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At Milwaukee campaign stop

Protesters tell Obama ‘Jobs now!’

Published Feb 23, 2012 8:33 PM

Hundreds of poor and working people came out to see and issue demands to President Barack Obama during his Feb. 15 visit to the Masterlock company. The plant is located in a predominantly African-American neighborhood in the center of Milwaukee.

As part of his campaign tour, Obama came to Masterlock to tout the creation of 100 jobs at the company through an “insourcing” model. Insourcing ostensibly means bringing a few jobs that were outsourced from the U.S. back to the country — at wages and benefits way below what they previously were.

Tens of thousands of people are unemployed in Milwaukee alone and more than 230,000 statewide. Tens of thousands more in the state are underemployed and working part time when they want and need full-time work. Nationwide 30 million to 45 million are unemployed or underemployed.

Across the street from the Masterlock plant, which once employed hundreds of mostly African-American workers, neighborhood residents and other protesters were fenced off from the company by yellow tape and barricades, along with dozens of cops, Secret Service and other employees of local, state and federal repressive state agencies.

When the crowd began assembling, a Secret Service agent came to the barricades with Milwaukee cops and asked long-time progressive activist Brian Verdin if protesters were planning a violent protest. On the bullhorn, Verdin responded with a chant — “Poverty is violence” — that the crowd took up. Then Verdin, hoisting a sign with an image of Dr. Martin Luther King and the slogan “Jobs Not War,” called out the government, the banks and corporations for the violence of poverty, racism and war they inflict on the people everyday.

Thus began an hours-long protest, with a people’s speakout on multiple bullhorns, and marches with many chants through the surrounding neighborhood.

‘The time for change is coming’

Khalil Coleman from Occupy The Hood Milwaukee told Workers World: “They say these young people don’t want change. They say they lazy. They say they don’t want to work. They say they don’t care about their neighborhood. To see these brothers and sisters out here, to see people from different races, different walks of life — it just gives me more energy.

“I just feel like the time is coming. To see these young people be involved and want to be involved actively in the political process and help changing their neighborhood; it’s going to start something and show in time what these young people really can do in the city of Milwaukee.”

Voces de la Frontera, a Milwaukee-based immigrant rights organization, demanded an end to the deportations and raids of immigrants — more than 1 million people have been deported since Obama took office. Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union demanded full funding for and expansion of public transit.

Members of Peace Action Wisconsin and the International Action Center demanded no war on Iran and money for people’s needs not war. Students demanded cancellation of student loan debt. Members of Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement held aloft a banner demanding President Obama issue an executive order to implement a federal jobs program based on the 1978 Full Employment Act. Hundreds of leaflets for a Feb. 25 WIBOPM organizing meeting to fight for a federal moratorium on foreclosures and evictions were distributed during the action, as were dozens of Workers World newspapers and other information from progressive groups.

Coleman continued “From city to state to county and the federal government, the people have seen time and time again how our elected officials have supported big corporations and have bailed out banks, but have put the people’s needs last. To see so many people out here, it shows how eager we are to get things done in Milwaukee and across the United States.

“Let’s challenge everything. We need to drop the staus quo. We need to stop doing the things we used to do. We need to stop letting our elected officials do the things they are used to doing. It’s time we rise up and make a serious difference in the world. We have the opportunity and the possibility to do it.” Coleman and other leaders of Occupy The Hood led a march through the neighborhood and then back to the main rally.