How BLOC Encouraged Black Communities to Vote in Milwaukee
Angela Lang of Black Leaders Organizing For Communities Knows "Women of Color Are the Future"
After the 2016 election, 30-year-old Angela Lang was determined to help the Black community in Milwaukee, WI, become more politically engaged in both local and national politics. To bring more attention to the challenges her community faced — particularly voter suppression — she founded Black Leaders Organizing For Communities (BLOC), an organization that works to lift up the Black citizens, leaders, and businesses in the area. Although nearly 79 percent of Milwaukee residents voted for the Biden-Harris ticket in 2020, Lang is already rolling up her sleeves to put in even more work.
"A lot of it really was born out of the 2016 election," Lang told POPSUGAR. "We saw that turnout was down all across the state in Wisconsin, and so on one hand, many of us were pretty disappointed with the results. But then we noticed that our community was also being blamed for the outcome of the election, when we were some of the most disenfranchised and least engaged [citizens]. I felt like it was really unfair to [blame the Black community specifically] when turnout was down all across the state."
Understandably upset about the discourse aimed at her community, Lang was determined to drive up Black political engagement in Milwaukee. "How do we be very explicit with Black-led organizing and doing it in a way where we're not waiting for a candidate or an elected official or a party?" she asked rhetorically. "We're going to do it on a year-round basis and we're going to hire folks from the community to do that."
And so she did beginning in 2017. "We have folks we pay called ambassadors," she explained. "They are essentially canvassers, but with a lot more leadership development. We put them through rigorous training because we don't want them just to say, 'Hey, vote for this candidate. See you later.' We wanted to let people know how politics works, help them understand the systems, and show them how they can interject and make their voices heard."
"Women of color are the future, and we're also the present of the current wave of activism."
Dedicated to offering citizens a full picture of the political landscape, BLOC's purpose is centered on voter education at all levels. "We want to make sure that they're educated on the political systems," she said. "They're not just voting wildly for a candidate that we tell them to. We want them to understand the role and importance and the jurisdiction of that particular office. Then, ideally, we want folks to support the candidates that we've endorsed, or who we think are the best choices for our community."
For the members of BLOC, addressing the lack of investment in the community was a top priority, particularly where the city's budget was concerned. "We noticed a few years ago that nearly 50 percent of the city budget in Milwaukee goes to the police department, while our health department, for example, is typically funded between two and three percent," she explained. "We felt like those priorities were lopsided in our communities. We wanted to see investments directly into our community, making sure folks had access to medical treatments and quality transportation so they could get jobs that pay a living wage."
While Lang and her team made tremendous headway, the pandemic caused them to switch gears. Rather than going door to door, they began phone banking and texting messages to members of the community. And when she saw how challenging it was to vote in Milwaukee's local election on April 7 because of long lines and less volunteers due to COVID-19, she was determined to prevent the same scenario from occurring in November. "We wanted to make sure that we weren't just talking about the election, but also checking in on our community and knowing that there's still a pandemic," she said. "People need to be connected to resources, too. We try to provide that holistic approach with an eye on electoral politics."
"That's why it's important for us to have a year-round engagement because those are three really big conversations that we couldn't start to have in say, September or October of this year," she continued, noting how these conversations should be ongoing. "We're really looking forward to next year. People are excited and people are asking us what's next. We're eager to continue to engage our community when we know a lot of campaigns and organizations pack up and go home [after the election]. I think that's something that's really beautiful and that's something that we enjoy the most."
Now, Lang is looking to inspire the next generation of Black women activists eager to implement change in their communities. "Women of color are the future, and we're also the present of the current wave of activism," she shared. "I think there's a lot of support . . . we're having important conversations. Sometimes it may be kind of scary and maybe a little bit intimidating to get involved, but I would say to just go for it. If [they] feel strongly about an issue, find an organization that aligns with their values and their issues. If one doesn't exist, start one."