My Interview with Congresswoman Gwen Moore
Doing something a little different on the blog today. Recently, I reached out to my representative, Gwen Moore (D, WI4) with a series of interview questions for an op-ed about the DNC coming to Milwaukee I’ve been asked to write by one of the big national papers. I was hoping for a few lines from the congresswoman to get an insider’s perspective and punch up the piece.
Instead, she sent over a thorough, thoughtful, and educational piece of her own. Due to wordcount limitations, there will be no way to include it all in the op-ed, even if it does get accepted. It would be an awful waste to keep all of her thoughts to myself. So with permission, I’m sharing the interview in its entirety below. Enjoy!
1) What do you feel are Milwaukee’s biggest challenges to achieving greater equality, both ethnically and socioeconomically?
GM: I think that Milwaukee is making progress and we have leaders who are committed to a remedy. We have a great group of young diverse political leaders who are engaging the problem. We have a Mayor and a new Governor and Lieutenant Governor who are engaging and working toward a solution. Of course, I have been in this fight since created Cream City Credit Union, a community credit union dedicated to helping those being redlined, forced into transaction centers, and really being denied access to the financial services infrastructure. I’m really excited for the future of Milwaukee.
The biggest challenges to achieving greater equality is first, recognizing there is a problem and build policies and programs that directly aim to change the status quo. Discriminatory policies in the past, both government-sanctioned and informal, have created this problem. I think smart policies and good leadership can unwind disparities to the benefit of everyone.
One issue that I keep coming back to again and again – and that began in Wisconsin under former-Governor Tommy Thompson – is ending “welfare as we know it.” That move broke the social covenant and pushed people further into the margins, because it was not matched to any childcare, educational or retraining opportunities, or other supports. On the day that the Republicans passed that bill, thousands of poor women were driven out of the classroom and into low-wage work. We’ve lost generations of women and created cycles of poverty with that move. I have comprehensive legislation that I hope to push in Ways & Means Committee to truly reform our social safety net so that it is family friendly and truly helps people rise out of poverty.
As a society, we need to see poor people as displaced workers and unlearn this dangerous trope of the lazy poor, the deserving poor, or Reagan’s so-called “welfare queen.” Dr. King said, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Times have changed, and Dr. King is no longer with us, but unfortunately, these believes remain and are being fueled by the people like former-Governor Walker and President Trump.
We really need to address affordable housing. In Milwaukee, WHEDA and LISC have been making strides. I would also like to highlight a bill that I worker with Senator Warren and Representative Cedric Richmond on called the Housing and Economic Mobility, which is comprehensive and forward thinking. It addressed the dearth of affordable housing options by standing up already existing programs and creating some new innovative incentives. Think how transformative it would be to build or rehabilitate 3 million housing units across the country over the next ten years, produce over a million jobs, and reduce housing costs for low income families and individuals.
There is no magic bullet. Politicians and community leaders need an all-of-the-above approach that includes improving our education system, revitalizing neighborhoods, investing in economically depressed areas, creating mixed used neighborhood, improving access to healthy foods and healthcare are some of the ways to achieving greater equality across the board. And, addressing discrimination policies that have hurt African Americans from generation to generation must be included in any road map to a more just and equal society.
2) How would you improve the relationship between the community and the MPD/Sheriff’s Dept?
GM: Everyone wants the police to be safe carrying out their duty to protect and serve, but we really need to think long and hard about demilitarizing our police officers and moving to a model of that focuses on conflict resolution rather than a reaction of shooting first and asking questions later. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation called Preventing Tragedies Between Police and Communities Act. This bill requires a state or local government that receives funding under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program to train law enforcement officers on de-escalation techniques and for those techniques to be utilized in the field. The idea actually came from a report by law enforcement and I really think it makes a ton of sense and would lead to better results for both citizens and police.
I also introduced a bill, the National De-Escalation of Violence and Community Safety Training Act, that is aimed at providing conflict resolution skills for young people. The aim is to help train individuals in effective and evidence-based de-escalation techniques to ensure that individuals at diverse levels of society gain the skills to resolve conflicts, manage anger, and control implicit bias without the use of violence. I think it is the flip side of this coin and addresses the responsibility that rests on the community so that police don’t need to get involved.
3) What are some examples of things Milwaukee is doing right?
GM: Milwaukee is coming up! There’s a reason why my Great City was selected to host the next DNC Convention. From the many business developments taking shape, our infrastructure improvement projects, a new stadium, the humanitarian work being spearheaded by LISC Milwaukee that’s showing steady progress and moving the city in the right direction by revitalizing and improving depressed neighborhoods.
Even the 3rd annual Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic will be taking place in Wisconsin later this year. Not to mention the many cultural events hosted there, including our food and the many beer’s brewed in Milwaukee.
4) How would you suggest the speakers and eventual nominee speak to Milwaukee’s segregation issues during the 2020 DNC?
GM: Deliberate policies got us here and deliberate policies will get us out of this mess we’re in. I think that every single nominee at this point, because it’s such a diverse party, is already speaking to these issues. They are all already speaking to it in their own ways. Keep in mind, the base of the Democratic Party are black women.
Let me be clear, we have two economies in America; we have the Wall Street banker economy and we have the reality that most people face. During the government shutdown we saw clearly the difference between the haves and have-not. Poor people are standing in food lines after they miss one check, middle class are standing in food lines after they miss two and the rich go on vacation.
5) How big of an impact did voter disenfranchisement have on Milwaukee in 2016? On Wisconsin? How should the speakers at the DNC tackle this issue ahead of 2020?
GM: Scott Walker and the WI GOP had a clear bias against Milwaukee and certain groups of people in the state. From his attempts to take away voting rights under the guise of staving off voter fraud, taking away social safety net services, his inhumane work requirement policies, and his blatant attempt to harass poor populations. He even begrudged us funding to reduce lead poisoning in Milwaukee.
Nonetheless, the impact of voter disenfranchisement came straight out of Glenn Grothman’s mouth when he said, “…and, now we have voter ID and I think voter ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.”
In fact, a study by a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor on the impact of the voter ID laws in the 2016 election concluded that at least 17,000 registered Wisconsin voters were kept from the polls by the law. These laws are an assault on democracy and are being pushed explicitly to defy the will of the people. It was one reason that I was so happy to vote for H.R. 1, which is really a bill about empowering people to choose their elected leaders and to hold elected officials accountable.
It’s clear, Republican attempts to disenfranchise voters is a real crisis that’s still underway.
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