Marchers representing Occupy Milwaukee and Occupy the Hood march on W. Capitol Drive from Lincoln Park to the closed A.O. Smith factory complex, in protest of urban unemployment and the growing gap in income and political power.
Chanting, “We are the 99%,” and “Jobs now,” hundreds gathered in Lincoln Park on Saturday afternoon for an Occupy the Hood Milwaukee rally and then marched to the shuttered Tower Automotive plant on Milwaukee’s north side.
Rally organizers said they planned to make this the first of several rallies that aim to steer the Occupy Wall Street movement into city neighborhoods where high unemployment is rampant.
“When we can get people from all walks of life and all ages here, we’re doing something powerful,” said Khalil Coleman of Occupy Milwaukee and Occupy the Hood, as the march got under way, heading down Green Bay Ave. toward Capitol Drive.
“We’re going to do what it takes to get our elected officials to hear us.”
The choice of the former A.O. Smith plant, which got it start making frames for the Model T, once employed nearly 10,000 people and shut its doors in 2006, underscores the attention that needs to be given to the need for jobs, particularly for city residents, speakers at the rally said.
“Once they left there, the community began to suffer,” said Torrie Moffett of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. “There’s no jobs that are sustainable.”
Jennifer Epps-Addison, a public defender and community organizer with Citizen Action Wisconsin, said the crisis of black unemployment needs to be addressed.
“My grandmother said, ‘We used to joke that you couldn’t throw a penny in the city of Milwaukee without hitting an A.O. Smith family,’ ” she said, urging rally participants to support a local jobs initiative to be offered by Ald. Ashanti Hamilton.
“As we go through these neighborhoods, we’re going to draw the attention of folks who are really affected by this crisis,” Epps-Addison said.
“The pundits want to tell us this movement is not sustainable,” said Becky Cooper of Peace Action Wisconsin. “We are here to tell you that you, the 1%, are not sustainable.”
Among the targets of the some 400 Occupy Milwaukee protesters was a bill pending in Madison that would allow employers to terminate or refuse to hire someone with a felony conviction. That bill would disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos and would contribute to unemployment, speakers said.
“It really is a disgrace for anyone to try and fire someone for something they did a long time ago,” said retiree Henrietta Smith.
The Associated Press contributed to this report