Despite Virtual Democratic Convention, People In Milwaukee Are Engaged In The Political Debate

Aug 18, 2020

Monday signaled day one of the Democratic National Convention. But we all know it’s not the DNC Milwaukee had planned to host at the Fiserv Forum. The coronavirus put an end to that.

Instead, the convention features virtual speeches and recorded messages from around the country. Major appearances by Wisconsinites are being broadcast from the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee.

But people could be found downtown Monday with strong opinions about the convention and the political process.

Geneva Reed hoped she would be experiencing the 2020 DNC inside the Wisconsin Center.
Credit Susan Bence

I met Geneva Reed on Wells Street. She was proudly wearing a DNC 2020 t-shirt, standing with the convention center to her back. Reed had hoped to be inside the building, rubbing shoulders with delegates at an in-person convention center this summer. It would have been her first.

“The plan was hopefully to be able to get a ticket to go inside of the convention and just have that first-time convention,” Reed says.

Reed lives and works in Chicago. While her convention dreams didn’t come true, she says she was thrilled when Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate.

“Just seeing an African American woman who’s very accomplished and it’s just nice to see, as a Black woman, those cracks in the ceiling with her in the race,” Reed explains.

Over the years, Reed has thought of every election as being critical to the democratic process. But this time around, she says there are fundamental issues at stake.

“Just looking at the state of our economy right now – with all of the job losses, the virus, there’s no national mandate from pretty much from day one, what to do to keep Americans safe,” Reed says. “All of that is really terrifying.”

Artist Stephen Parlato says he plans to spend all day, every day of the DNC sharing his concern about the danger of reelecting Donald Trump.
Credit Susan Bence

Stephen Parlato’s concerns propelled him to board a plane in the middle of the pandemic and come to Milwaukee from Boulder, Colo., for convention week.

He stood in front of the Wisconsin Center holding what he calls a reptilian-inspired poster of President Trump. The image depicts threatening-looking snakes slithering through and around Trump’s head. The poster bears the message: “Your vote is the only antidote.”

“It’s quite crazy that this very mediocre individual was somehow able to create this persona that is destroying our very system of government,” Parlato says.

What does Parlato hope to accomplish standing in protest throughout the DNC?

“Well, I’m an artist. Imagery is what I have. I believe in the power of images and I believe we need them to impolitely contain these messages of dread and the need for immediate action and concern,” Parlato says.

Milwaukee-native Jeremiah Thomas agrees with Parlato – President Trump must be defeated.

“Trump’s ideologies, I can’t stand for. I don’t believe in locking kids in cages, I don’t believe in a border wall or anything like that,” Thomas says.

But Thomas has a list of demands he and others came up with. Thomas was about to post some of them on the fence temporarily placed around the convention center.

(From left) Jeremiah Thomas with his sisters, Jasmine Sims and Denae White, as they prepare to deliver a list of demands to the DNC.
Credit Susan Bence

“The list includes defund the police, help with public housing, we want prison reform and we want reparations as well,” Thomas says.

Over recent months Thomas and others have mobilized, marched and gained traction in their call for change.

"I feel like now, especially with the DNC being held in Milwaukee, is a perfect opportunity to speak and say, 'Hey, listen, this is what the people want for our Democrats to be held accountable for and this is what we want your first order of business if you are in Nov. 3,' " Thomas says.

Jeremiah Thomas fastens demands to temporary fencing that surrounds the Wisconsin Center during the DNC.
Credit People's Movement of Milwaukee

While Chicago-resident Geneva Reed shared her excitement that Kamala Harris is on the ticket, Thomas expresses concerns about the former California prosecutor.

“Protests have been going on to defund the police, dismantle the police and she’s all for prison and she’s done countless acts where she put countless Black and brown men in prison for petty crimes such as possession of marijuana and she also supports the death penalty,” Thomas says.

While the DNC is unfolding virtually this week from cities throughout the country, Thomas says demonstrations will be very much "live” in Milwaukee, the host city, to make sure candidates know black lives matter.