are the 27 million Americans who may lose their employer-provided healthcare coverage. Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

Over the same three-month period, the nation’s 600-plus billionaires saw their combined wealth increase by $584 billion or 20%—rising from $2.948 trillion to $3.531 trillion, based on ATF’s analysis of Forbes data. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve reported that as of the week of June 10, total U.S. household wealth had shrunk by $6.5 trillion during the first three months of the pandemic.

The three richest Americans, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, saw their combined wealth jump by $87 billion, or 38%, 11% and 58%, respectively. The total number of billionaires grew from 614 to 643.

“Now is the time for Wisconsinites to unite across our differences and demand our government leaders make decisions that help every-day people like us—not the richest 1% and a handful of corporations who are profiting from this pandemic,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “As individuals, we can wash our hands, avoid unnecessary travel, and check in on our friends and neighbors. As a united force, we can demand our local, state, and national governments do everything possible to protect everyone’s health and financial stability, no exceptions.”

“It’s immoral that billionaires are getting richer and richer while average Americans are treading water if they are lucky, or drowning, from the economic crash caused by the pandemic,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress needs to urgently provide a major new financial aid package to ensure working families can recover and critical state and local services can keep being provided. The package should repeal the huge tax break for millionaires in the first major financial aid law and block any new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.”

“In the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, billionaires are getting richer while millions are losing coverage or have no access to affordable health care,” said Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now. Rather than pass the relief measures that we all need to beat COVID, Congress is letting families, workers, seniors and many others go without the health care they need to survive, letting health care workers go without protective equipment and forcing hospitals to face unprecedented shortages in beds, ventilators and medicines. It’s obvious there’s plenty of money—the problem here is Congress’ priorities.”

Decades of tax cuts for the rich have fueled the growth of billionaires and their wealth. And even in the midst of the greatest national emergency since World War II, tax handouts to the wealthy have continued—most recently in the form of a $135 billion handout slipped into the $2 trillion CARES pandemic relief law enacted in late March. It primarily benefits millionaire business owners and costs three times more than the law spends on social safety net programs and exceeds the amount expended on hospitals and public health.

The House HEROES Act passed in May would repeal this tax break that is giving an average tax cut of $1.6 million this year to 43,000 millionaires and billionaires, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). That big payout contrasts sharply with the one-time stimulus checks of up to $1,200 that have helped 159 million people under the CARES Act. Closing this tax loophole and making it permanent would raise $246 billion per the JCT, which could be used for a new major pandemic financial relief and recovery package.

As the U.S. Senate begins consideration of the next coronavirus aid legislation, a broad coalition of more than 230 organizations, including some Wisconsin groups, is urging repeal of the Millionaires Giveaway tax cut for wealthy business owners. So far, 24 senators support repeal legislation (S. 3640), including Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), but not Sen. Ron Johnson (R).

Rather than respond to growing needs from increasing numbers of unemployed people, new patients, and overburdened local and state agencies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been slow-walking legislative action on another major relief measure such as the HEROES Act, especially one that would provide a major cash infusion to state and local governments that have lost huge amounts of tax revenue but must by law balance their budgets. Instead, McConnell has suggested that states file for bankruptcy.

The HEROES Act would greatly benefit Wisconsin during this economic crisis by providing immediate relief and laying the groundwork for a more robust economic recovery, including:

All of the above data is available in one table here.

State residents will also get their fair share of the following other assistance provided by the HEROES Act should it become law:

  • Extension through the end of the year of the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits that are expiring at the end of July.
  • Renewal and increase in direct assistance checks to individuals and families: $1,200 per each adult and child, up to $6,000 per household.
  • $100 billion to protect renters and homeowners from evictions and foreclosures.

Increased support from the federal government directly to states through these provisions is the best way to avoid state cuts to jobs and services that would worsen the impact of the pandemic and prolong the recession the country is experiencing.

Economists warn that delayed action on more funding to states, unemployment benefits, and safety net services will have dire consequences for recovery, could lengthen and deepen the recession and curtail job growth for the next decade. Moreover, coronavirus cases are back on the rise in over two dozen states, including Wisconsin, where the re-opening process has increased risk of exposure thereby further jeopardizing the economy. Wisconsin Department of Health Services data confirms that the state’s 7-day average of new confirmed cases has steadily increased since mid-June.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has cited rising deficits in delaying immediate consideration of new pandemic relief legislation, but so far has not proposed rolling back the $135 billion Millionaires Giveaway in the CARES Act. Rather, McConnell’s key priority for the next relief package has been to provide legal immunity to employers by limiting workers’ rights in court to sue bosses who put their safety at risk or neglect COVID protocols.

Polling shows that half of Americans have been personally economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — losing their job or having their hours cut back. Congress must provide help by working with local and state elected officials and agencies to ensure workers, families and small businesses get the resources they need to make it through the pandemic and mitigate the harmful consequences of the economic slow-down.

State residents cannot afford excuses from Congressional leaders who prioritize tax giveaways for the rich and corporations over the basic needs of average people or more delays that will double down on prolonged pain for millions.

