A Guest Column by Mayor Paul Soglin
Lessons from Ferguson
Mayor Paul Soglin (c), other city officials and residents of the old
Simpson Street area
outrage about the death of one young man. It’s about the living conditions of hundreds of millions of Americans. This is the first
generation which is not going to live a better life than their parents.
On the second part of the discussion, there has to be strong community ties between all government services and the people they serve.
It’s not just the police department. Certainly the police department is critical.
I was on a conference call earlier today with 25 other mayors, mayors from Philadelphia, Tallahassee, Sacramento, Birmingham and
others. And what I am saying was uniformly expressed. It didn’t matter what part of the country we were from. It didn’t matter what the
constituencies, the demographics, might be in terms of race and income. One uniform statement that we all agreed on was that there are
underlying economic and social justice issues, which are of paramount concern.
I think part of the problem rests in the fact that many elected leaders are fearful of their constituents, in some cases, deservedly so and
in some cases, it is unfair. The point is this new age economy does not work. In many instances, that’s beyond the control of a city
council or a mayor. But even if they can’t change it, they have to be prepared to talk about it with candor and honesty. I think that will
bring forth the trust that’s needed, the trust that is going to be the base for making this a better country. The kinds of things that need to be
addressed, a minimum of a living wage for everyone, an acknowledgement that some of the new age technology contradicts and
clashes with our efforts to ensure equity.
The present discussion about Uber and Lyft, I think, represents it. I’ve had people advise me not to take on this fight. After all, they point
out, “This puts you standing in the face of progress. You are going to create a bad reputation for the city in terms of entrepreneurship.”
Well if Uber and Lyft are going to destroy full-time jobs and siphon off billions of dollars of wealth from working people into the hands of
the few, I think we need to face that.
The new way of making money in this country, too often, is not based on adding value, but is based on becoming the intermediary
between those who pay for the service and those who do the work. It’s really what Uber and Lyft are doing. They are putting themselves
in between the cab driver and the passenger and charging a fee, which is far greater than the value of the technology provided.
We have to examine the role of Amazon and E-bay in our society, what it has done to destroy locally-owned retail shops, bookstores and
appliance stores and the jobs that those stores provided and the social cohesion that those stores provided. If you go into towns in
Wisconsin with populations of 3,000-5,000, you’ll see so many closed shops. And we’ve seen it right here in Madison. We saw it in the
closing of a number of our bookstores. We saw it in the loss of American TV.
The hopelessness and turmoil that the community of Ferguson has been experiencing will repeat itself in other communities if we don’t
focus our efforts and resources on a two generation approach to provide education, training and family supporting jobs that will grow our
economy for all our residents, but particularly people in poverty.
Here in Madison, we need to continue to improve on our long-time primary neighborhood strategy of direct engagement with our
residents, through our system of neighborhood associations, Neighborhood Recourse Teams, community policing, and targeted
neighborhood centers that provide a safe environment for youth to participate in positive activities and adults to develop relationships
and engage in community building.
My first thought is that what occurred in Ferguson with the
shooting could happen in any city in the United States. There is
no city where we are immune from this kind of tragedy. But
there is more to the story than that.
For one thing, there is the question of the underlying anger,
which goes beyond the shooting. Secondly, there is the
question of the law-enforcement response to the
On the question of the underlying anger, we’re living in a
nation that is heading to a caste system, the creation of a
permanent underclass. The wealthiest 400 Americans have
more riches than 150 million of our citizens. Since the
recession, while we have recovered the lost jobs, the new
jobs pay 23 percent less than the jobs that were lost.
The number of Americans who do not earn a living wage is
unconscionable. I said living wage, not minimum wage. The
wealthy and the powerful in this country have got to
understand that the public response to this shooting is not