Voting rights and the census are cited as vehicles of empowerment to prevent an erosion of rights and freedoms
Dawn Crim grew up in Philadelphia. She was taught from a young age the importance of voting. Every election, her parents took her and her three brothers with them to cast their ballots.
“They explained how we had the right to do it and how we always should have had the right to do it,” said Crim, now secretary of the state Department of Safety and Professional Services. “I share this story as a way to say how important it is that we exercise our right, and even more importantly, that we take our children with us so they know how important it is, too.”
Crim was among a group of African-American speakers who attended an event marking the start of Black History month Monday in the Capitol Rotunda. Joining her were members of the Legislative Black Caucus, Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov Mandela Barners, the state’s first African American to be elected to the office.
Officials took the opportunity to renew focus on fighting voter suppression.
Evers said there are “many forces determined to divide us with hate,” and that black disenfranchisement continues in Wisconsin and across the country. He cites gerrymandering as a way the black voice is lost in elections. He discussed the importance of ensuring accurate data was collected for the 2020 U.S. Census, as this is the information then used to redraw state election districts.
“If you can’t vote, you are irrelevant,” Barnes said. “If you aren’t counted in the census, you are irrelevant.”
No mention was made during the event of an effort by Rep. Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, to seek support for a resolution that would honor mostly white Wisconsin residents who helped slaves escape to Canada via the underground railway.
Six of the 10 historical figures recognized in the resolution are white. Allen is also white.
Members of the Black Caucus said Allen should have consulted with them prior to circulating his resolution for support, as it preempted them from choosing how to honor the contributions of black Americans.
Evers, and other speakers, emphasized how addressing the struggles of one community enhances the quality of life for everyone across the state.
Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, chair of the Black Caucus, said at times it seems the state’s black population has withdrawn into itself. He said the black community “owes it to each other” to build bridges among different communities and to celebrate the meaning of this month by focusing on the possibilities of the future.
“Democracy is not just something that happens, like the weather,” Crowley said. “It is something we create. We can decide if we want to continue these gaps between communities.”
Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison, said everyone has the ability to transfer communities across the state with love and compassion and through investments in such things as education and healthcare.
As the first African American to be elected to represent her Assembly seat in Madison, she said it is her goal to bring more voices of color to the table and to see every issue through the lens of disparity.
“We have the ability to heighten awareness and to achieve real equity in our state,” she said.