Madison Needs More Black People

Yesterday, Milwaukee’s new mayor Cavalier Johnson announced a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence and reckless driving in his city. Over 200 people were murdered in Milwaukee last year and 65 were killed as a result of traffic crashes.

One of Johnson’s initiatives is to maintain Milwaukee’s current police staffing strength. That’s important because 180 officers have been cut in the last two years. This is the reverse of the “defund the police” mantra that comes from the hard-left.

Johnson’s focus on the most pressing and practical issues in his city, and in much of urban America, right now is not unique. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams has also called for a crackdown on shootings and he opened the public schools there on time in the face of pressure to keep them closed because of the omicron virus. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot fought her teachers union to do the same. In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed is taking heavy criticism from progressives for her new aggressive stance against crime and disorder in her city.

What do all these mayors have in common? They’re all people of color and all of their predecessors were white liberals. And, with the exception of San Francisco, all these cities have large African American populations.

It has been clear for some time now that there is a split in the Democratic Party between affluent white liberals and blue-collar voters and people of color. That’s right. Non-college educated white voters who still identify as Democrats and Black and Hispanic voters are far more moderate than white liberals. Moreover, they make up a strong majority of Democrats. The problem is that it’s the affluent white liberals who give money to candidates, hold fundraisers for them and who are generally more outspoken. It’s the children of those white liberals who work in campaigns and who become young aides in congressional and other offices.

But it was Black voters who made Joe Biden their party’s nominee, choosing him over much more liberal alternatives — some of whom were Black themselves. It was Black voters who chose Adams in New York. In fact, the only borough Adams lost was affluent Manhattan. And it was Black voters in Minneapolis who killed a referendum that would have abolished that city’s police department in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis cop. That referendum won in affluent white liberal wards.

Which brings us back home to Madison, with a Black population of only seven percent. We are not exempt from the nationwide increase in gun violence. Shots fired incidents rose dramatically in 2020 and continued into 2021. This year has started off badly.

And yet there is no sense of urgency about it among our elected leaders. Nobody has stepped up to say that this is THE priority to be addressed in our city. In fact, I’m constantly struck at how quiet Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway is about most everything. I appreciate picking your political fights — God knows that’s a lesson I could have benefited from when I had the job — but there are times when you’ve just got to speak up. The violence in and around Madison schools is a situation that, it seems to me, the mayor should be all over. I don’t think it’s idle speculation on my part that Johnson, Adams, Lightfoot and Breed would be.

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you’re familiar with one of our basic themes: the problem of affluent white liberals. I feel comfortable in my heavy criticism of these folks since I’m pretty much one of them. I may not be affluent exactly, but I’m plenty comfortable. I’m just about the whitest white guy you’re ever going to meet. And I’d be considered a liberal in just about any neighborhood in America, save my own.

But there is this detachment from reality that I see among my own people. They exist in a world of books and high theory. For example, when I criticize Critical Race Theory a common response from my liberal friends is to give me a reading list. That’s fine. Nothing wrong with reading, but the vast majority of Americans, including people of color, are not going to read books on race.

My point is that when you live in virtually crime-free neighborhoods like the Upper West Side of Manhattan (relative to the rest of the New York, at least) and the West Side of Madison, it’s easy to be theoretical about crime and to go on and on about “root causes”, whereas people who worry about being hit by a stray bullet tend to be, well, more practical.

In fact, two of the most down-to-earth alders on the Madison City Council are Sheri Carter and Barbara Harrington-McKinney, two Black women. It’s not uncommon to find them at odds with their more liberal white colleagues, who have read all the right books. And one of the most respected community leaders we have is Boys and Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson, who has expressed a sense of urgency about school violence and who supports a comprehensive approach, including more counseling but also returning cops to high schools.

I fear for our democracy. I worry the Democrats will get pasted in the next election. I fret that the party seems to keep missing the point and not paying enough attention to the issues that are most directly impacting the lives of average Americans right now. Sorry, but that’s not voting rights; it’s crime. It’s not anything in Build Back Better; it’s inflation.

Both the Democratic Party and the city of Madison could get back on the right track by becoming more practical, by listening more closely to the voices of average Americans. That practicality is best articulated by rank-and-file Black voters. The problem for our city is that we don’t have enough of them.

Welcome to the 329th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

2 thoughts on “Madison Needs More Black People

  1. It all comes back to heierchy. Across the political spectrum mainstream thought is poisoned by this. On the left, liberals think they’re better than others due to education. On the right, conservatives think they’re better than others due to money accumulation. So if you’re uneducated, poor – or worst of all both, you don’t matter in one or the other spheres. Both sides will trot out red meat for the uneducated and/or poor to get some votes, but the lesser-than status in philosophical and policy development persists.

    If our political parties stepped aside and left decisions to the poor and uneducated we’d literally be far better off. But because people are addicted to the feeling of superiority those currently deemed superior can’t allow themselves to acknowledge that they really aren’t any better or smarter than the people who are poor or uneducated.

    Go to a university and ask the custodians if the professors treat them like human beings. Go to a corporation and ask the custodians if the executives treat them like human beings. This is the problem. Neither political party truly cares about the interests of the poor and/or uneducated because they are addicted to heierchy. It’s mutually exclusive – one can’t both think they are better than others and still value the thoughts and opinions of those deemed “lower”.

    The interests of the poor/uneducated can’t be dictated, they only can be found by the people themselves. We all know what’s best for ourselves but our political system doesn’t allow collective wisdom to guide decisions – we don’t actually believe in democracy.

    Heierchy is anti-democracy. Democracy says that every individual has an equal voice, heierchy says that some matter more than others.

    This is not to say that earned respect isn’t important nor that those with particular skills and talents should not be rewarded and celebrated for those skills and talents. This is not to say that efficiently organizing the work of groups of people doesn’t benefit from a pyramidal management structure. This does not say that we shouldn’t have leaders, or we shouldn’t weigh expert opinion (heierchical people purposely poison anti-heierchy philosophy by claiming that it leads to non-expert opinion being as valid as expert opinion and that’s not what I’m saying).

    I say that every person is important and nobody is superior to anyone else. Just because someone is better at something (making money, writing research papers, etc.) doesn’t mean they themselves are better (they are worse than others at other things, no doubt). Wisdom is within all of us. We know best what is best for our own lives. All of our viewpoints are important and valid, and by democratically balancing ALL of our perspectives and wisdom we will be the most successful. It won’t land in a cleanly left or right framework because deep down people themselves don’t.

    Back to the point, you say it would be better if more black people lived in Madison. I imagine that there might be a higher proportion of black people that understand that heierchy leads astray, being that they were on the wrong side of it for so long. They might indeed be more likely to just ask regular people what they think the solution should be and actually listen, just like they wish that they had been listened to for hundreds of years.

    Liked by 1 person

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