OPEN LETTER TO THE MILWAUKEE COMMON COUNCIL – Get The Lead Out Coalition (GTLO)
By getting The Lead Out Coalition (GTLO)
July 7, 2020
The Get The Lead Out Coalition (GTLO) of Milwaukee supports racial and environmental justice. In that vein, we demand that Milwaukee leaders, heads of departments, the Mayor, and the Common Council commit to community-led efforts to create a just and equitable society that is free from racism and environmental toxins, specifically toxic lead. A City with over 77,000 lead laterals, failing lead paint, and lead in soil is unacceptable. There is no safe level of lead! Democratically drafting a comprehensive plan to remove lead infrastructure throughout the City, and investing heavily in its implementation, would be significant in fighting the double-headed dragon of pollution and racism. The City must commit to a future in which resources are spent removing the toxic legacy of lead, with funding diverted from class and race-based policing practices.
Lead removal is needed most urgently for communities of color that have been disenfranchised from the broader political- economy. Toxic lead seeps into our drinking water through outdated, flaking lead laterals. Failing paint dissipates into the air that children breathe, and falls from the exterior of buildings into our soil. This poisoning disproportionately impacts communities of color on the North and Southside of Milwaukee. The City of Milwaukee has elected to do little in regards to the removal of lead in water and still has not proposed a comprehensive plan to remove the sources of toxicity.
Paralleling the literal poisoning of Milwaukee’s black and brown communities, City officials continue to finance corrupt, racist, authoritarian policing, keeping people of color trapped in cycles of incarceration, surveillance, and marginalization. These social ills are created by cycles of wealth extraction from the center of the City and continual divestment away from our communities. Landlords, management companies, developers, and investors use their capital as power, profiting massively from the commodification of housing while the people bear the brunt of these extractive processes. Currently, our civil courts are filled with people facing evictions due to losing jobs or other COVID-19 related circumstances. 46%* of the City General Purpose Fund currently is allocated to police operations. Instead, this money must be reinvested in our communities.
These funds would be better used for the removal of environmental toxins, creation of crisis intervention teams, community healthcare, affordable and sustainable housing, civic organizations, and social enterprises committed to generational community wealth-building.
Milwaukee is Algonquin for beautiful, pleasant land, but this placid definition hides the fact that this land was violently taken and held by white colonialists, the ramifications of this racist, colonial mindset is evident today in businesses, housing, public services, and local governance which adheres to ruling class interests instead of the voices of the people, specifical communities of color who are most marginalized by a system of racialized capitalism. This egregious, violent past has created one of the most segregated cities in America, damned by a legacy of redlining, racial covenants, and income disparity based on unequal access to resources.
An unchecked police force, supported by a bloated budget, reinforces these historic trends daily. Monies that currently go to the police and towards the development of projects in already wealthy areas (near the lake downtown) must be divested and reinvested into a publicly funded public works campaign to remove lead toxins. Such vital but substantial changes will require innovative initiatives, such as community assemblies in key neighborhoods throughout the City. Community assemblies would greatly help in providing direct democracy to our communities regarding these social issues. Assemblies shift the power to residents directly affected by providing an avenue for debate, deliberation, open-forum decision-making, participatory budgeting, community-based schools, social centers, and other ground-up strategies.
New jobs and social enterprises that are created through real investment can be staffed by people exiting the criminal justice system. Not only would this improve our City, but it would also reduce levels of recidivism, depression, and further disenfranchisement. Together we can create a new world free from racism, sexism, worker’s exploitation, and environmental degradation. We have to act now.