Individuals with disabilities are fighting to end voter suppression

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Imagine, you’re 18 years old and for the first time, you will exercise your right to vote. Upon arrival, there’s a struggle to find parking because all the handicapped spots are taken. After having to utilize street parking, you make your way to your local polling place and you are met with dismay. The polling place is in the basement without any access to a ramp or elevator.

This is the reality that many individuals with disabilities face. No ramps. Limited to no handicap parking. Entrance doors requiring more than eight pounds to open. Tables that are not set up for voter privacy.

The lack of voting accessibility hasn’t always been the case for Wisconsin. In 2014, Wisconsin was praised as the best model to follow for auditing and adjusting polling places, according to the presidential commission report.

In just six years, polling places has had a steep decline from that recognition. Barbara Beckert, director of Disability Rights Wisconsin’s Milwaukee office said a recent report by the Wisconsin Election Commission stated that there were roughly more than two thousand issues in total.

For many polling places, the buildings had heavy doors without any electronically accessible feature. Pathways were slippery or had numerous cracks and breaks, which caused difficulty for voters with canes and wheelchairs. No alternative options for standard polling booths to ensure voter privacy.

“Voters with disabilities may face a wide array of barriers to asserting their right to vote, including but not limited to physical accessibility,” said Beckert.

In response, Disability Rights Wisconsin has been fighting for the protection of rights for voters with disabilities. The most prominent example is the modification of Wisconsin Act 48, a bill that required voters to state their name and address.

“A young man who is deaf and does not speak, went to vote in Wisconsin for the first time and he was told if he did not speak his name and address, he would not get a ballot,” said Beckert. “We worked with policymakers and Gov. Evers signed into law Wisconsin Act 48 which now clearly requiring that people must be accommodated.”

For more information on provided resources or how one can get involved for upcoming elections click here.

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‘Allied in the Fight: Jews, Blacks and the Struggle for Civil Rights’ hopes to find new life in local venues

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“Allied in the Fight: Jews, Blacks and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” an exhibition presented by Jewish Museum Milwaukee, examines the partnership between Milwaukee’s black and Jewish communities during the civil rights movement.

The exhibit first opened in 2018, honoring the 50th anniversary of Milwaukee’s open housing marches. Now “Allied in the Fight” is back to collaborate with local educational institutions and organizations by offering to rent their display as means to access information and materials that might not be available locally.

The exhibit details Milwaukee’s 1967-1968 open housing marches and their role in passing the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The marches took place over 200 consecutive nights, with peaceful protesters calling for an end to housing discrimination.

“This was something that was broadcast via television into homes across the country and of course into the White House,” said Molly Dubin, the curator of Jewish Museum Milwaukee. “You have Milwaukee serving as an example of what is going on across the country and the fact that it can no longer be ignored.”

One of the reasons “Allied in the Fight” has returned is because Milwaukee minorities still face repercussions of redlining, systematic denial of services, such as housing, to residents living in certain neighborhoods.

Dubin says “Allied in the Fight” has transformed into a traveling exhibit in hopes of inspiring students while shining a light on Milwaukee’s civil rights movement.

“One of the things that we talked about was the need for current generations, who are so activated and wanting to do something, to understand that these issues did not arise from nowhere,” said Dubin. “There is context, there is a history to this.”

To read more about “Allied in the Fight,” check out one of our past articles.

To rent out the traveling exhibit, email your request to

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The local company that saved this historic Greendale building

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There isn’t anywhere quite like the Village of Greendale in the Milwaukee area. Pay it a visit, and you’ll notice it’s particularly quaint, and that design was no accident.

The town was built as a planned community, following the Great Depression, complete with “pathways, green space, unique homes and historic civic buildings,” according to its official website.

Former Greendale municipal building gets complete overhaul. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

Then in 2012, Greendale was named a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. Much of that original charm remains to this day.

At the center of the village sits a 1938 building that was used as a multipurpose government hub. Over the decades it was home to the police and fire stations, and the building also had a courtroom and a jail inside. Maybe not the most alluring place to visit recreationally, but certainly essential.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

Those services were were moved to other locations over the years, and the building had been vacant since 1998. There was talk, briefly, of tearing it down, but in 2018 it was completely remodeled for an entirely different use.

Listen to this week’s podcast to learn more about its current tenant, and check out Bobby Tanzilo’s complete story at

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.
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‘Coffee Connection’ series connects LGBTQ business owners

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If making more professional connections is one of your goals for 2020, the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce can help.