 

Media Contacts:

Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig, Executive Director, 414-322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org

Americans for Tax Fairness, Chris Fleming, Red Horse Strategies, 202-631-0929 chris@redhorsestrategies.com

Health Care for America Now, Margarida Jorge, Executive Director, mj@healthcareforamericanow.org

Citizen Action Statement on the Racist Murder of George Floyd

Citizen Action Statement on the Racist Murder of George Floyd

For Immediate Release: May 29, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org

Citizen Action Statement on the Racist Murder of George Floyd

Milwaukee: Citizen Action of Wisconsin stands in solidarity with the family and friends of George Floyd, thousands of protesters across the country, and every person who loves humanity, in demanding that the four offers involved in his murder be swiftly brought to justice.

We strongly agree with our compatriots and our fellow People’s Action affiliate, Take Action Minnesota, that the protests in Minneapolis and in many other cities are “demonstrations of our pain and a cry for justice. It is an old pain borne of the historic, violent, publicly funded oppression of Black people… George Floyd should be alive today and prosecuting offers for his murder is the beginning, not end of justice.”

It is hard for us to believe that anyone other than a police officer would be able to avoid immediate arrest when such damning video evidence of a crime is available. The four day delay in the officer responsible being arrested and charged, and the failure to charge (as of this writing) the other officers who stood by and watched a murder, has badly damaged public confidence in the investigation and contributed to the turbulent events on the streets of Minneapolis. Before we can even begin to heal, justice must be brought to the four police offers involved in this racist murder and anyone else who tried to cover it up.

But the healing cannot stop there, because what happened to George Floyd, and all the other victims of publicly sanctioned racist murder we have come to know over the last decade, is ultimately caused not by a few bad apples but the structural racism that is at the very core of the American criminal justice and policing system. The system of mass incarceration grew out of the backlash against the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s, and has made the  U.S, the most incarcerated and over-policed country in the history of the free world. Only a massive shift in resources away from the publicly funded oppression of Black people, poor people, the Latinx community, and many many others and invested in our communities and a humane, anti-racist, and just system of public safety.

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Supreme Court Shifts Life & Death Responsibility for Pandemic onto Legislature


For Immediate Release: May 14, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org

Supreme Court Shifts Life & Death Responsibility for Pandemic onto Legislature

What the state now must do to save lives and successfully open the economy is clear: will the GOP Legislature start doing its job?

Statewide: GOP legislative leaders may think they won a victory in their campaign to strip powers from Governor Evers, but they have actually shifted an immense burden of moral responsibility to themselves. The moral of the story for one Aesop’s fables encapsulates the moment: Be careful what you wish for, less it comes true.

The scientific consensus is overwhelming on how to best save lives, and restore the level of public confidence necessary to safely re-open the economy. Now the leaders of the Legislature have a choice: actually cooperate with Governor Evers to do the hard work of quickly implementing an effective response, or continue their campaign of obstruction and face the moral and political consequences for the human and economic toll.

By their very acts of publicly undermining the Governor’s popular emergency measures, and inducing the Wisconsin Supreme Court majority to render one of the most divisive and nakedly partisan decisions in Wisconsin history, they have made the task harder by prematurely ending state-wide social distancing without any back up plan, and undermining the social unity and commitment to norms necessary to contain a pandemic.

Because the Evers Administration took bold necessary action, and the millions of Wisconsinites who followed the directives voluntarily, no matter what the personal and economic sacrifice, Wisconsin made tremendous progress over the last 6 weeks in reducing the rate of infection. According to the CEO of the Medical College, Wisconsin has the reproduction rate  (the number of additional people each Covid positive person infects) down to 1.0, the minimum for moving to more targeted virus containment strategies. But if the reproduction rate increases even slightly, to 1.1 or higher, the virus will within a few weeks begin spreading out of control. 

We are in danger of losing all these hard won gains if the Legislature does not immediately fund, to whatever scale is necessary, a robust targeted containment strategy. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus, being pursued by the most effective pandemic responses around the globe, on what must be done to contain the pandemic and safely re-open the economy. There is no choice between public health and the economy. The economy will not bounce back until Wisconsinites feel safe, regardless of what politicians tell them to do.

  • Fill the containment gap created by the sudden and premature ending of mandated social distancing with a well resourced and targeted approach that is capable of identifying and isolating new pockets of infection as soon as they emerge. This includes:
    • Universal and rapid testing that reaches asymptomatic Wisconsinites and is immediately available in all at risk public and business locations.
    • A massive ramp up in contract tracing which means hiring thousands of new public health workers.
    • A medical surveillance system capable of rapidly intervening and isolating all of the new hotspots identified through testing and contact tracing.
  • Free testing and treatment are a necessity because of cost barriers which are unique to the unique profit-centered American health care system. Without an enforced guarantee of no out of pocket costs, hundreds of thousands of Wisconites will avoid testing and treatment, even if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Reinforce the norm of social distancing in all public interactions. In Wisconsin, there is much damage to repair. The mixed messages and the divide and conquer politics must end. GOP leaders must join Governor Evers in reinforcing this social ethic and dispense with their divisive rhetoric of oppression and liberation. The Supreme Court majority did the opposite in their divisive and dog-whistle racism oral arguments.
  • Create enforceable safety requirements for all workplaces. Workers cannot be forced to choose between their health and their livelihoods. (The WMC’s preferred voluntary standards will not work, and were immediately violated by some taverns the evening of the Supreme Court ruling)

These core elements of effective and effective pandemic containment are not just Citizen Action’s position, this is an overwhelming consensus of public health experts and responsible elected leaders across the globe. Some of these items will cost money, and if the majority of the Legislature will not invest the necessary resources, whatever it takes, the costs of inaction will be astronomical. The stakes could not be higher as Dr. Rick Bright, the former Director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority testified in Congress today: “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history.” 

