Twenty-seventeen was…well, it was a year. The list of national outrages and horror stories could go on for days, and that’s not even taking into account the international outrages and horror stories. Luckily, 2017 wasn’t quite as brutal for Milwaukee. Once again, the city found itself in the throes of an unprecedented wave of development; once again, the city struggled to heal a divide that’s been splitting it in two since time immemorial (or not?). Huge projects like the streetcar and the new Bucks arena took steps to becoming realities. A neighborhood rallied. A cowboy-hat-wearing internet troll resigned.
So what can Milwaukee do to become more whole, more harmonious, more just in 2018? What can it do to move forward? As in years past, we reached out to a handful of local notables—city and community leaders, musicians, longtime Milwaukee backers—and asked them what they believe the city needs to accomplish in 2018. Here are thoughts from eight of them, from shortest reply to longest.
Ted Perry — FOX 6 anchor/reporter
Milwaukee needs to stop rewarding stupid ideas. This should be self-explanatory.
Fred Gillich – Too Much Metal For One Hand
1. A rock en roll spirit.
2. Less beards.
I’m speaking in Zeitgeist metaphors of course, so allow me to explain:
We Milwaukeeans have a rare opportunity to rock-kick culture in the face at the moment. A lot of the world is looking at us now for tons of reasons: from our sports teams to our food/beer scene. And from our social problems to our water resources and everything in between. Look…I know all about our city’s problems. I come from many of them.
But let me tell you that we have a healthy cultural economy. We just need a little swagger to our back beat. We gotta share it in bold lights and in humble shadows. We have to author a real, authentic expression—a sense of care and purpose to our song so it shines on the cultural radio. It’s super rad to say you’re from Milwaukee while it’s easy to talk shit about idealism and civic pride, so I offer you this challenge: be yourself. Make something. And contribute at the highest level even if it seems like forever. But if you don’t want to engage or do the necessary hard work you can go hide behind a beard.
B~Free – musician
For 2018, I think the primary goals for Milwaukee should be inclusion and professionalism. As a local musician myself, I’m always coming from that viewpoint first. While we’ve made positive strides towards diversity in the past year, there is still a dire need for the presence of women in imperative roles such as sound technicians. Nothing would be more refreshing than to see the responsibilities of this role expanded to a diverse array of capable people. It’s similar to the need for such a presence in the world of coding; not impossible, just a market that’s been traditionally saturated by male counterparts—and that should change.
Additionally, there is never enough that Milwaukee can do to create more learning opportunities in professionalism for any market. Far too often do we come across individuals with a great brand idea or potential without the proper appeal. In the music realm specifically, it would be excellent to establish a space and time for like-minded individuals to gather, give and receive pointers from fellow artists, producers, photographers, bloggers, etc. on what can be done to improve our bios, sound, image, and the overall quality of our aesthetic. Ridding ourselves of the “crabs in a barrel” mentality can begin with ensuring that everyone in your field and circle has the same level of quality work to present to the world.
Adam Carr – Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Heading into 2017, I urged us to learn from a 50th anniversary, which continues into 2018.
Beginning on August 28th, 1967, the NAACP Youth Council, Commandos, Father James Groppi, and many others began marching for Fair Housing. They encountered as many as 13,000 angry white counter-protestors on the South Side, many of whom were belligerent and violent. Showing astonishing courage and resolve, they continued marching, not stopping until they’d marched for over 200 days, well into 1968. Shortly thereafter, Congress passed the Federal Fair Housing Act and Milwaukee’s Common Council passed alderwoman Vel Phillips’ open housing resolution.
This is history of national caliber, that’s barely part of our local story.
While many Milwaukeeans have engaged with 200 Nights of Freedom, an initiative marking the 50th anniversary, many more of us know little about the Open Housing Marches story beyond a name or two. I’m not sure Milwaukee has a more important story than this, particularly because of the role of young black leaders, who risked everything by advocating for their own humanity at a basic level.
As the 50th anniversary draws to a close in the coming months, as a community, there is no better time to learn this history and seek lessons that can spur the change we need in 2018. And perhaps more importantly, we must embrace both the inspiration and ugliness of the Open Housing Marches, and ensure this story doesn’t continue fading over our next 50 years.
Clarene Mitchell – Managing Partner, TCM Communications
Twenty-eighteen will mark the 50th anniversary of the assassinations of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Many may not see the relevancy of this historical reference for Milwaukee, but sadly the attitudes that led to the untimely deaths of these two great leaders continue to linger in Milwaukee. The vestiges of racism continue to permeate in the great city on the Lake. Some even still call Milwaukee the “Selma of the North.” Granted, the open housing and civil rights protests 50 years ago ended the outward signs of racism. Instead today people of color, especially African Americans, experience covert racism-based barriers. In the ’60s the 27th Street Bridge was comparable to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama. Today, people of color can freely travel throughout the city, but there continues to be extreme race-based segregation (housing, employment, social life, etc.). As you look at the booming development that is occurring in some communities while other communities continue to see decline, it is clear that Milwaukee is a tale of two cities.
