December 1 is the anniversary of the day in 1955 when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. Back then, racism was visible in signs that marked Jim Crow policies of segregation. We know that it took courageous organizers – like Rosa Parks, and thousands of others - and a national movement to shift our laws and policies toward racial justice.
But today, people are still fighting for a seat on the bus.
Now, instead of signs and bus drivers segregating white and black riders, governments make transportation decisions that can create or even worsen the racial and economic segregation of a city.
One place where transportation decisions are closely tied to segregation and discrimination is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Milwaukee is the most racially segregated metropolitan area in the United States, and persons of color are far less likely to have drivers’ licenses or access to cars. State and federal agencies have known this for years – yet they continue to allow government to ignore the need for public transportation to access jobs, school and health care, while they pump billions of dollars into bigger highways.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has been involved in advocating for transit equity for Milwaukee residents for years. In August, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a lawsuit to try to block a $1.7 billion highway interchange that would facilitate commuting to largely segregated suburbs by mostly white commuters until transit is also incorporated into our transportation system. The discriminatory budget spending decisions are just one symptom of systemic problems southeastern Wisconsin faces in increasingly segregationist public transit options.
On December 3, the ACLU of Wisconsin will join community partners in sponsoring a public listening session on Milwaukee’s transit crisis and is urging people affected by the lack of transit options to tell their stories to elected officials and the community, and to take the steps to become part of a 21st century movement to seek transportation justice.
This story also appeared on the national ACLU's Blog of Rights.