Editor’s note: Have something on your mind? “Community Voices” is the place to let Milwaukee hear what you have to say. To be considered, we need your name, email address and phone number for verification. Please email your submissions to email@example.com.
When speaking about the groups that are on the front lines of community struggles, a more defined notion of the form and function of such groups is necessary to establish a distinction between how a legitimate community front-line group functions and how a special interest group posing as a front-line group functions.
Freshwater for Life Action Coalition (FLAC) and the Get the Lead Out Coalition (GTLO) are examples of front-line groups in Milwaukee.
These organizations have dedicated years to not only talking about social disparities, institutional racism, corruption and apathy, but to bringing forward evidence from the public and historical record to expose the material reality of these forces
Dedicated to the community
Community front-line groups do not just pay lip service to these social concepts by saying all the right phrases without actually investigating and exposing their source.
Community front-line groups are dedicated fully to the interests of the community and do not operate within the corporatized mechanism of the nonprofit industrial complex.
FLAC and GTLO are completely member-funded and draw on the voluntary efforts of the greater community to hold continuous institutions, such as the City of Milwaukee, accountable for the genesis and perpetuation of oppression and suffering.
Following the money
We strongly believe that community front-line groups cannot base their existence on the grant-acquisition cycle or on funding from governmental institutions to which they are then beholden. Such organizations may present themselves as community front-line groups while hiding their true nature behind a sleek façade.
FLAC and GTLO do not seek grant money, do not receive money from public or private institutions, do not endorse politicians or political parties and refuse to fall into the trap of merely having a voice at the table. Instead, we project our voice and the voice of the community through strategic use of the media, tactical alliances with public officials and community leaders and direct interaction with other community front-line groups.
It is important that community front-line groups are not shy about engaging in confrontation when necessary.
Confronting the powerful
Directly challenging the institutions of power is a method for breaking through the apathetic acceptance of whatever is told to us and critically engaging with ideas of how public institutions can serve the interests of the masses of people rather than powerful capitalist interests.
Struggle makes us human because the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles — struggles between groups of people whose interests come into contradiction with each other.
Community front-line groups can be identified through an analysis of the contradictions inherent in the struggle they are engaged in.
Residents deserve better
In Milwaukee, the vast majority of people have an interest in residing in environments that are free from lead contamination. For example, it is in the interest of the masses of people for Milwaukee’s lead lateral pipes, which connect 70,000 homes to the public water system, to be removed in the most expedient and cost-effective manner possible without placing undue financial burden on the people living in these homes.
Several generations of Milwaukeeans had no choice but to live in homes with lead laterals due to the 80-year mandate that required every new home built to connect to the public water system with a lead pipe.
The interests of the masses of people come into contradiction with the interests of the institution that implemented this mandate, the City of Milwaukee, which has historically been to make as much money as possible through the installation of lead laterals and to spend as little money as possible to get them removed.
The contradiction in interests is made plain. The self-evidence of Milwaukee having contaminated water is placed in its proper historical context. It not only provides community front-line groups with tools to expose this contradiction but also a guide to action that will work in favor of the masses of people rather than the political and economic interests of the ruling class.
FLAC and GTLO are community front-line groups because they come down definitively in the corner of the masses of people, supporting without stipulation their bid to live in safe, dignified environments, uncontaminated by lead.
The loyalty of other groups is ambiguous.
Financial interest vs. true community interest
Organizations that may appear to support reducing lead exposure and eliminating associated social ills are sometimes only paying lip service to this idea to garner community support, while accepting funding from powerful institutions that have an interest in obscuring and mystifying these problems in order to protect their power and profits.
Even though some of the members of these groups may legitimately believe that the people are entitled to a lead-free environment, the actual expression of their interest is contingent on a paycheck or the accumulation of social capital.
As community front-line groups, FLAC and GTLO do not have a financial interest in the removal of the lead laterals. Instead, this interest comes from a commitment to a fundamentally different view of how our society could and should be functioning, not on the basis of profit but on the basis of addressing the most immediate needs of the most oppressed and marginalized people in our community.
We can’t forget our Black and Brown residents
In the case of Milwaukee, poor and working-class Black and Brown people are the most affected by lead poisoning
We must not only be able to prove that this is the reality, we must expose why it is the reality and lay out a plan for how this situation can be altered.
FLAC and GTLO are committed to a social model that relies on solidarity rather than profit. This is the essence of what it means to be a community front-line group.
Robert Miranda is a retired veteran and longtime Milwaukee activist. He is currently a member of the Get The Lead Out Coalition Steering Committee.
MacCanon Brown says
Important perspective — thanks for publishing