As we inch closer to the November general election, community organizations are ramping up their outreach to potential voters. But for the Milwaukee-based group Black Leaders Organizing for Community, also known as BLOC, these efforts are happening all year, every year.
The organization was created to invigorate and inform Black voters in Milwaukee neighborhoods — and not just when there’s a presidential election.
After the 2016 election, BLOC Executive Director Angela Lang felt like many people unfairly blame the Black community for the outcome.
“I thought that that was a misguided place to hold blame,” Lang says. “It’s important for us to re-shift that and to think about blaming a whole community that wasn’t engaged and a community that was essentially disenfranchised.”
So BLOC decided to do the work of organizing themselves. They put organizers through 30 hours of training and sent them out into the community to ask: “what does it look like for Milwaukee’s Black community to thrive?” Answers ranged from filling potholes to changing policies of mass incarceration.
“We try to really combine, what are some of those really hyper-localized issues with kind of broader themes that we’re hearing, and then are there openings and opportunities to advocate for some of the things that we want every year when it comes to the city budget,” says Lang.
Since the pandemic began, BLOC has moved to socially distanced ways of organizing and is focusing on the issues that have arisen. Sending text updates about changes and information surrounding the April 7 election, calling community members to do wellness checks and connect them with local resources, and reaching out after the protests began to ask what changes people would like to see, have been their focus.
“We’ve heard a lot in this moment and it’s something we are trying juggle and balance and figure out all the ways we can be supportive too,” she says.
The through line throughout all these issues for Lang is just how much weighs on communities of color.
“It’s not lost on me that communities of color can sway an election, and definitely sway an election here in Wisconsin. Communities of color and those voters are the same ones that are disproportionately impacted by the virus and are also the same ones on the streets marching,” she says.
As her sights narrow on the November election, Lang knows the weight of the work BLOC is doing.
“I think we definitely know our role in the larger ecosystem. I try to remind [organizers] as much as possible how much power they have,” she says. “There is a certain level of power and certain level of influence and leverage that can be gained by understanding just how important the Black vote is.”