OPINION: Residents are the key to unlocking Milwaukee’s potential


Markasa Tucker-Harris writes, “I would ensure that those closest to our city’s many disparities and inequalities have the autonomy to make and direct decision-making.” (Photo by Sam Woods)

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series in which readers share what they would do in their first 100 days if they could be mayor.

I’m a mother and a community organizer, so I would approach the role of mayor of Milwaukee through that lens, knowing that we all hold the power to create the communities we want to see.

My values ​​include faith, transformative personal work, people power, love, sustainability, dignity, authentic relationships, vision and organization. I would model my values ​​through my behavior, such as how I spend my time in the community and deal with crises. I believe in seeking God first in my decision-making, relationships, and actions, and I would lead with love for people and wisdom to sustain a great city.

I would ensure that those closest to our city’s many disparities and inequalities have the autonomy to make and lead decision-making.

My top three priorities as mayor would be to ensure the safety and well-being of residents, to be a responsible steward of the city’s finances, and to dismantle the white supremacy that maintains unfair systems and processes.

Safety and well-being of residents

I would commit to investing in public safety infrastructure focused on providing alternatives to policing and meeting the basic needs of residents. This includes access to readily available mental health care support and resources; safer streets; affordable, quality health care in neighborhoods; culture-based education; liveable and remunerative jobs (including green jobs); affordable, quality housing and increased home ownership for marginalized people; free COVID-19 tests; a strategic plan for snow removal and garbage collection; urban green spaces; and environmental justice to improve access to healthy and fresh food, transport, clean air and water. I would ensure there were no evictions, foreclosures, or utility cuts during the pandemic and I would fund small businesses to preserve Milwaukee’s vibrant local communities.

Responsible management of city finances

Being a good steward of the city’s finances will allow all residents to prosper. Milwaukee has lots of money that can be used to meet youth needs, access to jobs, better education, green spaces/playgrounds, economic vitality, community engagement, options/centers recreation and driver education. Being better financial stewards also means defunding the police by tens of millions of dollars. I would also pledge not to use federal, state, or county funds for policing, surveillance, or correctional institutions that harm many black and brown communities. These funds should be used to support marginalized communities in Milwaukee.

destroy white supremacy

According to Dr. Tema Okun, “. . . The culture of white supremacy is the water we swim in. We inevitably internalize messages about what that culture believes in, values, and considers normal. As long as white supremacist beliefs and values ​​are ingrained in every institution related to our city (now systemic oppression), it will continue to operate as if what we have been doing is normal, and it is not. . It’s racist, violent and regressive. The disparities and inequalities we experience globally, nationally and locally can be addressed right now in our city. We don’t have to wait for the federal government. White supremacy created this kind of culture, and no one was brave enough to fight our city’s oppressive, persuasive, and debilitating ways of operating front and center within every institution in our city, starting with the hotel. of town.

One concrete thing I would do to build community safety, better manage city finances, and rid Milwaukee of white supremacy at the city level is invest in and implement participatory budgeting. This single act would put power and resources back into the hands of the residents. According to the Participatory Budgeting Project, “it deepens democracy, builds strong communities, and creates an equitable distribution of public resources.”

Participatory budgeting allows residents to develop sustainable projects that they, as a group, consider and vote on. Here is how the process would unfold. First, a design process is created by a steering committee to create the rules and engagement plan. Then, residents brainstorm project ideas in meetings and using online tools they want to consider for a resourced project. Then the volunteers help create proposals for the projects the residents have started. Residents are now ready to vote on which projects they want to fund that will best meet the needs of their community. Finally, the projects with the most votes are funded by municipal taxes or other sources of city revenue. Residents must control when and where they want their tax dollars spent to ensure their safety and well-being.

Community Connections

I would reach out to the following groups to make sure they feel heard by the mayor’s office and to implement my bold changes: grassroots organizations, educators, holistic mental health and health care experts, faith-based communities, neighborhood associations, individual community members, youth and senior agencies, labor unions, non-profit organizations, business owners, violence interruption/prevention agencies, domestic violence advocates and agencies and sexual assaults, shelters and barbers/beauticians.

The best way to engage residents is to meet them where they are, whether at their doorstep or in community spaces. It is also essential to fund organizations that are already connected to residents and organizations on the ground to have conversations about how the city can support their ideas and fund projects that meet their community needs.

Funding and challenges: Some initial ideas for funding these initiatives include funding the police and their canine unit which receives $300,000, the Mounted Patrol Unit (which is often used to harass protesters exercising their rights) and the Fusion Center (which , through surveillance, monitors and infringes the privacy of marginalized communities) which receives over $3 million and the school crossing guards unit which receives just over $1 million. I would use those dollars, including what we spend on bloated pensions, to fuel and fund small businesses, grassroots organizations and credible messengers to support civic engagement, violence prevention and grassroots work security, as well as support for crisis and mental health care.

I expect a reaction from those who want to defend white supremacy and structural, systematic and institutionalized racism. I know change is scary, and some people may want the status quo to remain and may not want to take bold steps and invest in our city, our people, and new infrastructure. I also anticipate that the residents’ patience will be a challenge, so I will make sure they are part of any decisions along the way.

This is a process, and it will take some time to revise these structural issues.

I would overcome these challenges by developing a strategic plan with the community connections strategy described above and imagining with them ways to increase revenue streams and build a strong, sustainable and culturally rich economic engine of a city where we do “the old with the new. I would hire a talented team to help revise city government processes and build with residents from the ground up, researching what tools, frameworks and ideas we can use to create the city we want.

I would look to cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul on issues like adopting progressive policies, rent control, and overhauling the police department.

With the right people and the right policies, we could create a Milwaukee of the future, where all residents thrive and walk in their power.

Markasa Tucker-Harris is the Executive Director of African American Roundtable in Milwaukee.

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