Where the heck is Kenosha and why does it matter?

 

Hardly anyone outside of Wisconsin had ever heard of Kenosha before a Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by a policeman two weeks ago. The policeman, Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department, held Blake’s shirt as he shot Blake in the back seven times while Blake’s children waited in the car.

image: politico.com

I had heard of Kenosha only because I had just finished reading a feature-length article in Harper’s magazine about how Kenosha county where, after having supported Democrats in almost every election for almost every office for forty-four straight years, voters had swung to President Trump in 2016.

Kenosha is critical in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. As Kenosha goes, so does the country. Democrats have to take back Kenosha and nearby Racine to take Wisconsin. And they have to win Wisconsin to beat Trump nationally. No wonder it’s called “the tipping-point state.”

Wisconsin, before voting Trump, would have seemed familiar to Canadians. In his article for Harper’s, James Pogue says: “Wisconsin had a homegrown tradition of political congeniality and soft egalitarianism that traced its origins to the days of Robert La Follette and the Progressives.”

Similar to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, which the continent’s oldest community-owned professional sports franchise outside baseball, Wisconsin’s Green Bay Packers are the only publicly-owned, not-for-profit, major league professional team in the United States.

Why would a state, so seemingly familiar to Canadians, vote for someone that Canadians generally despise?

The answer is multi-faceted: dwindling union solidarity led to less involvement in the community and a diminished sense of pulling together; betrayal on the part of the Democratic Party; and a fading vision of the American Dream that promised opportunity.

Wisconsinites became disillusioned when both major parties agreed that what was good for the boardroom was good for America. The union jobs of Wisconsin, with the highest wages in America and therefore in the world, went south to states with right-to-work laws and weak unions.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement over the desperate opposition of labour groups and Midwestern Democrats. House majority leader Dick Gephardt called the treaty “a threat to our wages and our standard of living.”

President Obama, who had won industrial counties in Wisconsin by margins that Democrats hadn’t achieved in a generation, promised to expand labour’s organizing power with the Employee Free Choice Act. It was never passed.

Disillusioned, Wisconsinites looked for anyone outside the mainstream. Congressman Mark Pocan told James Pogue: “People thought at first, ‘Oh he’s going to fight China, this’ll help.’  Folks are realizing that no matter how much they thought that Trump was going to support them, it hasn’t turned out better.”

Now Kenosha is the focus of racial tension. Parts of the state are harshly segregated. According to one analysis of recent census data, the quality of life for black residents in Milwaukee and Racine is among the worst in the country.

Supporters of Black Lives Matter and armed young men descended on Kenosha on August 25 in what Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth described a “chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running.”

In the mayhem, a Trump supporter, a white 17-year-old with an assault rifle from Illinois, killed two protesters and wounded a third.

President Trump defended the young killer on Monday, illogically claiming that he was acting in self-defense when unarmed protesters confronted the shooter.

Kenosha, a small city the size of Kamloops, will loom large in the upcoming presidential elections on November 3.

 

Kamloops BLM demonstration offficially cancelled due to intimidation

The Black Lives Matter demonstration in Kamloops on June 4 was well-attended considering that it was officially cancelled just before it was about to start.

image: Kamloops This Week, Dave Eagles

The organizers were apologetic about organizing it in the first place. In their notice of cancelation, they said on Instagram:

“We want BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) to lead these protests. The original idea was to create a space for people to express their feelings of injustice and for us to be able to be there to protect the BIPOC in this space. The goal of this protest was to open conversation and change for local and international individuals. The goal of our organizers and all non-BIPOC is to create a safe space for them. We do not want to speak over them, we want to amplify them.”

Since they refer to Black, Indigenous and People of Colour as “them,” I can only assume they are white and that was a factor in the cancelation.

Being white, I guess they felt uncomfortable about organizing a demonstration for an oppressed people that they were not a part of. Or perhaps it seemed patronizing –as if Black, Indigenous and People of Colour couldn’t do it themselves.

Maybe they felt they were appropriating the culture Black, Indigenous and People of Colour by assuming to speak for them.

It’s paralysis due to political correctness.

I would have liked to ask the organizers these questions and why they felt intimidated but they have pulled down their Instagram account and I had no way of contacting them.

Allegations of cultural appropriation and insensitivity are rampant. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the Ottawa BLM demonstration, calls of “blackface” could be heard directed at him; in reference to his now-shameful 2001 yearbook photo of him dressed as Aladdin in blackface and in a turban at an Arabian Nights-themed gala. Dressing up in costumes that represent other cultures is now seen as cultural appropriation.

Is it cultural approbation to show up at a demonstration in support of Black and Indigenous people? Can white Canadians not “feel their pain?”

Cultural appropriation was on the mind of Kamloops resident Sarah* who attended the demonstration. “I try to be very mindful of cultural appropriation as well,” she told me by email.

Her Facebook photo shows her smiling in front of three RCMP of colour at the demonstration. She was hesitant about asking permission for the photo but:  “They were good sports and took no issue.”

The colour of a people organizing a demonstration should not be a factor.

We are long past the biases developed by Europeans when they first encountered various colours of people around the globe and thought they were a different species.

As I have argued in this column, we are all Homo sapiens, the last remaining species of humans. There is no “them” and “us.”

Says Sarah of her photo with the police:

“I hope you took note of the ‘We are All African’ T-shirt I was wearing…as in we can all be traced back to a common humanoid ancestor in the rift valley…this is why Racism makes zero sense! Love that message, that t-shirt!”

*name changed on request.