Guest Column by Francesca Hong: “We must be willing to challenge the status quo.”
Newly elected state representative Francesca Hong of Madison shares her vision for an Economic Justice Bill of Rights, which already has the backing of dozens of elected Democrats.
The Recombobulation Area is a weekly opinion column by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
From Dan Shafer:
The freshmen class of Democrats elected to the Wisconsin State Legislature is doing things differently.
It is often thankless work being in a state legislature’s minority party. That’s especially the case in this state legislature, where Republican leadership often won’t even bring legislation or resolutions from the minority party up for debate at the State Capitol.
But that doesn’t mean the work stops. And for this group of new legislators, that means putting forth a real vision for Wisconsin, something truly aspirational for the future of a state that so desperately needs the kind of ground-up, paradigm-shifting change these Democrats are working toward.
On March 1, less than two months into their first terms, newly elected state representatives Francesca Hong of Madison and Kristina Shelton of Green Bay introduced “An Economic Justice Bill of Rights for All Wisconsinites.” This was introduced as a collaborative call to action, and has since won the support of dozens of Democrats in the Wisconsin State Legislature who come from all corners of the state (see full list at end). I’d expect that list to grow.
Wisconsin has a real independent streak when it comes to party politics. There are many in this state who don’t subscribe to the traditional platform of either the Republicans or the Democrats, believing that neither truly delivers for the people of this state. There’s a reason Wisconsin is the swingiest of the swing states. But Wisconsinites should know that this new wave of Democratic legislators is taking a different approach. It’s better to be for something worth working towards than to simply be against the opposing party (as important as that factor often can be in this state). This is something that is genuinely worth working towards.
To further discuss this Economic Justice Bill of Rights, Rep. Francesca Hong has written a guest column for us here at The Recombobulation Area.
Ideas that challenge the status quo are always seen as a regression from the norm, a trend away from what is right and what is good.
My chief of staff, Nada Elmikashfi, said this recently, and it’s something I think about often. Why have we, as a nation, had such a visceral reaction to policies like universal healthcare, universal broadband, or universal 4K? Why are we terrified as policy makers to speak in absolutes?
It seems that when the status quo is an institutional white supremacy that benefits the rich, that “universality,” or the notion that absolutely everyone deserves equal access to a certain service, becomes the antithesis of that institution.
Economic, social, and political justice do not serve the status quo, and therefore are labelled with negatives: too radical, too impractical, too socialist, and so on.
The reality is that our political parties have yet to catch up with the progressiveness that an increasing number of Americans have found themselves identifying with. And yes, the Democratic Party is much further along than the Republicans, but there is still much to be desired. All too often, our knee-jerk reaction as a party is to shy away from truly progressive stances on many issues affecting our less-represented demographics.
This is one of the reasons why I chose to introduce the Economic Justice Bill of Rights with my fellow colleague Representative Kristina Shelton of the 90th Assembly District. We saw a need for a shift of the status quo to one that catches up to modernity. A reconfiguration of democratic ideals, if you will, to the 21st century. Or perhaps, to what we hope the 21st century can become.
It is in our lived experiences as working class women, and now as legislators, that we have seen how stagnation is used to obstruct and oppress communities that have been siloed. We have learned, albeit the hard way, that stagnation is the enemy of progressiveness and that in order to do any good we must be willing to challenge the status quo.
In the words of Henry Drummond in the 1960’s drama, Inherit the Wind: “All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away by standing still.”
We cannot stand still, especially now in a global pandemic. So here is what we plan to do:
The time has come for Wisconsin Democrats to start speaking clearly and consistently to the aspirations of our fellow citizens in all their diversity. We must embrace the best of Wisconsin’s progressive past and articulate a clear vision for Wisconsin’s future. This vision must engage our collective imaginations and encourage folks to join us in transforming our state for the better.
Native-born or newly-arrived, we are all heirs to the fundamental American promise and vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Aware of the contradictions that have marked and marred that promise, we aim to equitably correct the grave inequalities of racism and sexism that seriously limited this vision, and caused harm.
We have it in our power to recreate and renew a shared vision. To do this, we revive the idea of the Second Bill of Rights — originally advanced by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in January 1944 during another critical moment in American history — while deepening that promise to make it fully equitable and inclusive.
We propose a modern-day Economic Justice Bill of Rights for All Wisconsinites that proclaims that all Wisconsinites deserve the right to:
An equitable, living-income and livelihood
A union, public or private, and collective bargaining
Affordable and accessible high-quality healthcare
Equitable and accessible public education and child care
Pollution-free water and a healthy planet
High quality, safe housing
Reliable, climate-friendly transportation
A fair and equitable justice system
Life, self-determination, and liberation regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability status and age
And to live free from fear of racial, religious, and gender oppression(s)
Only when all these rights are actualized, and for every person, can we truly re-establish and better our proud progressive tradition here in Wisconsin.
The Economic Justice Bill of Rights for All Wisconsin is supported by the following Democratic state legislators: Sen. Melissa Agard (Madison), Rep. Jimmy Anderson (Fitchburg), Rep. Samba Baldeh (Madison), Rep. Jill Billings (La Crosse), Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (Milwaukee), Rep. Marisabel Cabrera (Milwaukee), Rep. Sue Conley (Janesville), Rep. Dave Considine (Baraboo), Rep. Dora Drake (Milwaukee), Rep. Steve Doyle (Onalaska), Rep. Jodi Emerson (Eau Claire), Rep Kalan Haywood (Milwaukee), Rep Gary Hebl (Sun Prairie), Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (Middleton), Rep. Gordon Hintz (Oshkosh), Rep. Francesca Hong (Madison), Sen. LaTonya Johnson (Milwaukee), Sen. Chris Larson (Milwaukee), Rep. Tip McGuire (Kenosha), Rep. Tod Ohnstad (Kenosha), Rep. Greta Neubauer (Racine), Rep. Daniel Riemer (Milwaukee), Sen. Kelda Roys (Madison), Rep. Christine Sinicki (Milwaukee), Rep. Kristina Shelton (Green Bay), Sen. Jeff Smith (Eau Claire), Rep. Shelia Stubbs (Madison), Rep. Lee Snodgrass (Appleton), Rep. Mark Spreitzer (Beloit), Rep. Robyn Vining (Wauwatosa), Rep. Don Vruwink (Milton), and Sen. Robert Wirch (Kenosha).
Read more about the Economic Justice Bill of Rights for All Wisconsinites here.
The Recombobulation Area is the winner of three Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Wisconsin Journalism Awards, including for Best Column.
Follow Dan Shafer on Twitter at @DanRShafer