Wisconsin organizer speaks to Fighting Words

WI Bailout the People Movement placards
WI Bailout the People Movement placards

By Fighting Words Staff

Questions directed to Dorothy Brown for the Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement from Fighting-Words.net.

Before the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, what was the movement of Black lives matter like in Wisconsin?

Since late May in Wisconsin there has been a virtual people’s rebellion statewide. BLM protests have taken place in well over 50 cities. Women of all nationalities are leading many of the protests and are often facing down rabid racists and cops. In the two largest cities, Madison and Milwaukee, protest events take place daily but there are also frequent protests in the suburbs near those cities and in semi-rural and rural areas of the state. Thousands of white worker youth statewide are supporting the BLM  movement and taking leadership from Black and Brown youth. The BLM movement in Wisconsin is in response to numerous murders by police over the past few years statewide. The resistance is also an expression of the apartheid-like conditions for people of African descent in Wisconsin, often cited as the worst place for Black people to live. Then there’s the unrelenting austerity in the state since the union busting Act 10 was implemented in 2011, plant shutdowns, attacks on and de-funding of K-12 and higher education and much more.

How did Jacob Blake’s shooting affect the movement?

With many in the state already in motion over the summer with BLM or supporting that movement, outrage has erupted statewide in solidarity with Jacob Blake and his family. Numerous BLM activists and supporters are raising up Jacob Blake’s name this weekend at protests (listing here: www.wibailoutpeople.org). Networks and relationships are developing in Kenosha and statewide to fight police terror.

Did the attack by armed white supremacists in Kenosha surprise you?

No. Wisconsin, despite its “progressive” reputation, is one of the most racist states in the United States presently and historically. Kenosha has a history of white gangs working with the police and their corporate overlords. Kenosha at one time had thousands of workers working union jobs in plants citywide but with NAFTA and the ongoing capitalist crisis Kenosha now resembles a mini-Detroit, cities leveled by Wall Street in particular the bankers. Southeastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois are known historically for a variety of white supremacist organizations that have done the dirty work of big business for decades from preventing Black residents from obtaining housing to working with the police to assist in putting thousands of Black and Brown and poor white youth into the prison-industrial complex. Wisconsin has per capita one of the highest Black incarceration rates in the world.

Some people are criticizing some actions by protesters in Kenosha and elsewhere. What is your response?

We published a statement on this topic on August 28, 2020:

“Let’s be clear where WI BOPM stands: We uphold the moral and human rights of oppressed people to engage in self-defense / self-determination by any means necessary whether that be against racist thug cops/vigilantes or their masters the corporate thieves and the bankers! It is the U.S. capitalist state and it’s repressive agents such as the cops, Wall Street and the Pentagon that are the violent ones and the real looters – not poor and working people engaged in self-defense and liberation activities. We stand with the righteous people’s resistance in Kenosha! Justice for Jacob Blake! End police & vigilante terror! End capitalist-imperialist violence and looting of the world! Build the People’s United Front Against Racism/Fascism! [Anyone affiliated within the WI BOPM Network that speaks contrary to this statement does not speak on behalf of our organization.]”

How has the murder and wounding of demonstrators in Kenosha by the white supremacists affected the movement.

Movement activists have been shot at, kidnapped by undercover cops, murdered and brutalized in many ways but they are continuing the fight against police terror and other forms of white supremacy. This weekend a mass march sponsored by the Blake family will take place. Other organizations are building and consolidating to confront the short term needs but also for the long distance organizing and relationship development between and among activists that is necessary to combat the right-wing effectively. Besides the demands for justice for Jacob Blake and the two martyrs murdered and one wounded by Kyle Rittenhouse, many organizations are demanding money for jobs, housing, public education, and expanded unemployment benefits and other people’s needs instead of occupying troops in the form of the National Guard, cops, the FBI, the ATF and other repressive arms of the state.

What has been the effect of the many cutbacks in Wisconsin on the population?

The capitalist cutbacks, in particular since Act 10 was implemented in 2011, have been barbaric as billions have been stolen by the banks and corporations from the working class and oppressed peoples in Wisconsin through wage cuts, debt service increases etc. Those organizations such as unions that have built a class struggle approach with a core anti-racist program have been able to win some concessions or have not completely been eviscerated. A major feature of the ruling class assault in Wisconsin after Act 10 was to increase and consolidate right-wing organizations funded by the Bradley Foundation and to reduce or wipe out working class bases of operations such as unions, student organizations in the UW System etc. With the unrelenting attacks and Wisconsin being used as a model of austerity for the attacks on our class at the federal level some demoralization has set in. But it is Black and Brown led organizations that have largely kept the spirit of class struggle alive from Freedom Inc and Voces de la Frontera in Madison as well as various left organizations, unions with fighting class conscious, anti-racist leadership and youth and students. The masses in Wisconsin continue to be under relentless assault by every sector of the ruling class and its right-wing servants in the legislature but years of organizing in this environment has steeled many sectors of the people’s movement in Wisconsin. Despite uneven development and other challenges, these past years of building fighting leadership while rebuilding working class organization or using new methods and forms to face the conditions of today has resulted in a summer of people’s resistance in Wisconsin that was sparked by the murder of George Floyd and is still ongoing. By and large although many in the people’s movement defend the right to vote it is generally understood by the real fighters that direct actions, self-defense and other class struggle tactics and strategies are what has resulted in any serious wins and concessions such as killer cops being charged for murder etc.

What strategies does the movement need to follow in Wisconsin and what are the prospects for the struggle?

The major lessons from the state capitol occupation in Madison in 2011 were that independent class struggle leadership and organization was absolutely necessary to effectively combat the capitalist ruling class and its servants and that includes the Democratic Party. Other lessons from the occupation include the life and death need for independent, internationalist class struggle people’s organizations including unions, community and student organizations. And the need for people’s programs both offensive and defensive. Since 2011 many independent organizations have been built in Wisconsin but the working class and oppressed people generally are still suffering deeply from the hits taken since 2011 as many of our organizing bases have been wiped out by the ruling class and its servants, progressive state statutes overturned and other surgical actions against our class. Much of the historical union leadership comes from the “labor-management are partners school” and are thus not class struggle based so the new generation of youth and students and young workers will be engaged in a years long process of infusing class struggle and anti-racist programs into what’s left of the union movement. But huge sectors of our class in Wisconsin in particular oppressed peoples are suffering from low-wages or are underemployed and will most likely under capitalism never have the opportunity to join a traditional union so creative and flexible forms and methods of class combat organization will be necessary. The need for networking and consolidating various fighting sectors of our class is a top priority as well. Many youth and students across the state are in motion but there’s uneven development and a need to unite more seasoned activists with the new generation to share skills, resources, knowledge and lessons. And the absolute need to make available leadership opportunities for oppressed peoples, women and LGBTQ people. The need to connect movements such as BLM to economic demands of our class such as a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, the expansion of unemployment insurance, free healthcare etc. Opening up spaces for creative educational forms and methods of class struggle ranging from Art Builds with programmatic banners and signs to workshops to online educational methods and relationship building.

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