By Shereen Siewert

Days after the Marathon County Executive Committee rejected a diversity-focused resolution, Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg will declare the city a “Community for All” during a news conference set for Tuesday. See the resolution below.

Rosenberg will be joined by three Marathon County Board supervisors: William Harris, Yee Leng Xiong and Ka Lo. Yee Leng Xiong is also the executive director of the Hmong American Center, while Lo also sits on the Wausau School Board. Harris, an attorney who grew up in Florida, is Marathon County’s first Black supervisor, elected in 2020.

By a 6-2 vote, the Marathon County committee last week voted down a proposed “community for all” resolution that has been in the works for nearly a year. Originally called “No Place for Hate,” the declaration has been revised six times and renamed – all amid sharp criticism from conservative board members and residents who balk at achieving “racial and ethnic equity.”

People opposed to the resolution say that recognizing racial disparity harms white people and, without supplying any data, say that such a move could potentially lead to unfair redistribution of wealth that favors people of color. Republican Party of Marathon County Chair Jack Hoogendyk has repeatedly referred to the resolution as Marxist “critical race theory” that threatens individual rights and freedom of speech.

“Equity sounds non-threatening and is easily confused with the American principle of equality,” Hoogendyk said. “In the name of equity, some have proposed suspending private property rights, seizing land and wealth, and redistributing it along racial lines.”

The controversy has drawn national attention and criticism. A New York Times story published May 18 in response to the county’s vote quotes Arnold Schlei, a 73-year-old board member, referring to “coloreds” and “gays” and claims that the committee crafting resolution only created strife among residents. Schlei has been on the Marathon County Board since 2010.

“They’re creating strife between people labeling us as racist and privileged because we’re white,” said Arnold Schlei, in the New York Times story. “You can’t come around and tell people that work their tails off from daylight to dark and tell them they got white privelege and they’re racist and they’ve got to treat the Hmongs and the colored and the gays better….people are sick of it.”

La’Tanya Campbell, a 39-year-old Black social worker living in Wausau, said racism is alive and well in Marathon County – but is not always overt. In a letter to the editor sent last week, Campbell said Marathon County is not an anomaly. Traditionally marginalized communities, especially people of color, have learned to adapt, survive, and navigate through those systems of oppression, she said.

Campbell shared several instances including one in which she and her children were celebrating the 4th of July when a pickup driver screamed racial epithets as he passed by. In another instance, she received a card in the mail that read, “every N*** must die.”

“These are two of many instances that my family has experienced,” Campbell said.

Campbell, who provides advocacy for victims fleeing abuse, said she has been forced to have white coworkers advocate on behalf of clients to get them into permanent housing after landlords saw a Black client and denied their applications.

“I have gone to social service appointments with clients, and they have assumed that I was the client,” Campbell said. “On another occasion, I put a client in a transitional living program, and my director received calls that I was housing my sister because the client was Black.”

After the resolution failed last week, commenters took to social media on both sides of the issue.

“Glad they followed the voice of the people,” wrote Mitch Gumz. “This is a great step forward, we are a county and state of equal values and options. If equal rights are not enough to attract outside investment then that’s an investment we don’t need as a county.”

Lynsey Rux, another commenter, called the resolution “laughable.”

“What a waste of the actual taxpayers time,” Rux wrote. “That is those that actually pay taxes, not ones that suck off of taxpayer money!”

Facebook screen grab, May 18, 2021

Xiong told Wausau Pilot & Review the resolution would mean the world to populations that have been ignored for years.

“It means that their community loves them, acknowledges them, and welcomes them,” Xiong said.

The resolution is not the only one to have drawn criticism and controversy in Marathon County. In February, a resolution to recognized Black History Month passed, but 12 of 38 board members voted against the measure. And in 2019, a “Pride Month” resolution recognizing the rights of all citizens in Marathon County regardless of age, gender identity, race, color, religion, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, or physical challenges sparked dozens of letters to the editor and thousands of comments on social media, both for and against the declaration. The resolution passed by a vote of 20-15.

The news conference is set for 4:15 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 407 Grant St., Wausau.