On Sunday afternoon, a crowd packed into Table Wine on Atwood Avenue to hear what Sen. Tammy Baldwin was doing for them and what they could do for her. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey stood beside Baldwin, encouraging attendees to act.
But Ald. Maurice Cheeks, one of the organizers of the event, stressed that this was not a fundraising event or even a typical campaign stop for Baldwin’s reelection. To start with, it was organized by, and aimed at professional people of color.
“(Baldwin) spoke to our community about issues that matter deeply to us, not asking for money, not asking for anything, other than for us to appreciate that she’s got our back,” Cheeks said.
“One of the really beautiful things about today’s event is for a lot of folks, this was the first time they’ve ever been in a room with senator.”
The event was organized by a small group of African-American leaders and aimed at young diverse professionals. Those organizers included Sabrina “Heymiss Progress” Madison, social entrepreneur and founder of the Progress Center for Black Women, Maurice Cheeks, district 10 alder and big data software executive, Savion Castro, a research associate at One Wisconsin Now, Walter Williams, Verona-area high school counselor, Adam Barr, health IT professional, and Ali Muldrow, the director of youth programming and inclusion at GSAFE, an organization aiming to create inclusive school communities for LGBTQ youth.
“It was really about asking and wanting senators to engage us, to be out here, to hear our voices, to allow us to have input,” Madison said.
“To build that long-term momentum,” Muldrow said. “And momentum to carry us through this election.”
“Yes,” Madison said, “It couldn’t be just at the end.”
Especially, Muldrow added, as voters need to have the primaries on their radar. The event was intended to have a “ripple effect,” she said, for attendees to bring the ideas expressed during the talk to their own networks.
Baldwin and Booker both addressed the crowd, but the group had specifically requested an informal atmosphere, and attendees stood around the senators clutching wine glasses. They later had the opportunity to ask questions and mingle with the lawmakers.
Baldwin called the event a “great opportunity just to connect, (and) have Cory here to inspire.”
Booker delivered inspiration, emphatically preaching the importance of showing up to the polls.
Booker said he waited in line for hours to vote for Barack Obama, but in the next election, when an incumbent Democrat ran for governor against Republican candidate Chris Christie, he showed up to vote and found a largely empty polling place.
After Christie was elected, he said, Planned Parenthood closed down due to lack of funding, the state pulled out of a regional greenhouse gas agreement and the earned income tax credit was cut, Booker said.
“Everybody wants to look around and say, ‘Why are they doing this to us?’” Booker said. “The question is not ‘What are they doing to us?’ What are we doing to ourselves?”
The stakes are high for the Senate race, Booker said, pointing to the potential for the Senate to confirm a Supreme Court Justice. Booker and others repeated that there is substantial funding (including some from the Koch brothers) against Baldwin’s campaign.
Booker offered straightforward solutions like donating small dollar amounts to campaigns and registering people to vote. Those were powerful reminders, Cheeks said, and he heard a few attendees decide to help register voters after the talk.
“The feedback that I was hearing tonight was that people were really excited to be able to have more ammunition to be able to speak on behalf of Tammy, and that was exactly what we hoped for today,” Cheeks said.
Mayra Medrano, president of the Madison Public Market Foundation, appreciated the space for people of color to engage on the topic of civic engagement, and called the afternoon “inspirational and “motivational.”
But she added, “Let’s not get too comfortable, there's still a lot of work to be done.”