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Milwaukee Occupy movement: ‘Moratorium now!’

Published Feb 18, 2012 9:46 AM

On Feb. 6, members of the Occupy Coalition in Milwaukee held a protest at the Chase Bank at Water and Wisconsin streets. Then they marched to City Hall to demand a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions, a jobs program and a community-driven audit of Community Development Block Grants.

The Occupy Coalition includes Decolonize The Hood, Occupy Milwaukee, Occupy Riverwest and Occupy The Hood. Members of Occupy Fondulac, Occupy Appleton and the Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement also participated in the protest activities.

Occupy members and allies began their protest at Chase Bank because its criminal activities make it one of the top banks destroying communities all over Milwaukee and the rest of the world. There have been 20,000 foreclosures in Milwaukee since 2007, the majority in the central city where most African-American residents live. More than 50 percent of Black men are officially unemployed in Milwaukee.

While marching, Occupy participants chanted and held signs and placards displaying their demands. Moments before they entered City Hall, a massive banner declaring the Occupy Coalition’s demands was dropped over the second-floor railing of the building.

Once inside, Occupy members were harassed by more than two dozen fully armed Milwaukee police as well as members of the Major Incident Response Team. These forces were almost all white, despite the fact that Milwaukee’s Black population is 40 percent and the Latino/a population is approximately 15 percent.

Anthony Williams of Occupy The Hood told Workers World, “I feel like this is the Gaza strip out here. I feel like they trying to keep us in containment. We are only exercising our rights. I look around and I see all the barricades and all the police vans and the police vehicles outside keeping us from even going to the second floor. Hell yeah, I got a big problem with that.”

Undeterred by the police, protesters took over the City Hall rotunda for more than an hour. Occupy The Hood members took the lead chanting and reading state and city statutes detailing what Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can legally do — declare a state of emergency in the city and state and issue a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.

When the protesters attempted to use the stairs to go to Barrett’s office, they were stopped, threatened by police and told that the mayor refused to see them.

Williams said, “Barrett doesn’t deserve to be the mayor over my city. He should have no governance over any constituents who he’s not willing to speak to. He has us locked down here on the first floor and will not even allow us to come up to the second floor nor the third level or his office. If he knows we want to speak to him, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be out here listening to his constituents.”

After directly confronting two City Council members about Barrett’s locking them out, one African-American city councilor agreed to hold a public hearing regarding the Occupy Coalition’s demands and grievances. Declaring a temporary victory, the protesters marched out, chanting “We’ll be back,” and held an impromptu rally in front of City Hall.