MOUNT PLEASANT — While President Donald Trump, Foxconn officials and other politicians dipped golden shovels into the dirt to celebrate the Taiwan-based company’s $10 billion Wisconsin plant, hundreds of protesters took to Smolenski Park in Mount Pleasant to shake the ground itself in solidarity with those losing their homes to the development.
The atmosphere for the “Shake the Ground” rally became electric as music by the Forward Marching Band echoed in the pavilion where representatives of various organizations like Our Wisconsin Revolution, candidates for office and concerned citizens carried signs, chanted and raised their voices to booming levels. They declared their disfavor with Gov. Scott Walker, Congressman Paul Ryan and Trump for their parts in taking homes away from local residents to benefit Foxconn, a step imposed by the Mount Pleasant Village Board which declared the homes around the development “blighted,” giving it the option to take the properties of holdouts through eminent domain.
“I’m here to stand with homeowners who are having their houses ripped from them, against a government who decided to give away taxpayer money to a corporation that is every single day diminishing what they were supposed to promise to us,” said Kenosha resident Krish Colon, who serves as an OWR board member. “That isn’t something that I stand for or stand with, and I believe that every constituent, every citizen, every member that lives in this area should be upset that such things occur without any consultation or recognition of who’s actually going to have to foot that bill. Because it isn’t them, it’s going to be us, and we should have a part in that.”
For Colon, what has been witnessed throughout the Foxconn deal calls into question just what weight the American dream still has with politicians and lawmakers across the state.
“I know that there’s a lot of people who actually built homes there, who put their lives into these homes, who designed a home for themselves, for their family to retire in, to live in, and they may lose it,” he said. “We talk about the American dream and it exists in this notion of home and safety and property, but we have a government that will rip it from us? Are you then now rescinding this dream that we’re supposed to have and are supposed to believe and are supposed to work towards?”
Kenosha County concerns
But Foxconn does not only affect Mount Pleasant or Racine County. Just across the road from the edge of the Foxconn development on Hwy. KR lies the town of Somers, and according to Esther Roberts, of Somers, an OWR board member, fears over how Foxconn will impact Kenosha County are something she heard quite often while campaigning, though unsuccessfully, for a seat on the Somers Village Board in the spring.
“In Somers, the board just voted to turn acres and acres and acres of protected farmland into industrial/commercial use, making the land useless to landowners, worthless,” Roberts said. “If someone wants to come in, they’re going to have to pay for the water and sewer to be put in. That’s why we’re here.”
And though much hype has been heard from officials and politicians about the Foxconn groundbreaking, held at the same time on the Foxconn site Thursday, to Roberts it’s all just white noise.
“I’m not concerned about the president or any of the other elected officials who are over there, because we’re working on getting our own people into office,” Roberts said. “So instead of being against something, we’re being for something. We’re being for the landowners. We’re for raising up people who actually listen to the people that they govern, which is the whole point of democracy.”
Wages, family support
However, the protest Thursday didn’t simply stick to the issue of the potential use of eminent domain to get Foxconn the land it needs to house its massive campus, but also struck on issues of employment and opportunity, particularly the $7.25 minimum wage in the state and a perceived lack of support for working families.
“I’m here today to deliver this message because huge corporations like Foxconn and politicians like Governor Walker, and President Trump as well, they don’t care about us working families in cities here in Wisconsin,” said Solo Littlejohn, a Kenosha resident who spoke to the crowd on behalf of the organization Fight for $15.
Littlejohn, who works at the Wendy’s on Sheridan Road in Kenosha, lamented the fact that, while food service workers at the Milwaukee Bucks arena are paid well and are treated with respect, workers in Kenosha and the immediate area are left to try to support their families on $7.25 an hour, with uncertain schedules and without the right to unionize.
“It is no secret that Wisconsin workers are falling further and further behind because Governor Walker as a governor is saying that $7.25 an hour is a livable wage,” Littlejohn said. “I honestly cannot think of any job that should not start at $15 an hour or more, that should not give you the right to unionize. We need more good, union jobs, not more corporate giveaways, facilities that take our taxpaying dollars and aren’t willing to employ us, the people of Wisconsin.”
Along with a livable wage, Littlejohn wants corporations like Foxconn to be more accessible to the people trying to enter the local workforce by offering better transportation to its facilities.
“The problem with folks in Milwaukee and the workers like me in Kenosha, we can’t take advantage of Foxconn’s job opportunities because Foxconn isn’t making these jobs accessible to us,” he said. “There’s no adequate transportation to get to Mount Pleasant from Milwaukee or Kenosha, where I live, much less Racine or any other town neighboring.
“We need major corporations like this to be fair about hiring, giving equal opportunity and following the example of what the Bucks arena has done with its agreement in Milwaukee.”
However, while the current situation comes with a hard fight for Littlejohn and many gathered for Thursday’s protest, there is a ray of light shining from the sheer amount of people and diversity seen in the crowd at Smolenski Park.
“I think this is groundbreaking history, and it really almost brings a tear to my eye,” Littlejohn said in an interview after addressing the crowd. “I’m very moved to see the fact that so many people of so many races and colors are all here for the same thing. The sad thing is that we’re all here for the same needs and necessities, but the good thing is that we’re all here willing to support each other and to see that happen.”
And, as many speakers, including vice chair of the Wisconsin Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party Tammy Wood, said during the protest, the key is to keep fighting and to keep shaking the ground, no matter what.
“We shake the ground by getting involved,” Wood said. “We shake the ground by doing what we can, when we can and by doing the best we can, no matter how hard our struggle is.”