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How Workers Of Color Helped Democrats Defeat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

The midterm elections may have been a mixture of jubilation and disappointment for progressives, but Wisconsin was certainly a story worth celebrating, as voters ousted Republican Governor Scott Walker, who was notorious for his attacks on labor unions.

Walker’s attempt at a third term was thwarted by Democratic challenger Tony Evers. Organized labor strongly backed his campaign.

The most striking component of Walker’s loss was the turnout. Almost 60 percent of eligible Wisconsin voters made it to the polls, which is about 2.6 million people. That’s more than any previous midterm in the state and more than the amount that showed up for the recall election in 2012, which Walker won.

However, record numbers certainly did not produce a slam dunk for Evers: he beat Walker by a mere 1.2 points, a little more than 30,000 votes.

Wisconsin’s exit polls point to yet another noteworthy election take away—that black and Latino voters likely were a definitive force in electing Evers.

Although such polls are never completely accurate, it seems clear that black voters outperformed white voters proportionally. This fact is even more staggering when one considers that the state’s black voter turnout declined by 19 percent in 2016, over four times the national average.

Additionally, Hispanic voters bucked recent turnout trends and showed up in record numbers.

Writing about these exit polls at The Atlantic, Vann R. Newkirk II concluded, “If that indication holds true, it would mean that in a state characterized over the past decade by Walker’s racial politics, and in a country currently facing rising bigotry and voter suppression, minority voters were Scott Walker’s bane.”

The backdrop for Walker’s defeat was a historic “Get Out the Vote” effort led by black and Latino workers.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Fight for $15 campaign say that they ran the “single-largest voter engagement program in the city of Milwaukee” to help unseat Walker, as workers and organizers knocked on 273,659 doors, spoke with some 37,173 voters throughout the city, and engaged with more than 225,000 voters online across the state.

It was a late tally of absentee ballots from Milwaukee county that ultimately made a Walker victory impossible.

“Over the past few months, workers like me from Milwaukee knocked on doors, texted friends and family, and turned out to vote in big numbers to put a stop to Scott Walker’s attacks on our community and make clear that a $15 minimum wage and good union jobs are our number one priority,” said McDonald’s worker Jennifer Berry in a statement. “Now it’s time for Wisconsin’s next governor to get to work.”

“The Fight for $15’s GOTV effort was led by black and brown workers—fast food cooks and cashiers and other low-wage workers—who knocked hundreds of thousands of doors in often ignored North Milwaukee with a demand that politicians back a $15 minimum wage and union rights,” Allynn Umel, a Fight for $15 organizing director, told Shadowproof.

Briana Gee is one of those workers. A security guard in Milwaukee, Gee explained how her schedule at work was erratic and inconsistent. “I became involved with Fight for $15 because we need a union,” Gee shared.

In addition to canvassing, Gee voted for the first time in her life. “Scott Walker is not for the people,” she declared. “He’s taken away from education and from people’s healthcare to open jails. He wasn’t going to raise our minimum wage.”

Gee says she became motivated to participate in the electoral process through the work she’s done with the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH), a local group fighting to improve conditions in the hospitality industry.

MASH was launched after the city voted to build a new arena for its NBA team, the Milwaukee Bucks. The organization was able to negotiate a community benefits agreement with the Bucks, which included the protection of employee rights to organize a union and a path to a $15 minimum wage by 2023.

The Bucks agreement paved the way for groups like Fight for $15 to organize more workers and ultimately launch an election offensive.

About a month before the midterm, more than 25 workers were arrested during a fast food strike in which over 200 workers participated in. Umel told Shadowproof that Fight for $15 will continue to hold lawmakers accountable and push for the Bucks agreement to be expanded throughout Milwaukee and the entire state.

In addition to Evers’ win, Democrats won every statewide contest in Wisconsin on Nov. 6, taking a Senate seat and five constitutional offices. It was their first sweep since 1982.

Wisconsin tends to lean Democratic, but Walker had been governor since 2011. President Donald Trump narrowly won the state in 2016.

Michael Arria

Michael Arria

Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.