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Wisconsin Is On Fire (Politically Speaking)

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Wisconsin has been on fire recently, politically speaking.

Late last month, activists carrying signs reading “No Hate In Our State,” “First They Came For The Immigrants…” and “No Racism” were arrested protesting the Republican debate in Milwaukee.

Now, some say all politics are local — and you don’t need to look any further than Racine, Wisconsin for proof positive.

Students and community leaders in the town — the largest in Speaker Paul Ryan’s district — organized an intense, three-week canvassing and GOTV campaign leading up to last weekend’s primary, reaching over 4,000 households and nearly 1,400 individuals.

As a result, candidates in eight of the nine school board slots endorsed by the campaign won their races.

Organizers — some 150 students affiliated with Voces de la Frontera working in partnership with a citywide coalition called Racine Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and the Working Families Party — were ecstatic.

“I’m DACA-mented, so I’m not able to have my voice heard through voting,” said Valeria Ruiz, a 19 year-old DACA recipient and neighborhood coordinator for the Voces de la Frontera Action canvass. “But by organizing voters, I can help my sister and other minority kids in Racine public schools to be heard.”

“These elections show that when we unite as a community, we can overcome everything,” she continued. “We’ll take this unity into the November elections. In November our lives are literally at stake. We’re either going to be history or make history.”

“For over a year we have have been attending public hearings and talking with board members,” said Janet Serrano, a 19 year-old youth member of Voces de la Frontera Action. “Students believe we deserve a voice in our school and it is time that we have a majority on the school board that listens to parents, teachers, and students.”

In the sole race where the campaign’s endorsed candidate lost, the margin was a slim 158 votes. The community flexed its political muscle following the Republican majority in the state legislature giving the Racine School Board President the ability to appoint someone to a vacant seat, denying a voice to Latino members of the community.

“Voces de la Frontera members can celebrate historically high voter turnout levels in the normally low turnout Latino district and the strengthening of a neighborhood organization that can hold [candidates] accountable to…constituents,” read a release from the effort.

And earlier this year, groups organized a massive turnout of 20,000 people in a “Day Without Latinos” action at the state capitol, in protest of a series of anti-immigrant bills being considered by the state legislature.

And with exit polls from the recent primary showing that even Wisconsin Republicans support offering undocumented immigrants “a chance to apply for legal status” instead of deportation by a 61%-34% margin, time will only show that history is on the side of communities like Racine.