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Wisconsin meets Egypt, in Woodlawn

At a community forum here Sunday, a Wisconsin state senator asked a human rights activist in Egypt to thank the Cairo demonstrators who’ve carried signs of support for Wisconsin workers.

“If you find out who that was, we want to know, because we want to give them some love,” said State Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, speaking to Atef Said (who appeared via internet connection) at at panel discussion at the Experimental Station, 61st and Blackstone.

Taylor traced her commitment to her background as the daughter of two union members.  She criticized the uncompromising stance of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as autocratic:  “Walker thinks he’s a government of one, with the legislature acting as a rubber stamp for whatever he wants to do.”

She said Walker’s new budget eliminates reading specialists for schools in her district, which she said has the lowest reading levels in the state.

Said described media depictions of the Egyptian revolution as an 18-day revolt of youth and technology as a “misconception,” saying its roots went back 30 years.  He cited labor strikes going back to the 1990s, as well as protests supporting Palestinians and opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the past decade which challenged the Mubarek regime’s status as U.S. client.

The relevance to Chicago and its recent election was taken up by Salim Muwakkil of In These Times and WVON and Amisha Patel of the Grassroots Collaborative and New Chicago 2011.

Muwakkil said “African American leadership went to an old paradigm of racial solidarity” but “it’s not operational any more” in part because “class divisions [in the African American community] have been exacerbated,” particularly by “a rapidly growing underclass created by the criminal justice complex.”

Patel argued that “economic justice issues transcend race.”  She said the multiracial coalition of New Chicago 2011 realized mayoral candidates were going to make racial appeals but “the color that concerns everybody is green, the green of money.”

Media coverage of the election was “all about personalities, not about substance at all,” she said.  When the citywide coalition of community and labor organizations drew thousands to a candidates forum focused on community issues in December, mainstream print media made no mention of the event.  “The fact of 2,500 Chicagoans getting together is apparently not a big deal,” she said.

The forum was sponsored by ARC (which stands for A movement Re-imaging Chicago), which issued a document of “principles for a humane city.”  The principles included a commitment to public schools, environmental rights, a comprehensive fair housing standard, public clinics and hospitals, and community efforts to prevent violence.

Presenting the document for ARC, University of Chicago historian Adam Green stressed the importance of framing policies that address the central problem of massive, growing inequality in American society.

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Category: elections, international, labor, Woodlawn

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