By Damakant Jayshi
After nearly 18 months of debate and revision, Marathon County will likely vote on their version of a “Community for All” resolution Tuesday.
During the Board’s meeting on Thursday, the 38-member body heard from more than 50 residents and three supervisors. The discussion and public comments took place exactly one week after the Board’s Executive Committee voted to advance a weakened resolution for consideration. Two days before that, on Aug. 10, the City of Wausau declared itself ‘We are Wausau – a community for all’.
Last week, the Executive Committee voted to advance the measure after replacing a version suggested by the Board’s Diversity Affairs Commission. The approved proposal does not contain the words ‘equity’ or ‘systemic inequality,’ words that drew fierce opposition from those against the resolution.
But any Board member can still introduce changes before the final vote. On Tuesday, the Board can adopt the forwarded version with or without changes, or any of the older versions or reject the proposal altogether.
Supervisor Donna Krause (Dist. 10) said she would like to see the resolution passed. She said she was bothered that some oppose to the measure compared it to Nazism, something she said is “horrendous.” A number of residents who oppose the resolution have accused supporters of pushing for socialism, Marxism and an end of certain rights, freedoms and democracy in America.
“To say that our democracy and sense of freedom is being obliterated by this resolution is ridiculous,” Krause said.
Similarly, Supervisor William Harris (Dist. 3), a strong supporter of the diversity resolution, said the community for all resolution would be a bold statement of affirmation, aspiration and love from the Board that all are welcome in the community. Referring to comments from those opposing the resolution, Harris, the first elected Black man elected to the Board, said its members “cannot give in to the cynicism, the hatred, the fear, the misinformation, fallacies.”
However, Supervisor Jennifer Aarrestad, who was recently appointed to represent Dist. 17, said the resolution was not bringing the community together. She also said equity would lead to equal outcomes, by referring to the last week’s Executive Committee discussions on equity.
“Equity is about outcomes and experiences,” Aarrestad said. “Equality is about people viewed equally.”
The word ‘equity’ no longer appears in the resolution being discussed, though.
Aarrestad said the country’s Founding Fathers were smart enough to feel the need “to create something in words for the Constitution to state that all men are created equal and we all have the same equal opportunities.” Aarrestad was apparently referring to the Declaration of Independence that contains the phrase.
The supervisor was not only mistaken about where the phrase appeared but she also falsely stated that the Founding Fathers granted equality to all the citizens. Women and Black people did not have the right to vote until long after the Constitution was written. As Harris pointed out, “All men and women were not equal at the time.”
No other supervisor commented on the proposal.
The public comment period included 55 speakers and lasted for more than two hours. As in the past, supporters said that discrimination, racist attacks and other abuses were indeed happening in the county and urged the Board to send a message of welcome to people who experience those types of abuses. Some also said those who say discrimination and bias doesn’t exist in Marathon County are “intentionally ignorant.”
Opponents called the resolution divisive, un-American, seeped in Marxist, socialist ideology and aimed at redistribution of wealth by ensuring equal outcome through equity. A number of people who spoke against the resolution said they never heard of anyone facing discrimination or abuses.
Supporters reject that argument, pointing to a 2019-2021 LIFE Report by United Way of Marathon County in which more than one-third of respondents reported one or more experiences of discrimination, an increase of 7% since 2017.
Megan Marohl, 17, said the discussions were the reasons why youngsters like her “wanted to get the hell out of here.” Marohl, who also spoke last week at the Executive Committee meeting said the way the adults were acting on the resolution was making young people in the community want to leave.
“This resolution is something that should not be argued about,” she said.
Another teen, Julian Brown, who last week asked the Board to be “supportive of the ideals that we practice in school,” again asked the members to pass the resolution.
“I don’t know how people can direct so much hate to such a resolution,” Julian said. His mother, Norah Brown, who also spoke at the meeting said her son, 13, and another speaker faced a slur at the Executive Committee meeting last week.
Lisa Ort Sondergard who is a member of the county’s Diversity Affairs Commission, witnessed the episode and said she heard a local businessman using the slur “fag.”
This did not sit well with Christopher Wood, a vocal opponent of the proposal. Everyone once in a while someone is going to be called a fag, Wood said.
“But we’ve got to get over it,” Wood said, adding that in his view, freedom of speech was under attack. It was not clear whether he was referring to the freedom to call a 13-year-old a ‘fag.’
Wood said no one is shackling anyone from accomplishing their dreams.
“You can do anything you want in life…Everything is on the internet,” he said.
While most critics on Thursday repeated accusations of Marxism, socialism and attacks on whites, Rachel Bucalla, objected to the absence of details in the proposal. While the goal of community of all people is great, she said, specifics of how to get there remain unclear. She asked how a resolution with “equity and systemic inequality be written without a negative effect on a certain population of people.”
Bucalla asked the Board to vote against the resolution until details of determining any inequality and actions to address it were identified and stated.
The Board of Supervisors will now vote on the resolution on Tuesday.