In this file photo from August 2020, recipients line up in their vehicles in a church parking lot in Cameron, WI, for surplus food from grocery stores.
In this file photo from August 2020, recipients line up in their vehicles in a church parking lot in Cameron, WI, for surplus food from grocery stores as part of the Ruby's Pantry food bank program. (Photo by Pat Kreitlow)

Freshmen state Reps. Hong and Shelton say the coronavirus recession shows the need to establish basic safeguards for all.

Our democracy is in crisis. Even before the pandemic began, too many Wisconsinites struggled to find living wage jobs, access quality and affordable healthcare, and ensure their children receive a world-class education. This unprecedented public health crisis, however, has made those glaring problems even worse. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens are out of work, as the pandemic has increased unemployment, and many people in our state face compounding crises such as eviction, hunger and ballooning student loan debt.

However, with crisis comes opportunity, and now is the time for us to renew our state’s tradition of progressive democracy just as we have done before. To do that, we need a bold and transformative vision: an Economic Justice Bill of Rights for all Wisconsinites.

This past November, volunteers, activists and organizers across the state turned out the vote for Democrats up and down the ballot. Progressive Democrats, many of whom challenged Republicans in deeply gerrymandered districts, ran bold, competitive races for federal, state and local elected office.

We flipped our state from red to blue with a slim win margin of just 0.63% for the presidential election, and narrowly saved our Governor’s veto power. That’s something to celebrate. However, if we are being honest, this election cycle brought no blue wave. The decisive defeat of the Republican agenda didn’t come as we had hoped.

We continue to face a deeply divided state government, even though Republican office holders continuously fail to respond to this unprecedented public health and economic crisis. Yes, it’s true, we need fairer maps, and saving the Governor’s veto was important in that effort. But new maps or not, Wisconsin Democrats as a whole are far from affecting the kind of transformational change needed in this state to ensure every Wisconsinite has a safe, secure, and thriving future.

As proud and committed Democrats, we have to start with a candid truth: our party hasn’t done a good enough job demonstrating our vision to improve the lives of working people and their families. We can say that we are a big-tent political party composed of diverse voices with a commitment to inclusivity. But what does that mean in terms of cohesive policy, practice, and tangible change?

We believe it means visibly fighting, with every action we take, for the economic security of all Wisconsinites. This looks like ensuring that the people of our state are supported, as they support us, through establishing a living wage, healthcare as a human right, access to safe and affordable housing, clean drinking water, and excellent public school in both rural and urban areas for our children.

Yet, what we’ve seen in the past decade – at least until Governor Evers gave us a veto over these harmful policies – is a weaker and less effective education system, lower wages and less job security for Wisconsin workers, and a continued refusal to expand access to healthcare by accepting federal Medicaid dollars.

The time has come for Wisconsin Democrats to start speaking clearly and consistently to the aspirations of our fellow citizens in all their diversity. We must embrace the best of Wisconsin’s progressive past and articulate a clear vision for Wisconsin’s future. This vision must engage our collective imaginations and encourage folks to join us in transforming our state for the better.

Native-born or newly-arrived, we are all heirs to the fundamental American promise and vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Aware of the contradictions that have marked and marred that promise, we aim to equitably correct the grave inequalities of racism and sexism that seriously limited this vision, and caused harm.

We have it in our power to recreate and renew a shared vision that can both ensure we solve this immediate crisis and enable us to become the majority party in this state once again. To do this, we revive the idea of the Second Bill of Rights – originally advanced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in January 1944 during another critical moment in American history – while deepening that promise to make it fully equitable and inclusive. We propose a modern-day Economic Justice Bill of Rights for All Wisconsinites.

We must not only aspire to create a state in which we enact policies that will instill these rights, but we must put in the work to actualize it. We must start with a bold, unapologetic commitment that builds solidarity across our divides, knowing that our shared values will center us in this movement.

With this in mind, we believe that every Wisconsinite – urban, suburban, and rural; white, African American, Asian American, Latinx, and. Native; LGBTQ+; and people of all ability statuses are entitled to these rights.

An Economic Justice Bill of Rights for All Wisconsinites

All Wisconsinites deserve the right to:

  • An equitable, living-income and livelihood
  • A union, public or private, and collective bargaining
  • Affordable and accessible high-quality healthcare
  • Equitable and accessible public education and child care
  • Pollution-free water and a healthy planet
  • High quality, safe housing
  • Reliable, climate-friendly transportation
  • A fair and equitable justice system
  • Life, self-determination, and liberation regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability status and age
  • Live free from fear of racial, religious, and gender oppression(s)

The time has come to renew and revitalize the progressive history of Wisconsin – and to do so in a 21st century fashion. In the upcoming weeks and months, you’ll be hearing more from us about this vision, as we will be unveiling legislative priorities and initiating grassroots strategies and coalition building to build momentum.

We invite you to join us. No elected official or leader can advance this vision alone. It will take a multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational movement to actualize the promise of these rights to which we have committed.

We want to hear your voice, sign our petition and tell us which of these economic rights call you and your community into direct action.

Let’s get to work.