February 20th, 2016
The rally in front of the capitol in Madison on Thursday was truly impressive. I was amazed by the sheer number of participants, and by their collective enthusiasm. I could feel an intense energy among the people. It was wonderful to see people from every age group there. It was also great to see that people had come from all across the state of Wisconsin to protest the proposed legislation. The demonstration accomplished what it needed to do: it got the attention of the media and the politicians.
One thing did bother me about the rally. The population in attendance was overwhelmingly Latino. In a way this makes sense: after all, the two pieces of legislation (AB 450 and SB 533) would primarily affect Latinos in our state. However, these proposed laws would have a negative impact on others residing in Wisconsin. Opposition to these racist bills is not something that is solely the concern of the Latino community. These laws would hurt all sorts of people.
A casual observer of the rally would be impressed by the size of the demonstration, but they would also notice the tribal nature of it. I did. I was one of the very few whites in the crowd. Somebody watching the news on television might look at the scene and say to themselves, “This is just about the Mexicans.” The largest flag that I saw waving at the rally was a Mexican flag. That sends a message. Many people could look at the rally, and then easily dismiss the entire protest as being “somebody else’s” problem. That “somebody else” would be the Latino community.
The official name of the event was “Day Without Latinos and Immigrants”. That’s a good title, but the “and Immigrants” portion of the name seems to be an afterthought. The ugly nativist sentiment in this country does not restrict itself to Latinos. Other people are also under the gun. The Muslims come to mind. There are all sorts of communities in our state that experience prejudice.
My question is this: “Did anybody reach out to other immigrant groups that might be feeling same discrimination that Latinos experience?” Did anybody talk to the Muslims? Or the Sikhs? Or maybe the Hmongs? Racism and bigotry affect all sorts of people, and maybe others, especially other immigrants, should be involved in the struggle to combat these things.
Politicians aren’t stupid. They may not be good for much, but they sure know how to get themselves re-elected. Let’s imagine the thoughts of one of those Wisconsin legislators staring out of a capitol building window on Thursday afternoon. What would impress a legislator more: a huge crowd that is purely Latino, or a bigger crowd with an ethnically diverse population? Some lawmakers might not make the connection between their own political future and the sea of Latino faces looking up at him or her. They might need to see some faces that look more like the majority of constituents in their own district.
Voces did an awesome job of mobilizing people for the rally. Voces energized its base. Excellent. So, how do we get beyond this base and involve more of the public? What is the next step?