BLOC energizing Milwaukee voters
Angela Lang, a political activist in Milwaukee and a founder of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, or BLOC. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

Coronavirus hasn’t stopped the Milwaukee group’s voter mobilization efforts.

The ambassadors at Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, or BLOC, a Black voter empowerment organization on Milwaukee’s north side, have traded in their walking shoes and clipboards for text messages and emails.

But the change in venue due to the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped BLOC from doing what it does best: Energizing and mobilizing voters on Milwaukee’s predominantly Black north side, where turnout was low in 2016 when Donald Trump carried Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes. BLOC hopes to change that by registering new voters and inspiring those who don’t usually go to the polls to make a trip in November.

“On one hand, we’re really trying to express this sense of urgency,” said Angela Lang, BLOC’s executive director. “We’re seeing the effects of the lack of leadership on the federal level really playing out and impacting people in real time.”

In February, before coronavirus reached Wisconsin, BLOC’s ambassadors had knocked on doors more than 300,000 times since the group formed in 2017. They have kept that high level of efficiency—perhaps even expanded it—since the pandemic hit.

The group’s roughly 100 ambassadors have sent about 233,000 text messages and made almost 132,000 calls urging people to vote or register to vote since March, Lang said. And the organization’s lead ambassadors have registered dozens of first-time voters, she said.

Lang said Trump has had a much more pronounced impact on many people than a typical president, which makes it easier to motivate voters. She pointed to his controversial visit to Kenosha in the wake of the Jacob Blake shooting just last week as a way he is playing politics with Wisconsin’s Black residents.

“It’s very personal to a lot of folks, so we’re trying to make that case,” Lang said.

Black voter turnout fell nationally by more than 4 percent between the 2012 and 2016 elections, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress. National media picked up on this narrative in Milwaukee, where a huge amount of Black voters stayed home—a trend that some say may have caused Hillary Clinton to lose Wisconsin. 

Lang said that while it can be easy to become disenchanted in the electoral process, it is still important to participate in every election.

“When enough people remove themselves from the political process because they think they’re not adding to it, then it’s really kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Lang said.