activist

Hero of the Week: Christine Neumann-Ortiz Fighting for Immigrants

Christine Neumann-Ortiz is the epitome of an activist. She dedicates what seems like every moment of her time to fighting against political causes that hurt immigrant and Latino communities. She has become the leader of a movement that defends the rights of immigrants by organizing masses of people from those groups in solidarity. “For me, it’s making sure we keep that link with each other,” she explains, “and really beat back those politics of divide and conquer. That’s how we’re going to move forward.” Making a change is all about organizing groups of people from the ground up and building a community that is ready to put everything on the line for a new outcome.

Neumann-Ortiz got involved in activism in her early 20s—“late in life,” as she puts it. She began participating in social justice, organizing and realizing that there was “an economic structure that was benefitting from putting one group against the other.” That realization informed her approach to organizing and motivated her to dive deeper into social justice movements. In those early years, she learned the power a movement could have when unifying people from a grassroots level.

A few years later, in 1994, Neumann-Ortiz took her advocacy to a new level when she started the newspaper Voces de la Frontera, or Voices from the Border in English. She used it as a way to draw attention to the terrible conditions in Mexican factories and advocate for fair rights for the workers. The name of the newspaper references the voices of the factory workers in the maquiladora industry who were coming together to demand fair conditions.

Voces de la Frontera and Neumann-Ortiz continued to grow a larger support system of immigrants, refugees and Latinos. As she explains, “Voces draws strength from its members” and is “able to organize in ways that can scale up powerfully with tens of thousands of people.” Voces has always been a voice for those that don’t have one and has worked to change laws and policies that hinder the lives of their members.

Currently, Voces and Neumann-Ortiz are determined to change Act 126, a law passed by Wisconsin in 2006. Under the law, the state cannot not give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants or people without a social security number, but Voces has created the Driver’s License for All campaign to put power back in the hands of immigrants. For undocumented immigrants, no driver’s license could mean not being able to get to work, traffic fines they can’t afford or deportation. If Voces can get their plan for change into the state budget, “it’s the greatest protection for immigrant families in Wisconsin,” says Neumann-Ortiz. “We do need everybody’s help.”

“Organizing is like gardening. It’s constant,” she continues. In conversation, Neumann-Ortiz is quick to talk about the next issue and how to improve policies because there is always more progress to be made. “We just have to make sure that we continue to be strong and unified and bold and the times require it.”

Learn more at vdlf.org/drivercards.

Wisconsin Voices' Markasa Tucker Brings Activists Together

Markasa Tucker was never really involved in civic engagement, until April 30, 2014, when Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed in Milwaukee. “That is what struck a nerve for me,” she states. New to activism, Tucker responded to the call when the Hamilton family asked people to join them in protest at Red Arrow Park following the shooting. She felt drawn to the protest and wanted to show support for the family, becoming one of many to demand justice and accountability from the police department.

That same year, Tucker took a job at Wisconsin Voices, knowing that her career was heading down a new path. Wisconsin Voices is an organization that connects social action organizations with one another to build a collective that jointly has a stronger voice to make Wisconsin better. Once Tucker got a taste for activism, she couldn’t turn back. As she got more involved, she noticed “the community is often left from the table” when talking about policy changes and social justice, but she has made it her mission to bring them front and center. In 2016, the Coalition for Justice (CFJ)—an organization started by the Hamilton family focused on vindicating Dontre’s death and holding police accountable—asked Tucker to join their core team. That topic of police accountability would become one of the core issues that Tucker would work to improve.

A turning point for Tucker came in 2016, when Dontre’s brother, Nate Hamilton, personally asked her to speak at a rally in front of a crowd. After speaking with a bullhorn for the first time, she realized that is where she is meant to be. “I’m a connector and collaborator,” she says. “Continue to connect and engage people, because there’s value in all of us.” That year, she began incorporating the work of the CFJ into her work in the African American Round Table (AART), which is a monthly meeting of black leaders from the organizations that partner with Wisconsin Voices. Their goal is to create a unified partnership that empowers African Americans to lead and change policies through civic engagement. Tucker is now a lead facilitator of public protests, community meetings and organized lobbying efforts that push to open conversations between Milwaukee’s police and its citizens.

‘Don’t Get Comfortable!’

“With Wisconsin Voices, I’ve learned that sometimes we show up in spaces as if we’re going to be a savior. We’re not the saviors,” explains Tucker. “The people who are affected and impacted by the situation, those are the people whose voices should be up front.” She goes on to say that, now that the election has ended, more than ever our citizens need to be present.

The AART will be hosting community meetings with the elected office holders before Tuesday, Jan. 1, to educate people about each role and to allow people to ask the elected candidates questions. Whether people call their alderperson or simply show up at a meeting, there are plenty of opportunities to jump into the movement. “Find a way to plug in,” states Tucker. “Just don’t lose this momentum. Don’t get comfortable!”

To learn more about Wisconsin Voices and the AART, visit wisconsinvoices.org.