In Action

The Case for Investment

By Chet Atkins

Milwaukee Organizing Corps 2020 Members

Wisconsin was the tipping point state for Trump’s victory in 2016 and will almost certainly play a similar role in next year’s race. Wisconsin is always a battleground. In 2000, Gore won by 5,708 votes; in 2004, Kerry won by 11,384; in 2016, Trump won by 22,748, making him the first Republican to win the state’s 10 electoral votes since 1984. The Blue Wave of 2018 helped Tony Evers defeat Scott Walker by 29,227 votes. This April, Republicans won the heavily contested statewide election for a State Supreme Court Justice by 5,981 votes. The most recent state-level polling (Aug 15 Crooked Media-Change Research) has a generic Democrat beating Trump by 1 point 46-45 %.

In each of these elections the margin of victory or defeat can be found in the turnout percentages in 148 (out of 327) African American majority wards in Milwaukee. Between 2012 and 2016 African American voter turnout in Milwaukee declined by 17% while nationally it declined by 7%. The 10% difference between Milwaukee’s decline and the national decline would have given Clinton a comfortable margin of victory. 

In almost every study and by almost any measure, Milwaukee is the most segregated city in America. Milwaukee has the zip code with the highest incarceration rate for African Americans in our country; Wisconsin holds top spot in the country for the highest African American infant mortality and the highest racial achievement gaps in education. Compounding these conditions, state Republicans passed a voter ID law and numerous other laws to suppress voter turnout.  Wisconsin’s voting age population grew between 2014 and 2018, but the state’s voting rolls shrunk by 25,000.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the Clinton team parachuted national field organizers into Wisconsin and Milwaukee. National organizers typically come from affluent backgrounds with parents who can subsidize their poverty-level wages. They do not look like or relate to the lives of residents of low income, inner-city neighborhoods. We cannot make that mistake twice. This time around, we need to support local groups with their roots in these communities.

Since 2016, these three organizations, Organizing Corps 2020, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, and the Wisconsin Democratic Party, have distinguished themselves for their ability to recruit and train organizers from the Milwaukee community who will engage and energize voters in their own neighborhoods. While there are other organizations doing good work, these three seem to have the leadership, the focus, and the ability to use additional resources effectively. They have different approaches, organizational structures and ways of working, but all three have deep roots in and access to the relevant communities. 

For more information and to donate to all three with a single click – Learn more and contribute here

Chet Atkins is a former U.S. congressman who served in elected office for nearly 25 years. He is currently a partner at Tremont Strategies group, a government relations firm.