Wisconsin Report: Rise Up Milwaukee

June 29, 2012 -- John Goldstein

I was walking down North 37th Street in Milwaukee, in the shadow of the abandoned AO Smith manufacturing plant (that once provided jobs to 10,000 people in this neighborhood). I came across a young couple carrying an infant. They asked if I could help them find their polling place. They had never voted before and had registration identification in hand. They had been walking for half an hour, but were unsure of the exact address. I could do better than point them in the right direction. Since they lived in the neighborhood we were canvassing, I knew exactly where they should vote. I helped them into our van and drove then to the polling place. When we got there, the lines were so long that it took them nearly an hour to vote. But nothing deterred them.

The story was the same everywhere we canvassed. People who didn’t regularly vote had voted, were calling their friends to vote, and were overcoming all barriers that were in their way. 

On the north side of Milwaukee, for the people we talked to, this election was not just about the candidates. Ask over twenty staff members from The Partnership and our affiliates who spent a week there before the election early in June. This election was about unprecedented turnout of underrepresented voters in Milwaukee! 

We merged seamlessly into the Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund’s thoughtfully designed non-partisan voter mobilization program. The Rise Up Milwaukee campaign canvassed 15,000 Milwaukee households 1 ½ times (21,000+ door knocks). We collected 4,435 pledge cards from Milwaukee residents, provided 189 rides to the polls, and turned out 77.4% of registered voters in our wards! This all happened in fifty wards with a high percentage of low propensity voters.

Matt Brusky from Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund observed, “The amazing turnout results in Milwaukee demonstrate that democracy is alive and well in some of our community’s most challenged neighborhoods who have been left behind in the current economy. If we are to succeed long term in building a just economic society the voices from the 50 wards we visited must be an active part of the political process that helps define the community’s access to economic opportunity. The turnout on Tuesday, June 5th helped start a campaign to make community participation central to creating economic opportunity for all Milwaukee residents.”

Some reflections from those who participated:

“Being in the field is always an injection of inspiration, as is connecting with others in the PWF network. It was also great to see a smart and smoothly-run GOTV operation plugged into an authentic long-term base building plan.” -- Elana Dix, Puget Sound Sage

“All my turf was well cut and easy to navigate. The lists were up to date with the most current data. The team was AWESOME! And equipped us with all we needed.” -- Frank Alvarez, LAANE

“One of my favorite things about the whole experience was getting to know my counterparts from across the country.” -- Jaime Myers-McPhail, CCNE