In its monthly Coffee Connection series, attendees have the chance to get together for an informal morning meetup, typically before work hours.

As the name implies, Coffee Connection centers around conversation and a hot beverage, and everyone is welcome.

Events are held at various locations around Milwaukee and Madison on a monthly basis. You can see a complete schedule on the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber social media accounts or its website.

The organization has roughly 700 partner LGBT-owned business in its network.

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What’s the deal with these mystery pillars on the East Side?

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On the corner of Shepherd and Locust on Milwaukee’s East Side sits a mystery — a collection of brick pillars of varying heights, just kind of sitting there, on an empty lot.

They’re surrounded by concrete steps, but they don’t appear to lead anywhere. So, pillars and steps, and that’s about all we knew.

OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo said it best about the pillars on Shepherd and Locust, “Nice, but why?” Photo: Bobby Tanzilo.

But that changed when a reader recently asked OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo to look into it. He then began the process of researching the the pillars’ origins, digging up old insurance maps of the site.

Did they hold gates? Or was it something else?

This week on Urban Spelunking, Bobby fills me in on this East Side mystery and gives us the results of his research. Listen below.

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Milwaukee keeps Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy alive with an annual birthday celebration

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For three decades, Milwaukee has celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a celebratory event hosted at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. The free program is packed with performances from numerous cultural arts organizations but at the core of the event focuses on contest winners.

Every year, the youth within our community interpret Martin Luther King’s words through a speech, writing and art contest. Anthony Smith, the Marcus Performing Arts Center’s director of community engagement and inclusion, says the theme of this year’s celebration is “Your Life Has Significance.”

“With the way that the world is going right now and all of the different challenges children experience we want to give hope and keep hope alive without sounding too cliche,” said Smith. “We want our families, we want  our children to realize that they mean something to someone and that their life actually has significance.”

Children on stage | Courtesy of Marcus Performing Arts Center

Smith says the theme was inspired by the passing of Sandra Parks, a victim of gun violence.

“She was one of our past winners,” said Smith. “One of the quotes she said is, ‘Little children are victims of senseless gun violence and we must not allow the lies of violence, racism and prejudice to be our truth.’” 

The contest submissions ranged from grades K-12, and often the work submitted came from a personal and deep place. Smith says the upcoming event gives kids a platform to speak up on topics that are difficult and an opportunity to not be ignored.

“If we want to learn we need to learn to listen,” said Smith. “If you just take a few minutes to listen to a child on what they are thinking and how they process those thoughts, you learn a lot.” 

Milwaukee honors this day to keep Martin Luther King’s legacy and mission alive but also it’s a celebration that gives kids a space to take his words and lessons and add on to it. To express themselves and tackle prevalent issues by using their art within a productive accepting space.

The 36 Annual Dr. King Birthday celebration will be at the Marcus Performing Arts Center at Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. on Jan. 19. The celebration starts at 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

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Milwaukee Habitat will help over 200 families in the Harambee neighborhood

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Within the Milwaukee area, one in three Milwaukee families who are renting spend over 50% of their total income on housing alone. According to data, residents living in Harambee, the median household income is roughly $20,000. The average price point for a small one-bedroom apartment is around $850, at it’s lowest.

“Fifty percent is unacceptable because now you have a decision, ‘Am I going to pay for my medicine this month or eat healthily or invest in my child’s education or am I going to pay the landlord?,’” said Brian Sonderman, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat.

Milwaukee Habitat, a non-profit that helps families in need of safe and affordable housing, is on a mission to change that staggering statistic. This year it is focusing on the Harambee neighborhood. 

Volunteers helping Milwaukee Habitat | Courtesty of Milwaukee Habitat

Let’s break down what this entails. With an initial grant of $1 million dollars provided by Bader Philanthropies, Milwaukee Habitat will be putting in place 40 new homes and repairing an additional 20 homes in Harambee. In the next four years, this project will help more than 200 families access safe and affordable housing.

Sonderman says this is an expansion of Habitat’s Neighborhood revitalization strategy, focusing on certain blocks that contribute to a lasting communal impact.

“As homes are preserved and new are built that really brings stability to a block,” said Sonderman. “We’ve seen some amazing outcomes in previous works that really leads to not just a visible transformation but a ripple effect on so many different levels.”

