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Reports from the Front Lines of the Class War: Lane Hall on the Occupy the Hood movement

November 10, 2011

Artist/activist Lane Hall has been reporting weekly on the labor struggles in

Milwaukee and the efforts to recall Walker. Below is recent post on the Daily Kos by Hall on the “Occupy the Hood” march last week that focused attention on how Walker’s devastating policies prevented the Talgo train manufacturing company from setting up shop in Milwaukee’s inner city – a move that would have created hundreds if not thousands of jobs. Hall’s writing is telling the story of movement building and the efforts of working people of all races to fight back in Wisconsin. It is inspiring stuff written by a gifted author and a fiery activist.

“Union people were there, but it wasn’t about unions. Teachers were there, but it wasn’t about schools. There were speakers from Occupy the Hood and speakers from Voces de la Frontera and speakers from the North Side neighborhoods that have been especially hard hit by the current economic crisis. Yesterday, under clouds sweeping to the lake, we stood in front of a vast industrial wasteland listening to soapbox orators bemoaning lack: Lack of jobs, lack of rights at the voting booth, lack of schools, lack of health care, lack of adequate transportation systems, and lack of anyone in power who appears to listen or care.

“WE ARE THE 99 PERCENT AND WE NEED JOBS IN OUR NEIGHBORHOODS!” was our cry into the crisp autumn air, our howl of desire and despair. Drums livened us up, though we didn’t lack energy. Three hundred strong, and even the media was out with their jumbo cameras and puffy microphones that look like rodents on a stick. We marched 3 miles yesterday under a beautiful autumn sky, singing freedom songs, talking neighbor to neighbor, worker to worker, age to age, race to race.

We began our march in a beautiful and expansive Lincoln park, and ended at the blight zone of what used to be Tower Automotive, once a thriving fabrication plant, now a defunct and gigantic brick corpse. Tower is long gone, leaving looming ruins behind formidable fences laced with razor wire.

But things were looking up for Century City in the spring of 2010, when Talgo, the Spanish train manufacturing company, had selected this very site to reclaim for train car manufacture. Wisconsin had a $47.6 million dollar deal with Talgo, and the federal government had awarded the state $810 million in stimulus money for the Milwaukee-to-Madison line. A contract for railcars from Oregon had already been solidified. Talgo was gearing up and was eager to invest in our city. Other businesses were lining up to do business with them, and it seemed no one could lose. The whole decayed corridor was on the cusp of a major redevelopment, with hundreds of jobs promised in the foreseeable future.
It never happened. Instead, Wisconsin elected governor Scott Walker. Public transportation didn’t fit his Koch-funded plans. Jobs have never been his priority. Jobs are a convenient narrative, a storybook to read to gullible children at bedtime. Jobs are Goodnight Moon, or Harold and the Purple Crayon. Jobs are the sugarplum fairies dancing in your head, and everyone can feel the balm of stated intentions and inconceivably bright futures with no concrete steps towards arrival. Talgo, however, understanding the sea change in state governance, simply packed up and moved elsewhere. ….Hasta luego, ferrocarril!

Yesterday, from where we stood, we should have been viewing a new global headquarters of fabrication. We should have been lining up to apply for new jobs. Instead, we sat down on the cold pavement and listened to litanies of resistance spoken by earnest people against an increasingly extremist government. There was no civic life in sight, only us, and the police watching us, and behind us the broken windows and jagged toothed and gutted buildings, where weeds pushed up through concrete ruptures and huge disconnected ventilation fans lazily turned in the chill autumn wind…

We had marched from a lovely North Side park, established at a time when government helped build infrastructure that defined the quality of neighborhoods: schools, parks, playgrounds, and streets without chuck holes big enough to swallow a Smart Car. And we ended at Desolation Row, a concrete site of collective failure, a creeping Detroit, a huge waste, a carcass of brick; occupying space but producing nothing, cordoned behind razor wire, hunkered like a bunker from postwar Berlin.

Don’t ever try to tell me that elections don’t matter, that all politicians are the same. Elections concretely and seriously matter. The wasted gargantuan thorax at the center of Century City is a physical monument to the damage done, the decay left by the current plague of politicians, locked in corporate servitude and ideological purity, holding no will for anything except reification of power through punitive jurisdiction. 46 million Americans are living in poverty, 5 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed. The foreclosure rate is still breaking new records; and all they can come up with are expansive measures to take away worker’s rights, strip public education, incarcerate more people and jigger the voting system to ensure supremacy.

We do indeed need jobs. We need a lot of things: justice, clean water, investment in public education, access to affordable food and housing, decent public transportation, environmental regulation, universal healthcare, fair wages, fair elections, fair tax rates shared among the entire population, an end to war, an emphatic denial of torture and police violence…

But to arrive at any of these things we need to spread our escalating Revolution of the 99 and we need to vote these rightwing bastards out of office.

There is a lot of work to do. See you out on the Recall Trail!”


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One comment on “Reports from the Front Lines of the Class War: Lane Hall on the Occupy the Hood movement”

I’ve been reading Lane’s journal on Daily Kos since he began it last year. It’s such an important documentary, and this is a particularly poignant piece. I was at that march; Lane captures it so well here. Thanks for cross posting.