With this said, Milwaukee could greatly benefit from a strong army of racism whistle blowers in 2018! To truly reverse the extreme disparities that exist here, there needs to be a broad contingency of people who are willing to step out of their comfort zones. Individuals who are willing to challenge acts of racism that they see on a daily basis. No longer should people feel that it is none of their business, or that it does not impact them. Let us not forget the wisdom of Dr. King: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Can Milwaukee truly thrive if it continues to be a tale of two cities, extreme divides driven by racism? The call for racism whistle blowers goes especially to White Milwaukeeans. To a greater extent, the city will only lose the “Selma of the North” title if masses of Whites acknowledge their intentional or unintentional acts of racism as well as their blind eye to acts by others.
The need for racism whistle blowers in Milwaukee became clear to me during my campaign against Milwaukee Magazine (fall 2017) when they ran a racist fashion photo. During that time, and since then, people in passing would thank me for my efforts. I appreciated the thanks, but more often than not it seemed people who applauded my efforts sat silently on the sidelines as if they were at the movies with a bucket of popcorn being a spectator instead of adding their voice to the process. The rallying of a few is quickly forgotten, but collective voices effectuate real progress. I wasn’t the only one who saw the photo, I was just the one who wrote an article and was willing to push the issue. Every day there are similar situations occurring in Milwaukee that need to be exposed and challenged. Let 2018 be the year of racism whistle blowers!
It is about our survival.
For over a century, our state has collected all local sales and income taxes, and then “shared” them back with the cities, towns, and villages where they were paid. This pot of “shared revenue” has been drastically cut since Governor Walker took office seven years ago, so much so that, in Milwaukee’s case, we are receiving about $100 million less per year, adjusted for inflation.
We’re paying just as much in taxes as we used to, but now the state is keeping that money, and spending it on corporate tax breaks, on prisons, on private schools, and most recently on Foxconn.
Without that money, we can’t pave as many roads, or intervene as well in public safety and health emergencies, or keep the streetlights on and the garbage picked up. The City provides basic, daily services that residents can’t imagine living without, and yet this is what has been most defunded. Walker’s other big target for reductions has been our public schools.
If he gets four more years, I suspect that both our City and our Public Schools may eventually be forced in Michigan-style receivership. The Republican governor of that state across the lake was only too eager to do that to Detroit and several other minority-majority cities. Milwaukee is the only minority-majority city in the state of Wisconsin.
That means that all of our current governor’s racial attacks—most especially the voter suppression strategy which helped elect a fascist maniac into the presidency—affect us more than the rest of the state.
Much of our segregation is social, but even more of it is structural, meaning that our best hope for change is via the bureaucracy and the ballot box. Fortunately for us, the current governor is in the same party as an historical unpopular president and his own approval ratings remain under 50%.
This November is our first realistic chance for real change this decade. Then our city can once again become the engine and the symbol of our state, not its punching bag.
Johanna Rose – musician
It’s disheartening to live in a rad city within a bummer state ruled by the perversely rich. Ultimately, we need to elect people who represent Milwaukee’s best interests into our state legislature. As the state defunds our public rights like education and health care, the major problems that plague our city grow exponentially, and social mobility slows to a standstill. It would be so great if Milwaukee could stop subsidizing the Darth Vaders on Capitol Hill, but it feels far away. However, there are great people doing great things right NOW! Milwaukee does not lack innovative and creative people, teachers, and community organizers who have brilliant ideas about how to make Milwaukee better, but I’m sure they could still use more! I think in 2018 Milwaukee should get involved! Here are some great organizations providing a wide variety of services I recommend checking out this year:
Alice’s Garden – Community garden transforming Earth, Families, and Community, one tomato, yoga class, herbal bath at a time!
Coalition For Justice – A coalition led by Nate Hamilton fighting for justice for his brother, Dontre Hamilton, and protesting against police brutality in Milwaukee.
SURJ – Showing Up For Racial Justice is a national organization that has a Milwaukee affiliate that believes in collective liberation—and believes that none of us can be free until we end white supremacy.
YES – Youth Empowered Against The Struggle, a multicultural social justice organization that fights for immigrant, student, and worker’s rights.
Pathfinders – Works with Milwaukee youth in crisis.
UBLAC – Uplifting Black Liberation and Community is a coalition led by black women, queer, and trans* folx working towards black liberation with people of African heritage in Milwaukee.
Tricklebee cafe – A pay-what-you-can community café that offers healthy meals, food-service training, and spiritual nourishment.
Express Yourself MKE – Through a unique arts immersion program, young people learn to express themselves in healthy, positive ways using a variety of creative means. In the process, they discover inner strength and a sense of connection with others.
Milwaukee Women’s Center – Provides comprehensive services and treatment for women, men, and children whose lives have been affected by domestic violence, addiction, mental health issues, and poverty.
