Tuesday, September 28, 2021

I reported on a community dispute. The dispute got worse.

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When my story about a Wisconsin province’s struggle over whether to declare themselves a community for all was published last month, I knew it would be uncomfortable for some readers.

What I did not expect was that it would lead to even more strife in Marathon County, which has been in a civil debate for more than a year now about the value of diversity and inclusion. The question is what many in the community see as a long-recognized recognition of systemic inequalities, while others deny that such barriers exist.

As a national political correspondent at The Times, I report mainly on national or state-level campaigns and politicians. But this assignment was a return to my journalistic roots – a look at an intense local government dispute in Wisconsin, where I began my career two decades ago with suburban towns and school boards for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

I then learned that because of the passion that Americans bring to national politics, few feuds run hotter than those between neighbors, and this has certainly become the case in Marathon County. It’s easy to hate someone you disagree with about a presidential candidate. An ongoing argument about local politics with people you see in the supermarket leads to a very different set of emotions.

Hours after the article was published, Mayor Katie Rosenberg of Wausau, the seat of the country, convened a news conference to say she was “crushed” by the story and issued a proclamation in which she stated Wausau “a community for all.” She appealed to local businesses to do the same; some have, with the local botanical gardens announcing itself as a garden for all. ‘

“We tried to say, ‘Hell yes, we want you here,'” she said. Rosenberg said in an interview last week. “We want you to live here, work here, participate and be involved in the process.”

The setback was rapid. Opponents of the resolution dug in even more.

Me. Rosenberg is accused by a local conservative radio host of recruiting The Times to Wausau to write a negative story about her community. A false assertion; I read for the first time about the dispute on the website of Wisconsin Public Radio.

At the next Marathon County Board meeting two days later, a variety of citizens lined up to urge supervisors to maintain their opposition to the “community for all” resolution. The local chairman of the Republican Party, who organized the opposition to the resolution and proposed that it would lead to a race-based redistribution of wealth, said that it was I who ‘really sow seeds of discourse and hatred in our community’ .

The council’s conservatives invited a California anti-abortion activist named Kevin McGary to give a presentation on why the ‘community for all’ resolution was unnecessary.

Mr. McGary, who’s black, talked for more than an hour and broadly opposes the idea that white people are responsible for racism. He has Mrs. Rosenberg attacked, saying she “says community to all, but she wants to wipe out all blacks completely.”

It did not make things better.

Kurt Gibbs, the chairman of the county council who opposed the “community for all” resolution, a public apology issued to Rosenberg because she allowed herself to be accused of genocide without refutation.

Meanwhile, the resolution goes through a seventh review in the middle of Marathon County’s fight. The call to equity is gone, which became a hot-button word when opponents of the resolution falsely argued that it would authorize the seizure of private property of white residents. William Harris, the one-time black member of the council, replaced it with a language that says the council should aim to allow residents of the province to ‘celebrate and embrace their rich multicultural heritage without fear of intimidation’ or violence motivated by hatred. ‘

What follows is unclear. There is no indication that any resolution of the compromise can win support from enough conservative members of the land council, given the opposition and denial of systemic racism, a rift that reflects local political divides across the country.

It’s always the goal of a reporter to shed light on a case, not to create more problems – we travel to places like Wausau to reflect the country’s mood. This article happened to arouse emotions that erupted in public after publication and shed some light on the long-standing tension in the community.

Me. Rosenberg said the experience of seeing Wausau’s local political dispute play out in front of a national audience undermines her efforts to bring the community together under the idea that all people should be welcome.

“We tore our relationship apart,” she said in a recent interview. “I do not know why it is so difficult. It is not difficult to ingest. ”

I reported on a community dispute. The dispute got worse.
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