“Reversing The Wrongs We Have Imposed” on the State’s School Districts? by Thomas Martin Sobottke


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Tolerance oneSeek Social Justice

Editor Struggles for Justice:
Conservative Republican legislators in Wisconsin’s State Legislature have announced via a press release a new piece of legislation slated for passage later this fall. We print the press release from the lawmakers leading the effort to repeal ACT 250 in favor of a law regarding race-based nicknames and logos and mascots that places a new set of legal hurdles in the way of justice. Mukwonago has been the scene of an extended legal fight to have the race-based and discriminatory nickname and logo removed from use in the Mukwonago Area Schools. Proponents of the legislation contend that it is a way to reverse wrongs done to school districts who have unduly been pressured by a law allowing a single individual to make a complaint under the old law. First a copy of the text of the press release and second my reply to what I see in the proposed legislation in relation to the concerns of advocates of social justice.

For More Information Please Contact:
Speaker Robin
Vos 608-266-3387
Representative Stephen Nass `608-266-5715
Representative Dave Craig 608-266-3363
Senator Mary Lazich 608-266-5400

New School Mascots Legislation Announced

MADISON…A group of Republican legislators has put forth a permanent solution in regards to school mascots in Wisconsin.

“These changes are reasonable and address concerns brought forth by all parties,” said Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester). “It puts the proper mechanism in place for appeals from the community without putting an undue burden on school districts.”

In order to object to a school board’s use of a race-based nickname, logo, mascot, or team name, the following would be required.

• A petition with signatures from school district residents that would need to equal at least 10 percent of the school district’s student population.
• The signatures must be obtained within the 120-day period before the complaint is filed.
• A hearing would be held by the Department of Administration’s Division of Hearings and Appeals.
• The burden of proof would be placed on the complainant.

“This legislation is a good step in recognizing that a single individual should not be able to dictate their will over a whole community and in the process deprive an entire group of people their right to due process,” said Rep. Dave Craig (R-Big Bend). “As a resident of the Mukwonago School District, I hope my colleagues will join us in reversing the wrongs that we have imposed on many of our state’s school districts by passing this legislation without delay.”

In addition, the proposal would expand the opportunity for collaboration and partnership between tribes and school districts on nickname and logos.

“I believe this new proposal offers a fair and balanced approach to changing state law on the use of Indian logos, mascots and nicknames. We wouldn’t be at this point except for the principled position taken by the citizens of the Mukwonago School District,” Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said.

“It is great to reach reasonable legislation and avoid imposing costly re-branding on school districts,” said Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin). “School districts will be able to continue respectfully using their treasured mascots to represent their school spirit in competitions.”

The legislation will be considered by the Legislature within the coming weeks.

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To All Those Struggling for Social Justice in America:

The new law misdirects the most essential remedy–that toward the oppressed group. This new legislation excludes any thought of the harm that continues to be done to that oppressed minority. It also obviously avoids any possibility of having anything get to a hearing, and if it were accomplished somehow, places the burden of proof on the complainant rather than the institution and community responsible for the pre-existing discriminatory environment.

The view that a single individual should not be able to challenge discrimination under our nation’s commonly accepted rule of law is inconsistent with all the legal precedent of American civil rights law.

There is no need for a “legislative solution” to what has taken place across the State over the years in regard to the Mascot issue and indigenous people and how they are stereotyped. That solution was provided less than five years ago when the legislature passed ACT 250 presently, at the time of this writing, in full legal force and successful operation.

If this new legislation were to be enacted, it would present a nearly insurmountable obstacle to ending the use of race-based stereotypical school mascots. The thrust of the legislation is to permit those who stereotype others to do so freely and without consequence as they wish, with no regard for those who suffer and are marginalized.

The legislation as proposed in itself is a law that further marginalizes the indigenous people of Wisconsin. It permits the discriminator to quietly go about the business of racial bigotry and unequal treatment as though it does not exist and as if the very people so affected approve of what is being done to them.

This is an abomination and a complete betrayal of justice to those so affected in the stereotyped group. It is a decision being made this fall in Madison of the white majority, by the white majority and for the white majority. To say otherwise would be a lie and a denial of the truth.

I cannot discern where the interests of the very people facing this type of discrimination are truly taken into account. They set the bar for getting to a hearing high enough to know that what happened in Mukwonago in 2010 is unlikely to ever happen again. This latest legislative move is a sad chapter in Wisconsin legislative history.

Yet we know that our arc of the moral universe though long, most surely will bend toward justice. I remain steadfast for a cause I know factually, intellectually, to be firmly rooted in my faith tradition and that of so many others to be right and just and good. My respect for and the honor I give to the First Americans remains undiminished.

The Abolitionists worked for thirty-five years in both ignominy and as a group of voices crying in a wilderness of racial bigotry to see the end to slavery in America realized after such a long freedom struggle. We gain much from their example. So too have those who forward the cause of human justice in our world.

It is most often a dispiriting and lonely road we must walk but it surely is the road our Creator most wishes us to take. Along the way of justice the energy to rise each morning and confront injustice where we find it can be furthered by our refusal to accept the wrong and by so doing we bear witness to it.

Whatever may happen with this legislation, people will know the passage of this law is a deep social injustice to a long suffering and neglected group of fellow citizens. God bless everyone who undertakes to in some way add their voice in bringing this fight forward. The mascot issue statewide and in this nation as a whole is a window into a much larger legacy of racial discrimination and genocide over centuries.

What is being struggled for here is merely one grain of sand on a beach of wrong and evil. But justice advocate, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., often said we meet it with soul force, or perhaps in other traditions spirit or Creator force, that inimitable part of the human spirit containing its knowledge of what is morally right acting in all we do in support of that ultimate justice

Do not be troubled or be weary. Though we wage this struggle non-violently and within the rule of law we know we move in rhythm with the direction of human history. And we do so with the Creator’s blessing.

Dr. Thomas Martin Sobottke
for Struggles for Justice

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