Adebisi Agoro shows how everyone can stand up against injustices.
Adebisi Agoro never really considered himself to be an activist.
But now the 39-year-old Milwaukee resident has found himself marching for justice and leading chants after his older cousin, Mike Jackson, died of the coronavirus after collapsing at work in May. Agoro and Jackson’s family say Jackson felt pressured into coming to work sick at Briggs & Stratton in Wauwatosa because the company doesn’t provide sick leave and has done little to improve safety, even after Jackson’s death.
For its part, the company has said it is working “in concert” with the local health department, Centers for Disease Control, and OSHA recommendations.
“When these things happened to my cousin, and I was informed … I knew we were called to action,” Agoro said. “I don’t feel, myself, like an activist. I don’t want to hold that title. I’m an artist. But I’m a human being.”
Jackson’s death represented an intersection of three distinct issues of our time: Black Lives Matter, the coronavirus pandemic, and ongoing concerns of the way corporations treat their workers. Agoro’s willingness to fight for his beliefs comes during a time when millions of ordinary people — not just activists — are rising up in what could be the largest movement in human history.
Jackson led the other workers on his assembly line to walk off the job to demand better safety from management. The company handed out masks — although Briggs employees have said they are just thin fabric, and are still not required while working — the next day. Three current Briggs employees have gone on the record to tell UpNorthNews that much more needs to be done.
Since Jackson’s death, Agoro has been outspoken about the current political and corporate climate. He gave remarks at a press conference hosted by advocacy group Voces de la Frontera announcing Jackson’s death; he was one of the leaders of a caravan to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ house calling for better worker protections during the pandemic; and he led chants last week during a march to Briggs’ Wauwatosa headquarters.
“The situations that our people are being faced with are dehumanizing conditions,” Agoro said. “Just as an upright-standing individual, I feel that when you see these things going on in society to anybody, and you see families being affected, you should stand up and say something.”
After the march last week reached Briggs & Stratton, the roughly 50 protesters picketed outside the factory. Agoro led chants such as “people over profits!” and had the crowd shout Jackson’s name in remembrance.
Standing in the center of the picket action, which marched in a circle near the facility’s driveway, Agoro rallied the demonstrators with a megaphone.
He stopped for a second when he realized his amplified calls were traveling across the sprawling Briggs & Stratton complex, echoing as they bounced from wall to wall. He turned to a reporter, flashing a wide grin as he realized the marchers’ voices could not be ignored.
“That’s gotta be so annoying,” he said before turning back around and leading another chant.