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Not so in the case of conservative shock jock Mark Belling and the Racine Unified School District (RUSD) versus a Wisconsin youth group called Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES).
For the last three years, YES has organized a MLK Day celebration revolving around community service, a rally, social justice workshops, and an evening program/dinner. Like in previous years, the school district this year said it would support and help sponsor the trip—until shock jock Mark Belling heard of the story. After Belling started attacking YES and its parent group, Voces de la Frontera, for supporting immigrant and labor rights and helping to get out the vote—the school district caved into Belling’s bullying and withdrew support from YES’ involvement in the MLK Day celebration.
You heard that right: a school district is withdrawing support from a group’s involvement in a Martin Luther King Day celebration–a time when we commemorate how we stood up to people like Mark Belling. Instead, the school district is choosing to listen to people like Mark Belling.
State Representative Robert Turner, who represents Racine, recently wrote that he was “dismayed” to hear the story and called for the decision to be reversed. He continued, “Racine Unified should support these students for their accomplishments and reject criticism from talk radio personalities who are focused on the suppression of human rights, among other things.”
According to Voces, Belling periodically fills in for Rush Limbaugh and is “well-known in Wisconsin for stirring up racial and class animus.” Among some of his comments:
In 2004, he was suspended for calling Latino voters “wetbacks.” In 2007, he said that “even moderate Muslims seem to hate all Jews,” and last year he raised suspicions about the opposition to the downtown Marriott hotel, noting that much of the “powerful opposition” was “Jewish.” In 2011 he called Wisconsin public school teachers “absolute lunatics” and said, “Most of them do not care about the children.”
YES, on the other hand, is a place where young students can go to learn the values of democracy and civic participation. In 2004, YES, Voces, and the NAACP organized a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote drive in the neighborhoods where YES students live, distributing over 30,000 pieces of nonpartisan literature, and were recognized to their commitment to civic responsibility.
Unfortunately, the profile in courage that is the Racine Unified School District, rather than championing the values that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day represents, has spinelessly pulled the plug their support of YES and the group’s involvement in the celebration.
As Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Barbara Miner wrote, “Oh my. An MLKing event is being criticized because student activists are involved. The civil rights leader must be turning over in his grave with embarrassment at the school district’s stance.”
Regardless of what Belling or the school district have to say, however, YES and Voces are moving forward with plans to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy next Monday. The obstacles that Belling has set in their way may have even underscored why it is so important to get involved.