Houses being built by Milwaukee Habitat | Courtesty of Milwaukee Habitat

Some of the changes that were impacted by past revitalization strategies throughout the Washington Park neighborhood were reduced crime by 46 percent, improvement in health and higher graduation rates. Daniel Bader, CEO of Bader Philanthropies, says their main priority is the families.

“You know, I think at the end of the day when you get to know people, everybody wants the same thing,” said Bader. “They want a home for their family, they want a home for their kids and grandkids, they want a safe place. That’s what we hear over and over again.”

Neighborhood sign | Courtesty of Milwaukee Habitat

Sonderman said although there are many neighborhoods within the city that face the same challenges, the decision to focus within Northern Harambee were the residents.

“I think the thing that Harambee has that we really look for are residents who really want to come together to put together a plan to help transform their neighborhood holistically,” said Sonderman. “There are resident leaders who are ready to step up and that’s true for Harambee.”

The term Harambee comes from Swahili translation for “pulling together” and that perfectly describes the neighborhood. Harambee residents actively pursuing change and working together to create a safer place to live.

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Milwaukee’s streetcar will remain free to ride in 2020

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Visitors to Milwaukee during the Democratic National Convention won’t have to pay to ride the city’s new streetcar. The Hop will remain free to ride for the rest of 2020, City Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske confirmed to the Milwaukee Business Journal.

During its first year The Hop was free to ride thanks to an advertising sponsorship with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. Although no new sponsorship agreement has been announced for this year, Polenske told the Business Journal the city will continue to seek new sponsorship deals that will cover the streetcar’s operating costs.

“Projected sponsorship revenue could take a variety of forms, including a potential ‘free fare’ designation, but the city’s commitment to maintaining The Hop as a free asset for the entire community is not reliant on any single sponsorship asset or category,” Polenske told the paper.

The Hop | Wikimedia Commons

At an event celebrating The Hop’s first year in November, Mayor Tom Barrett said that he would like to keep the streetcar free to ride as long as possible. Barrett announced that there were 802,541 rides in The Hop’s first year, exceeding the city’s goal of 600,000.

“Surely, part of that success is due to free fares,” he said. “Free fares make the streetcar more inclusive to the entire community.”

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Proposed food-delivery app fee gets cold reception from Milwaukee committee

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A proposal to add a service fee to food deliveries from third-party services like Grubhub, UberEats and Doorhub in Milwaukee met resistance at a Public Works Committee meeting Wednesday morning.

Under the ordinance, which was proposed by Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, consumers would be charged a 60 cent fee for all deliveries made by third-party services like Grubhub, with that revenue being dedicated to non-rail public transportation and street maintenance, including potholes.

State Sen. Lena Taylor argued with Dodd in support of the ordinance, citing complaints she hears from her constituents about potholes. She pointed to cities that have adopted a similar fee, including Chicago, and said the proposal could potentially bring in millions to offset cuts to shared revenue from the state that have hit Milwaukee since 2004. “We need the revenue,” Taylor said.

Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd testifying Wednesday morning

But Alderman Bob Bauman, the chair of the Public Works Committee, threw cold water on the idea, saying that proponents of the ordinance had not provided adequate research in support of it. And Adam Stephens, a deputy city attorney for Milwaukee, testified that the ordinance as written would not be legal and enforceable under current Wisconsin law, although he added that his office was not taking a policy position on the issue.

The hearing ended with a motion to hold. Despite the cold reception from the Public Works Committee, at least one member of the committee indicated he might be open to supporting a revised version of the ordinance that was enforceable.

“Any motions to bring more dollars back to Milwaukee are something we will seriously look at,” Alderman Cavalier Johnson said.

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Cultural diversity is the norm inside this MPS elementary school

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Walk into any school in the Milwaukee, and it’s like looking into a crystal ball. The kids truly are the future of the city, and the future they’ll experience is anything but homogenous.

Like most MPS schools, Hamlin Garland School, 3120 W. Green Ave., is a melting pot of ethnicities and culture on Milwaukee’s far South side.

The school’s main entrance. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

Immigrant students learn alongside lifelong Milwaukee residents, dozens of languages collide in the hallways on any given day and the classrooms are filled with students holding an array of perspectives and life experiences.

This week on Urban Spelunking, we learn more about Garland — what’s going on there now, how it is using diversity as a strength and the unique history that led the school to where it is today.

A glimpse inside a Garland classroom. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

Click the player below to listen, and check out Bobby Tanzilo’s complete story at OnMilwaukee.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.
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