April 26, 1937, the bombing of the village of Guernica as memorialized by Pablo Picasso
An Urban Manifesto
Conceived by James Godsil and written by Bill Sell.
First read at Timbuktu, March 17, 2005.
Copyright © 2004, William Sell, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
CLAIM. I am Milwaukee. I am the face of Milwaukee, its fellow worker, its lover, its dinner companion. I believe in neighbors, that people were evolved to live close, and work near their children. I gladly share this pen with the person I meet on the bus. He writes a phone number and so it may be that the city works for him. I gladly share my house, garden and sidewalk, my alley, county park, and freeway. I believe in public space which, enjoyed, is the guarantor of my private space, my right to speak and play.
PICNIC. I see Georges Seurat sitting in my 21st century park painting the Sunday picnic. Evenings he leaves quietly, history under his arm, without envy for families, their food, or their children. The County Parks are canvas for the art of family. Bring your children, your grill and keg, sing and dance and rouse the indolent budget slashers who would ring our parks with fences and fees.
WORK. I was founded by the worker fleeing hard times in Europe on rumors of hope. Hope — free of dictators — launched my city; and so our children remember their stories. A healthy city offers each worker bread for skills, the chance at work that causes boasting among children on the playground.
LOVE. I will. I, Milwaukee, will end fears of skin and gender. Pose and shunning will be resolved into respect. It is the black and white truth: we will talk love or die; we will teach our children what we do, not what we say. We will be proud of what we leave them. We will tune out media who hawk our fears for profit. We will listen to each other in our public spaces, on buses, in church. We will sit together and share food. We will love one another.
MARRIAGE. Our children shall pick their own partners. Marriage is the supreme act of freedom of two souls. The state shall protect your choice, your spouse and your child. We will remember how, before there was a Milwaukee, grown children were ripped from their families and shipped over seas to be slaves. Milwaukee once boasted a stop on the underground railroad. But today Milwaukee will be destination. You come; you stay; you prosper—whatever the color of your skin, your religion, or gender choice. The rainbow is the promise after the storm, and every color and marriage belongs here. Milwaukee is rainwater and rainbow, shining in the sun. I have a dream.
TRADE. The market is godless. The city divine. The marriage of market and city is a supremely human endeavor, not given to succeed if it serves a few, not condemned to fail if it serves all. This marriage works because service prospers. People talk love in their markets and by doing so restrain the hand of the blind corporation.
LAKE. Our forebears gathered along these waters and so we find ourselves a people blessed. Abundance forgives; a grateful heart secures. Yes, we have trespassed on the water, that ever-patient teacher of life. Reports of scarcity from the corners of the world mirror our good fortune. We can experiment, recycle and drink without fear that our study of water will see an end. Milwaukee is the center of the study of thirst and fish. Water is a world resource and we make our laboratories, soil, gardens and beaches welcome to the world. We are headwaters to the world; clean water downstream prospers all. Come to Milwaukee and drink the water in its countless variations.
LEARN. Raising children is why people do cities, the act of putting our children on firm ground bathed in opportunity to explore the world. Our giants walk the campus preparing to bring the urbanity of Milwaukee to the world.
DEFEND. Though we live under the dark cloud of international crime and benighted politicians, we believe there is strength when citizens gather on sidewalks, organize in precincts, share our air waves, debate in the media. When citizens re-invent media to repair their democracy, cities wake up and there will be no trespass.
BLOOD. The blood of our children is not available to foreign adventure. We will organize, governments will listen. We demand the end to the killing, a United Nations empowering not powerful nations but all nations. We will stop the blood trade in weapons—foreign and domestic. National security is built on the security of the neighborhood, education of children, health care and work; thus will security make each citizen a stakeholder.
VISITOR. You recognize our city perhaps better than its residents and for that we prize your visit. To those who would do us harm, I invite you to share our food, sample our cheese and beer, stay and prosper with us, make your life, practice any religion or none, raise your children. As I rescued Germans, Irish, Jews, Hmong, and El Salvadorans from their wars, so do I make a place for you, as the earlier native has done for me.
CONSPIRE. When democracy gives us weak politicians, the citizen will emerge strong. One citizen empowering another citizen is the conspiracy of democracy. The lies and broken promises of politicians will not fracture the trust among their makers.
REMEMBER. Milwaukee has been roused from the lure of trendy development, asphalt, and slick suburban error. We conspire to preserve our parents’ civic memories, to love our commonly held libraries, to touch old buildings with awe, and to make do with what we have. To build wealth from wealth and not from neglect. Milwaukee invests the ninth generation with the natural treasures of creation.
“Let us put our minds together, and see what life we will make for our children.” (Tatanka Lotanka)
To these public values, we make a pact among ourselves to work and invite our government to follow us.
INVITE. I invite you who have left Milwaukee to return. Come back and help us remember our ethnic heritage, from Somalia to Ireland, from Mexico to Poland, from Vietnam to Serbia. Come to folk dan’‘’ce, to feast, to fest. To restore Folk Fair, Milwaukee’s original festival, to its golden years in the public square.
Come to Milwaukee and swim in our Great Lake, and by doing so demand that it remain clean. Garden, and husband your soil to clean the water before it returns to our Great Lake.
Bring your bicycle. Ride the Oak Leaf trail through our spectacular County Parks. We lay bare our shameful failure to finish this project. With your help we will one day ride on the Hoan bridge and connect the great Bay View village to the Downtown village, to give our children a view from the top of the city.
Sit in our audiences and bask in theater, dance and music. Come to school. Milwaukee Public Schools need you: advocates, teachers, parents, neighbors, retired people to read aloud, to attend to lighthouse schools in the late afternoons while parents finish their employments. Our children will shine if their efforts are graced by the attention of many adults. The village raises its children; but children create their own village.
You are from Portland? Teach us how to control sprawl; we will teach you how to make beer.
New York? Where millions of citizens do not own a car, and the tax base is not squandered on ever widening roads. We need tutors to explain this to our untraveled transportation planners. Density preserves; mobility divides.
Chicago? Can you redeem baseball through love? We will show you a world class lake shoreline.
San Antonio, teach us that sweet Southern riverwalk promenade. We govern ourselves best by not imitating our worst; our lives are more secure because a living prisoner is our teacher. Walk our streets with me, the Yankee has no fear of the dark.
St. Louis, please send us a calculator for Christmas. Wisconsin rules prevent us from calculating the benefits of light rail. You’re from Missouri. Show us.
Gdansk. Show us labor in its glory, that tyrants go captive when workers set their mind to the task. You abandoned the soviets; we are gripped by the hydra-headed monster corporation that knows not order, punishment or death.
Shanghai. How did you learn that your city needs bicycles to thrive? How did London learn that a city needs fewer cars to function? Why do you send your best citizens to America?
Cincinnati pigs fly. Memphis blues console. New Orleans jazz breathes. Milwaukee’s museum has wings where art fractures expectations, refreshes the blinking eye, and our Lake will kiss your cheek.
Bill Sell’s Essays