Milwaukee: Northside marches against WE Energies and for green jobs
Milwaukee, WI – On July 16, Northside Rising held a rally seeking divestment from WE Energies (also known as Wisconsin Electric), a waiver of their planned moratorium on energy assistance, and investment in green, net-zero carbon jobs that are not monopolized by the company. Investing more in a climate justice plan, as well as a solution to the depletion of job opportunity for Milwaukee’s Northside, would be a step in the right direction for the city’s Black residents.
The rally began at the Victory Garden Park in the Harambee neighborhood. Speakers included Pastor Jonathan Barken, Supreme Moore Omukunde, Dana Kelly, and George Martin of Milwaukee 350. Pastor Jonathan spoke of the need now, as activists and as organizers in the community, to have a specific agenda. Others spoke of the right to fair housing and the role WE Energies continues to play in denying Black and other people their rights.
Amidst the COVID-19 crisis there are many issues that, while already present before, are being exacerbated because of the material conditions of the pandemic. One of those issues is the high cost of utilities in spite of high unemployment, at levels comparable to those seen during the Great Depression, particularly on Milwaukee’s Northside.
WE Energies has held a monopoly over southeastern Wisconsin utilities for a little over a century now. This has been countered with no oversight or accountability from local or state government. As a result, WE Energies over time has had its way with the people of Milwaukee and the surrounding areas for decades.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis and the rise in unemployment, it has been hard for workers and unemployed people to make payments on their energy bills. In response to this, Milwaukee’s historically Black Northside has been seeing a surge in applications for energy assistance, so much so that WE Energies made the executive decision to hold a moratorium on energy assistance beginning on July 25.
This is called a ‘shutoff,’ because without energy assistance and the ability to make payments on bills, residents have no choice but to have their utilities shut off. This will leave hundreds if not thousands of poor and working people on the Northside without electricity. The week to come promises temperatures consistently in the upper 80s and lower 90s, meaning people will be left to bake in their home without the ability to use air conditioning or even fans.
In response to this specific issue, Northside Rising was formed by workers with the local non-profit Citizen Action. The WE Energies moratorium on utilities assistance represents an issue of national oppression because it doesn't give Black people access to a basic need. All progressive forces must stand in opposition to WE Energies and their plan to end vital energy assistance programs that will specifically harm Milwaukee’s Black residents on the Northside.