Democratic lawmakers and state leaders called for an end to voter suppression and ensuring a “fair count” during the upcoming Census as they kicked off Black History Month on Monday.
They also pushed for further movement in the state, including measures to overhaul the criminal justice system and more, to heighten equality and inclusion efforts across Wisconsin.
“We know the forces that stand against our progress,” said Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the first African American to hold the office. “We know the forces that want to silence our voices and make our communities continue down a path to becoming irrelevant because they don’t want us to vote. If you don’t vote, you are irrelevant. If you aren’t counted in the Census, you are irrelevant.”
Barnes, a former lawmaker himself, was joined in the state Capitol by members of the eight-person Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus, state agency heads and Gov. Tony Evers.
Many called out “voter suppression tactics” in their remarks, including Evers, who listed redistricting among those tactics, saying “gerrymandering often disproportionately affects people of color.”
“We must ensure that every Wisconsinite regardless of zip code has the same voice and visibility,” he said.
This year’s theme for Black History Month is “African Americans and the Vote,” and comes as the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to cast ballots, as well as the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment allowing African-American men to vote following the Civil War.
Some speakers referenced U.S. history or their own in their remarks, including Rep. Shelia Stubbs, the first African-American lawmaker to represent Dane County in the state Legislature.
“History isn’t easy to make and it’s not easy to break history, but I broke 170 years of history and I stand here today on the shoulders of a long list of greats who came before me,” the Madison Democrat said.
Throughout the remainder of the month, the Legislative Black Caucus is planning a number of events surrounding several themes: business and entrepreneurship this week; education next week; health and mental health Feb. 17-21; and criminal justice week Feb. 24-28.
Democrats are currently circulating a resolution to recognize February as Black History Month, a move that comes after Rep. Scott Allen, who’s white, introduced his own measure in December to commemorate the month.
His language seeks to honor 10 mostly white Wisconsinites who were involved in the Underground Railroad. Democrats, who are circulating their own resolution for co-sponsors, are looking to spotlight more than a dozen individuals including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who recently died in a helicopter crash.
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