This is a response to an opinion piece by Janan Najeeb who erroneously characterized the Latinx struggle for fair maps and equal representation in Milwaukee as a threat to Muslim voting rights or representation (“Muslims in Milwaukee just want to be represented fairly by the Common Council”, 30 January).
The fight for the freedom of communities of color to have a fair and equal voice in our city can never be won if we allow ourselves to be manipulated by politicians who use divide and conquer tactics to pit one oppressed group against another.
On a personal level, I have deep respect for Janan and the Muslim organizations we have worked with, including the Islamic society and Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalitionnm Voces has been one of the Muslim community’s most outspoken and steadfast allies in opposing the harassment and discrimination stoked by former President Donald Trump’s hateful anti-Muslim policies and actions and fueled by the rhetoric from right-wing politicians.
Under the far-right Trump administration, voice from the border fought and won welcome policies to protect refugees, immigrants, Muslims, and others in Milwaukee public schools, and joined forces with the Muslim community and others to win protections from ” sanctuary” in Milwaukee County. We have walked together and broken bread together, and that deep commitment to covenants will never change.
It is therefore in this spirit that I want to clarify why the demand by virtually the entire Latinx community for aldermen cards that reflect the dramatic growth of our population over the past 10 years is recognized as an opportunity to advance a progressive agenda. against the forces of hatred and division.
As the Journal Sentinel has frequently reported, one in five Milwaukeeans are now Latinx. And, as former mayor Tom Barrett said when he vetoed the board mapthe aldermen boroughs and the Communal Council itself should reflect this growth.
In a city predominantly populated by people of color, notorious for its racial disparities, the goal of bringing voters of a similar demographic or racial group together in a constituency is to give them the freedom to choose who represents them and to ensure that their votes are not nullified by a predominantly white electoral bloc. This is precisely what Voces and our Latinx allies seek to accomplish by creating a third Latinx Alderman District that would be proportional to Milwaukee’s 20% Latinx population.
One of the maps offered by Voces consolidated Milwaukee’s growing Latinx community south and west of the city into a single aldermen’s district (District 13), easily creating a district with a 52% majority Latinx population. Other cards we submitted were even higher. The 13th Aldermen’s District would also become a majority-colored district. It would have been an opportunity to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic alliance between white working-class voters, immigrants, refugees, Muslims and people of color at a time when far-right extremism is more emboldened.
Instead, the status quo map that Alderman Scott Spiker supported and the Common Council adopted actually divides the Latinx community into two aldermen districts at approximately 25% of the Latinx population each, diluting voting power. Latinx and now a predominantly white, conservative district.
One of the rationales for removing Latinx voting rights lies in the criteria used for redistricting and voting rights disputes. The census and the American Community Survey are what we currently have to measure people by ethnicity and citizenship. We know this data is flawed, especially when it was collected during a pandemic and under a hostile administration that relentlessly targeted our two communities. Latin and Muslim communities are underestimated.
Yet, based on the data we had and our conversations with Muslim leaders and members of the Voces Redistricting Commission to try to find common ground, it was recognized that there was no of a concentrated majority of Muslims in a single neighborhood. And while Janan and other Muslim leaders argue that the presence of businesses and institutions should be the basis for creating the boundaries of political districts, that is simply not the case. The districts are drawn according to the voters and their place of residence.
That said, if there were a concentrated majority of Muslims, as the Latinx currently is, we would stand in solidarity with the Muslim community advocating for a majority district that raises its voice in government and seeks to form an alliance with them. This is why the Milwaukee Chapter of the NAACP stood with Latinx people because they fought for civil and voting rights for the black community and understand the importance of this fight for everyone.
When a certain population is not enough to create a majority but is growing, the strategy to advance civil rights and economic justice is to build districts of influence, build coalitions, and build collective voting power. with others to elect better representatives and advance a progressive agenda.
The “us versus them” view is shortsighted and unfortunate, as it has diluted voting power for Latino and Muslim communities and played into the hands of selfish politicians. Spiker aggressively fueled this idea in order to keep his district majority white and conservative for the next 10 years, increasing his chances of staying in office. His divide and conquer tactic is an effort to block progress and the creation of a new multiracial, multiethnic majority population in District 13. It is a shameful loss for the city of Milwaukee.
The redistricting process at the committee level was undemocratic, offensive and suspect. There is a pending request by the southern aldermen for an independent legal opinion, as all proposed Latinx cards introduced have been blocked by the full common council.
Voces will continue to work for fair representation of Latinx people, the majority of whom are working class, and build alliances with other oppressed peoples to advance a multiracial and multiethnic struggle for workers’ rights that challenges all forms of discrimination. We look forward to working with the Muslim community during the next decennial census to ensure maximum visibility and voice.
Christine Neumann-Ortiz is executive director of Voces de la Frontera.