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Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baraboo aims to educate against local racism

Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baraboo aims to educate against local racism

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One of the four local organizers of the downtown Black Lives Matter demonstration Wednesday highlighted the event as an “opportunity” for everyone, regardless of race.

“This is our first step,” Joey Rausch said. “This is not the end of racism in Baraboo. This is the beginning of people being able to come out, communicate about things and feel comfortable expressing those emotions.”

Rausch, a 2016 Baraboo High School graduate, is currently attending Madison College as a nursing student. He said his reason for undertaking the difficult task of organizing the event was to connect people in Baraboo with information they might not already know, like topics they may have seen or not seen related to racial inequity.

“It’s a good opportunity to get people together and have conversations with people,” Rausch said. “I can tell people about my experiences, other people can share theirs. This is a great way to acknowledge the racial injustices we have in a way that will keep people’s minds open.”

Black Lives Matter protest organizer Joey Rausch speaks to a crowd of more than 50 Wednesday outside the Sauk County Courthouse during a demonstration meant to educate others and call attention to racism in the United States.

Part of the demonstration included educational displays set up near the Sauk County Courthouse.

Jay Riley, who spoke to attendees about conventionally taught history in the United States, highlighted how white people saw Black Americans in groups and leaders differently than their Black peers and how that bias translated directly into textbooks for the entire country.

Riley and one of the events’ organizers, John Warren, focused on the Black Panthers at one point. The organization was seen as militant and unpatriotic, but had a hand in improving the country in a number of ways to help combat poverty, he said. Like the free breakfast program for children, Riley said as he spoke to Ross Gordon, of Baraboo, a three-fold presentation propped up in front of him. Martin Luther King Jr. was written in history as a passive, kind man while Malcolm X was viewed as a terrorist, he said. Both were active protesters who were arrested for their actions; one was just whitewashed for the benefit of the white populace, he said.

A poster board presentation outlined environmental racism, which focuses on neighborhood toxicity and its impact on Black lives. As attendees arrived some created signs at tables nearby.

Rausch, who works in healthcare, gave a speech while standing on the courthouse steps which outlined the course of a Black American’s life based on inequitable conditions, from their pay to their likelihood of arrest, and even how a Black woman is 30% more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman. He called for work to be done to change policies so people of color in the United States no longer have to protest in the streets to be heard and call for change. He told everyone to vote and to hold accountable local, state and federally elected representatives to create change.

Not everyone who lined the courthouse square with signs was there to learn more about racial disparities or chant about justice. Some stood in support of police officers. Others yelled that “All Lives Matter,” and displayed signs implying that protests should not be destructive. A couple who refused to identify themselves were surprised to learn all organizers were local residents and said they stood for “all lives.” The expression has been denounced by Black Lives Matter advocates as dismissive of their call for equality, notable in signs and shirts at the demonstration which read “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter.”

A man yelling during Rausch’s speech was escorted away from the demonstration by police. A loud, booming firework going off turned some heads as he spoke about violence against Black Americans. At some point, one voice shouted “Go home.”

Black Lives Matter protesters chant in Baraboo July 8

Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf, who Rausch said was instrumental in his support, said Thursday the demonstration was safe and had “no significant issues.” Officers blocked off streets downtown and helped oversee the demonstration as well as clean up after the march down to City Hall and back.

Rausch said he received “a lot of positive feedback” from local people of all races who welcomed a chance to learn and see others willing to be educated on discrimination.

“Support in Baraboo is there for people of color and it’s a great time to come and see that,” Rausch said. “I’ve had negative feedback too, but our positive feedback is from a lot of people who are thankful they get the space to share this information.”

Without high profile murders on the evening news or blatantly racist signs harkening back to Jim Crow laws, it is also more difficult for people in smaller cities to understand local racism, Rausch said. But racism still takes different forms and it requires different methods to combat it, he said.

“It takes all of us, and it takes all of us willing to learn,” Rausch said. “The same information is not exclusive to citizens, it’s not exclusive to police; it’s for everybody to know if we’re going to be able to fix these complex and systemic problems.”

Baraboo graduate Sydney Rabata brought her parents to help them better understand racial disparities, but also to help combat inaction she regrets from when she was younger and witnessed events like Rausch has been sharing with others.

“Going to high school here I saw a lot of injustices, at the high school especially,” Rabata said. “And ways that my friends were treated, but I didn’t do anything to speak up against it then. That really doesn’t sit right with me now, especially being an educator, I feel like I have a responsibility to stand up for my students.”

Abby Haseley, of Baraboo, said attending the demonstration was a show of support for family members who helped organize the event, but also to highlight the importance of Black Lives Matter.

“It means that their lives are just as important as all other lives in our country and they need to be treated like that and they need to be more respected,” Haseley said. “Everyone needs to be treated equally in our country and we’re just not right now.”

Haseley said the educational component could be an effective tool in demonstrating, showing people who may not be aware of injustice how it affects people they may know.

Rausch said there are no current plans to host another similar event in the city, but could see himself organizing one again in the future. It is most important to ensure they are visible to others within the community, he said.

“I hope our efforts today can give some hope to younger children, younger adults, to be able to do something like this in the future and to feel comfortable being themselves in Baraboo,” Rausch said.

Just because racism is acknowledged doesn’t mean it is suddenly fixed, he added.

Follow Bridget on Twitter @cookebridget or contact her at 608-745-3513.


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