Wisconsin has done it before. In 1918, when there were three major parties and as much partisan contention as today, Wisconsinites pulled together to take unified action on the worst pandemic in our history.  “Wisconsin was the only state in the nation to meet the crisis with uniform, statewide measures that were unusual both for their aggressiveness and the public’s willingness to comply with them.”

“We have entered a season of consequences. In a pandemic success depends on elected leaders putting aside the divisions of normal politics and pulling together to take effective and decisive action,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The GOP leadership of the Legislature got what it wanted, and stripped the Governor of much of his power to lead in this crisis. The onus of responsibility now falls squarely on their shoulders. It is our hope that they will elevate their leadership to the demands of the challenge we face, and work in concert with Governor Evers to do not what is politically convenient but what is required to save lives.”

See Citizen Action response to Wisconsin Supreme Court decision here.

Citizen Action case for free COVID 19 testing and treatment here.

Link to his press release https://www.citizenactionwi.org/category/news/press-release/

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Partisan Supreme Court Further Divides Wisconsin When Unity is a Question of Life and Death

For Immediate Release: May 13, 2020
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, robert.kraig@citizenactionwi.org

Partisan Supreme Court Further Divides Wisconsin When Unity is a Question of Life and Death

Statewide: The Wisconsin State Supreme Court majority’s divisive and partisan decision late this afternoon, along with the obstructionism of the Legislature, risks making the worst public health threat in a century deadlier and the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression more catastrophic.

In a major national emergency–a pandemic, a depression, a major war–success depends on elected leaders (including judges) and the public putting aside the divisions of normal politics and pulling together to take effective and decisive action. Wisconsin has a history of doing just this, but the divide-and-conquer politics of the last decade, which have transformed the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Legislature, is now undermining the political and social unity needed to rise to the challenge.

It was not always this way in Wisconsin. During the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, the only comparable public health emergency, the definitive history concludes that the Badger State achieved a much lower death rate than the national average because of the vigorous and unified response. “Wisconsin was the only state in the nation to meet the crisis with uniform, statewide measures that were unusual both for their aggressiveness and the public’s willingness to comply with them.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court of 1918, in an era with a limited view of the power of government, took no action to obstruct this broad and unprecedented exercise of executive authority.

In stark contrast, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s deliberation and its decision on the current social distancing directive reveals a divisive brand of partisanship that will both make it much harder for the Governor and the Health Secretary to act, and will further undermine the public unity and social solidarity needed for an effective response.

First, the hyperbolic tone of several conservative justices in the oral arguments undermines public confidence in the process and will likely reduce adherence to social distancing. The justices often sounded more like partisan cable news or AM radio personalities than impartial judges sworn to impartially interpret the law.

Justice Rebecca Bradley claimed the Stay at Home order was “the definition of tyranny,” compared it to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, and raised the specter of internment centers for victims of COVID-19. Bradley wondered how the order could be constitutional, despite the fact that the Legislature’s case does not question the constitutionality of the order, making the narrow claim that the statute calls for a rule that the Legislature can block.

Second, the Chief Justice resorted to divisive, and arguably coded racial appeals to minimize the threat of the pandemic and further polarize the state.

After being asked if the pandemic was a threat outside Milwaukee, Assistant Attorney General Colin Roth discussed the growth of hotspots elsewhere, citing the rising infection rate in Brown County.  Chief Justice Patience Roggensack shot back: “Due to the meatpacking, though — that’s where Brown County got the flare,” she said.” It wasn’t just the regular folks of Brown County.”

Whether she intended it or not, the separation of workers, many of whom are from immigrant communities, from “regular folks of Brown County” is a classic example of dog whistle strategic racism which is grossly inappropriate for any figure of public or social authority, let alone a Chief Justice. For Roggensack to make such a public statement shows reckless disregard for her office and undermines public confidence in the legitimacy of the judicial branch of government. It also wrongly assumes that the infection of one group of people in the community will not accelerate the pandemic for the entire population. Many of the most dangerous new hot spots in the U.S. are in regions with meat packing plants.

“The reckless ruling threatens Wisconsin’s pandemic response by removing our most effective containment tool in the middle of the crisis and further dividing the state in a way that is likely to reduce compliance with social distance guidelines,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “This is a nakedly political decision by a majority that has no regard for the plain wording of the law or the unprecedented public health threat we are facing. This decision shows a reckless disregard for the law. As in the lame duck ruling last year, no fair minded person thinks this court majority would have taken this action if the social distancing order came from a Republican governor.“

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