“I can’t talk about the census enough,” Barnes declared. “We know that kids age five and younger are less likely to be counted. We know that people of color along
with people with lower incomes and lower levels of education are also less likely to be counted. They are the people in most need in our society. This is one of
those things where it’s not like people just don’t feel they have been ignored and left behind. This is people being systematically left behind and ignored and
forgotten. And we live in a political climate where, again, our Latinx brothers and sisters who are seeking pathways to citizenship have justifiable fears of being
detained and being deported simply for wanting to be counted. And in a state that deals with both the legacy of present-day racism along with disparities between
our rural and urban communities, we have to take all of the steps necessary to ensure that everyone has a voice. We know the role that the census plays in our
elections. It will determine our voting districts and the power that your neighborhood and community have in the political process. Again we have to make sure that
everyone is counted. And the census determines how much federal funding our state receives. And it determines how this money is allocated to help communities.
So we have to make sure that everyone is counted so that we have all of the resources that we need to rebuild and empower and ensure that communities can
thrive, especially our communities of color.”
Barnes talked about the over spending of resources on the criminal justice system and the under resourcing of so many other vital public institutions.
“Although we aspire for a world that is free of hate and injustice and a world where every man, woman and child can succeed, we are a little ways away from
achieving it,” Barnes said. “And this will only be done when we end the era of mass incarceration that ranks us the number one jailer of African American males in
the country. It’s an injustice that $1.5 billion is spent every year to lock people up, many of them for non-violent offenses or mental health issues. Many people go
back in for bogus revocations. This is money that could be much better spent. We can more effectively treat people in treatment facilities and get them the access to
the mental health care services that they need. And while I was able to not fall victim to this statistic, I have friends and family members and neighbors who have
gone through it at one point or another. So many people who go in end up in a vicious cycle with very few options when they return to society because when they go
in, we turn our backs on them. It takes an enormous toll, both social and economic, on everyone involved. Communities are broken apart and never made whole
While environmental justice and climate change are often lacking in the political discourse in the African American and other communities of color, Barnes
emphasized that environmental issues disproportionately impact these communities.
“I’ve had the opportunity to travel to well over half the counties in the state already in the first nine months,” Barnes noted. “And I’ve had the chance to meet with
people from all types of backgrounds, people who have voiced concerns over what’s going on with our land, our air and our water. And they are calling on us to act.
You saw the children strike for the climate last week. I couldn’t be more proud of that action because in my hometown of Milwaukee, nearly 11 percent of children
tested were found to have lead poisoning, a higher percentage than any other city in our state. The poisons that goes into our children’s bodies cause severe health
problems for those in our communities and the impact is worse again in communities of color. But through our governor’s executive orders combatting our lead and
climate crisis, we’re leading our state in an entirely different direction that promises opportunities to restore our neighborhoods while giving us all access to clean
and safe drinking water. And if we do this work, it is my goal, my priority to ensure that this work is done in the most inclusive manner possible. Those who have
most been impacted by climate change have to be a part of the conversation and also a part of the solution, a part of the decision-making process as well. As a
state, we have to strive for economic and environmental justice. It’s not an ‘or’ conversation. We can have both.”
As he closed his speech, Barnes reminded his audience that they need to stand up and be counted.
“This is about our economy,” Barnes emphasized. “It’s about our environment. It’s about education. It’s about gender justice. It’s about urban and rural. It’s about
suburban. It’s about inclusiveness. It’s about inclusivity. It’s about doing everything that we can do together. It’s about standing arm in arm and not forgetting the
charge from 50-60 years ago, understanding that we still are in the civil rights movement. It never ended. We are still here today. And together we will fight and
together we will win.”
It’s about you and me.