Grass Roots: Progressive Dane building coalition to fight poverty

By Pat Schneider

Published in the Capital Times on July 24, 2011

A poverty rate of 17 percent and climbing. Half of public school children on the list for a free lunch to supplement what parents are able to put on the table at home.

These stark statistics on Madison are prompting Progressive Dane, the county's progressive political party, to step up to organize a coalition to advocate for local policies to assist struggling residents to move out of poverty.

"We need to get as many groups and individuals as possible to pressure the 'powers that be' that having over half of our public school children living in poverty is simply unacceptable," says Heidi Wegleitner, a member of the party's steering committee. "And just because the federal and state governments are indifferent to extreme economic inequality and human suffering, doesn't mean that we should accept such a mindset at the local level."

To that end, Progressive Dane is convening an organizing meeting from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the Goodman South Madison Branch Library, 2222 S. Park St.

"We are hoping to come away from the meeting with a broad and diverse coalition willing to push an anti-poverty vision at the local level," says Wegleitner.

She says Paul Soglin's references to persistent poverty in the city during his mayoral campaign won him the support of progressive voters who help put him back in the mayor's office.

Now it's time to get working on new strategies to change the statistics. Progressive Dane is reaching out to non-profit homeless and human services providers, labor groups, activists, neighborhood associations, planning councils and other community groups that have an interest in fighting poverty to enhance security in their communities, neighborhoods and schools, says Wegleitner.

The coalition needs people with ideas and energy to organize a community response to the "rarely politically convenient" issue of poverty.

It needs you.