By Larry Miller Jan. 13, 2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
On New Year’s Day, I witnessed a ray of hope, shining from the boroughs of New York City. Bill de Blasio gave an inaugural speech following his landslide victory in the mayoral election.
In the campaign, de Blasio said he would take “dead aim at the ‘tale of two cities,'” where nearly 400,000 millionaires call that city home, while nearly half of all New Yorkers live at or near the poverty line. Calling it an “inequality crisis,” de Blasio promised to set in motion expansion of paid sick leave, jobs and affordable housing so that “New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the One Percent, but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work and raise a family.”
He also affirmed his intentions to take on inequality in community policing: “We will reform a broken stop-and-frisk policy, both to protect the dignity and rights of young men of color and to give our brave police officers the partnership they need to continue their success in driving down crime.”
His inaugural speech ended with a reminder of why we pursue such an agenda: “A city that fights injustice and inequality — not just because it honors our values but because it strengthens our people. A city of five boroughs — all created equal. Black, white, Latino, Asian, gay, straight, old, young, rich, middle class and poor. A city that remembers our responsibility to each other — our common cause — is to leave no New Yorker behind.”
Four days later, I was dispirited when I read the Journal Sentinel article by Don Walker describing Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s vision for our city. Where was the urgency? The vision? Signs of anything new?
Milwaukee, too, is a tale of two cities: women and children living in poverty; staggering unemployment rates for black men; a lack of family-supporting jobs and policies; rising homelessness and segregation; diminishing funding for public education; and expanded support for privatization.
While de Blasio is setting a new course, Milwaukee seems to be in store for more of the same. Our mayor needs to use his bully pulpit to address the rising inequality faced by many citizens in our beloved Milwaukee.
The efforts such as Century City and the Strong Neighborhoods Investment Plan mentioned by Barrett are important initiatives. But hope for all citizens must show more imagination.
A new vision for the city should start with a living wage for all residents. Making work pay is key to helping strengthen families, give children a real opportunity to grow and learn, and to boost sales and the economy.
We should learn from New York’s mayor and work for policies such as paid sick days (working to overturn the law that took away our voters’ right to pass it), a Milwaukee Jobs Act with real teeth, police/community relations that begin to address mass incarceration of black youths, job training in neighborhoods to revitalize abandoned homes and public education funding and policies intended to teach all students and reject privatization schemes.
Vision alone won’t solve our problems. But it’s a great place to rally the whole Milwaukee community to dig in on solutions.
Larry Miller is a member of the Milwaukee School Board.