The Healing Center – Offers emergency care, counseling, emotional support, and forensic nursing. Providers work together to help survivors receive the individualized care and services they need to feel whole again.
Sixteenth Street Health Clinic – Provides high-quality health care, health education, and social services for residents of the multi-cultural neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s South Side.
Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach – Reaching into the community and restoring hope by empowering individuals, inspiring others to pay it forward, and providing basic human necessities to those in need.
Affiliated Medical Services – Provides abortion procedures, the abortion pill (RU-486), early abortion, and later abortion in Wisconsin up to the legal limit.
MKE LGBT Community Center – The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center is dedicated to serving the needs of LGBTQ people and to making the Greater Milwaukee area safer and more inclusive.
Young People’s Resistance Committee – A youth-led, multinational organization that works for the rights of immigrants, students, and workers. They organize to not only increase awareness of the injustices immigrants face in this country, but to engage all who become indignant to such issues.
COA Youth & Family Centers – Helps Milwaukee children, teens, and families reach their greatest potential through a continuum of educational, recreational, and social work programs offered through its urban community centers and rural camp facility.
This is really a short list. Milwaukee has a lot going on that I likely failed to mention. Getting involved is going to look different for everyone—maybe you can offer these organizations something, and/or some of these organizations might offer something you need. The point is to take care of ourselves and each other. <3
Jeremy Fojut — Chief Idea Officer, co-founder, NEWaukee
Last year, I wrote about the need for increased connectivity and risk taking from institutions. It was a big, lofty and esoteric talking point. In the past year, a lot has happened. Institutional companies like Northwestern Mutual and Aurora Health Care paved the path forward and put a huge investment into the startup ecosystem, Start Up Milwaukee launched a statewide startup week, the Great Milwaukee Foundation launched On the Table around community conversations, and there has been a lot more discussions and movement toward future neighborhood investment. With that being said, I wanted to get a little more granular with what I would like to see happen in Milwaukee in 2018.
• One pass
With the streetcar coming online in 2018, we have an opportunity to do something complicated, but extremely important. We need a one pass for all of our transit options public and private. I know Uber and Lyft would be more difficult to work with, but it doesn’t hurt to try. I am looking for one pass that connects (Zipcar, ride sharing services, Bublr Bikes, streetcar, and bus system). It is lofty, but if we get this right we will have a seamless, modern, and robust transit system.
• Water taxi
While there have been rumblings and attempts, the timing is now prime for a water taxi. With all the hard work Milwaukeeans have put into revitalizing our riverfront and the increased water traffic I can’t think of a better time to make this happen. Think of the opportunities and increased access to the river that we would see if there was an inexpensive option. If anyone is interested I am open to helping however I can to bring this to life.
• Lake Express ferry
I have taken the ferry across Lake Michigan. Let’s just say it breaks the wallet. It definitely isn’t for the average person. But what if it was? What if it was looked at as a transit option so when people are driving across country or looking for a day trip they would skip Chicago and take the ferry across? The challenge is it’s too expensive. But what if it was subsidized? As an entrepreneur and a believer in the private market I can only imagine if we did this right the amount of traffic it would generate. In Europe a lot of the car port ferries are inexpensive and meant for economic development and to move people; ours is used for people that have big homes on the other side of the lake.
• Civic innovation
The state and the city went all out for Foxconn, we also put in a proposal for Amazon. The truth is moving companies that large is like winning the lottery for some, and on the other side it is tragic. Regardless of what side of the coin you believe, the state took a risk and followed their beliefs, and government laid the foundation for future economic development in the region. Now it is time for us to get more aggressive on the innovation front. With companies like Google getting into civic innovation like Sidewalk Labs, and Elon Musk’s Boring Company creating transit options of the future in Chicago, we have be more proactive in bringing these new ideas to the city. We at least have to get them on the phone and see what they have to say. There is no reason we shouldn’t be in the conversation to have the Boring Company connect a tunnel from Chicago, through Racine and Kenosha to Milwaukee.
• Pedestrian friendly design
Milwaukee is not a pedestrian friendly city, nor do we currently strive to be one. We need traffic engineers and car first planners to take a back seat to design and architects. We have too many dead streets, street level parking lots, and empty storefronts. We need to get serious about putting people first. The Milwaukee Bucks seem to be doing a terrific job in understanding how to create a place for pedestrians. We will see what it looks like when it is finished.
• Talent attraction / retention strategy
While everything I wrote about above will help with talent attraction and attention, it is time to develop a more comprehensive plan. Let’s face it: the city needs to develop more talent and attract more people to fill the future demand. The State of Wisconsin is starting to get serious about talent; however, the city doesn’t seem to have a plan. Maybe it is not the city’s plan to attract more people, but it is ultra competitive right now across the country. I meet with a lot of companies around this specific topic weekly. While some are embracing new strategies, the majority don’t want to invest in something new or take risks. I am excited to be working with the M7 to accomplish this task in the new year. We don’t have to get everything 100% perfect, but we have to develop a plan to be proactive instead of reactive.