Two weeks after an incredible victory that captured the headlines and social media, I am still pinching myself to make sure what happened so rapidly and decisively is not but a dream I regret waking up from. The efforts of 50 activists and neighbors who shut down a 60-million dollar slaughterhouse in 12 days should serve as a huge inspiration to many. It demonstrates what is possible when a small yet determined group of regular people sets their minds to accomplish something that seems, on its face, impossible.
From the time one Milwaukee activist learned about the Straus slaughterhouse deal in a news story on October 8th, all signs from the media and politicians indicated it was a done deal with no hope in hell of being defeated. In the course of the next 48 hours, we would piece together the backroom maneuvers between the Mayor, aldermen and a huge meat industry player that would negatively impact the lives of an underserved community while shutting them out of the process. We learned that the Milwaukee Zoning & Neighborhoods & Development (ZND) Committee had already met on October 8th to approve the deal without a single member of the public present.
By October 12th, the newly formed Slaughter Free Milwaukee activist group discovered that the final vote to approve the deal was scheduled for a full up or down vote in just 3 short days (October 15th)! What happened between then and the morning of the 15th was pure magic. SFM organizers responded in crisis mode by creating a groundswell of resistance: building a Facebook presence, going out in the streets to talk to local residents, business owners, community activists and churches in the area of the proposed slaughterhouse, making signs and flyers, writing and distributing a press release, flooding alderman with phone calls and emails, showing up at City Hall to try to get their attention, and connecting with local reporters to tip them off about our planned City Hall protest.
Then on the morning of October 15th at around 8:30, we started filtering into Milwaukee City Hall. When we approached the Council Chambers room, we were greeted with several local reporters and camera crew. More activists and neighbors filtered in. Balaji made his case against the slaughterhouse to reporters for several minutes.
Aldermen passed us on their way into the meeting. There was a buzz in the air. Just after
The first big upset was that one of the aldermen submitted a motion to suspend the approval vote and there were no objections! This was the same alderman who had told the press just a day earlier that he saw no hope of defeating the deal, and would say a prayer to the animals as he drove by the new slaughterhouse. After the meeting, the media coverage started pouring in. Then just 3 days later, we were stunned by a press release from aldermen Rainey, the main sponsor for the slaughterhouse, who just days earlier admonished protesters at City Hall. In his statement, not only did he withdraw his support; he urged the other Aldermen and Mayor to vote against it!
And so goes the idea behind the Slaughter Free Cities campaign: Start local and build your momentum from there. Inspire people in other towns and cities and share with them your tools and experiences so that they too may have similar successes everywhere!