Milwaukee’s Online Renaissance
A wiki based Web site explores and celebrates all things Milwaukee
by Peg Fleury
Are you invested in Milwaukee, wish to see it thrive and want to know what is happening, often behind-the scenes? Then check out MilwaukeeRenaissance.com.
This local wiki web site with global perspectives is a real treasure trove. Its founder, James Godsil, says “it is a mirror of what’s going on in Milwaukee.” Because the city is profoundly diverse, this is reflected in the site’s postings. The home page states it is “meant to be a platform for the projects of passion and the voice of reason” and it defines renaissance as “the best of the old with the best of the new.”
Godsil welcomed users to the site in 2005 saying “Build and grow with the earth, one neighborhood, one rural community, at a time… in quest of some kind of renaissance.” Optimistically, he wrote “ Introducing an On-Line Magazine and Movement Resource, for Milwaukee first, but then for the Great Lakes cities, towns and rural communities, and always, God willing, open to the wider world, all of God’s children.” The results since then have thrilled him.
Godsil is president of Community Roofing and Restoration that he founded in 1975 – but he also describes himself as “a peddler of movements and worthy family enterprises.” Since its creation, he reports that Milwaukee Renaissance has had an impact in advancing the following:
- urban farming and community gardens, including Growing Power
- internet empowerment of citizens for personal and public profit
- the renaissance of old city neighborhoods, including Riverwest, Harambee, Walnut Way, Bay View, etc.
- establishment of a monument to the memory of African-American veterans “and the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King” at the Milwaukee Soldiers Home (on the grounds of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center), in cooperation with other concerned individuals
- promotions and support for avant guard small businesses and enterprises including Timbuktu, Lula’s East African Cafe, the Amaranth Bakery, etc.
- blocking freeway expansion and saving historic buildings and neighborhoods including the Soldiers’ Home, Pabst City and the Finney Library
- introducing spiritual traditions that foster non-violence and the elevation of the spirit in us all.
Currently, the most dramatic movement is local food - and referring to community successes, he points to Outpost Natural Foods? as “one of our miracles.”
“Local” does not refer exclusively to Milwaukee. A British group visited “edible cities” in the U.S. to study urban agriculture, including a visit to Growing Power. Their fact-finding was shared at the London International Food Conference.
Milwaukee Renaissance has also created a collaborative web platform to advance partnerships for the renaissance of New Orleans and Godsil will visit there in October to help set up a wiki site and explore restoration company possibilities.
Godsil doesn’t have patience with complaints about local media’s lack of coverage of many topics. “We are our own media and can’t complain if we aren’t covered in the usual publications, news shows, etc.” He urges people to participate in the site and get their word out. He explains that wiki software used to construct the website “is designed from the ground up to not only allow for collaborative input from site users, but to encourage it.” Wiki is a Polynesian term for “quick” and sites are super quick to use and update. The site is open to writers addressing controversial and “taboo” topics, especially those pertaining to the color line, gender, ecology, mental health and “official violence,” he writes.
The breadth of user interests is found in information on local activists, special projects and events. For example, you can:
- tap into information on preserving the Milwaukee Soldiers Home historic buildings that date back to the Civil War.
- check out Bill Moyer’s interview with 92-year old Grace Lee Boggs, a Detroit writer, activist and philosopher who has taken part in some of the seminal civil rights struggles. She visited Milwaukee’s Growing Power and in her interview stressed the importance of community garden projects as examples of her vision of “cities of hope.”
- find about the Grandmother Water Walk of 2008 that involves Anishinaabe grandmothers and others who walked the perimeter of each of the Great Lakes to raise awareness of their pollution by chemicals, vehicle emissions, etc. When some of the group visited Milwaukee this spring, they were welcomed by students and teachers from the Indian Community School and Spotted Eagle High School.
- discover the Milwaukee County Zoo’s important work to preserve the world bonobo population. Since 1988, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee has been the headquarters of the Bonobos Species Survival Plan under the auspices of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- visit Chris Hughes, one of the four founders of Facebook who left the company to work in Chicago on Senator Obama’s new-media campaign. The story unfolds in The Facebooker Who Befriended Obama
- gain information on proposals to finance the county park system in Bill Sell’s article, Watch Your Language, and discover how to get involved
- meet the Caring Person of the Year, K.T. Rusch, a Milwaukee Renaissance contributor, honored for her work with children through the Express Yourself Milwaukee Artistic Team, work to raise awareness with human rights issues in Tibet, and other contributions.
The wide variety of issues that Milwaukee Renaissance supports includes:
- sustainable development
- dismantling racism
- historic preservation
- wholistic health and universal health insurance
- internet empowerment
- the Great Lakes
- promoting and defending the commonwealth in Milwaukee
Godsil was inspired by the Bucketworks wiki site and he and several friends took a class on how to develop a site. He also wanted to show his children and others that “an old dog CAN learn new tricks.”
Coming here in 1969 to finish a PhD in political science, he realized he was not cut out for academia but was “more of a free range chicken.” A Renaissance man himself, Godsil writes poetry, records the city and its people with his cell phone camera and says “life is rich.”
He describes himself as an old war-horse from the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s through the present. He was a Fulbright Fellow in Tunisia in 1972 where he studied “symbolic violence and the manipulation of culture by the state”; was one of the founders of the Eastside Housing Action Committee (ESHAC) and served as board chairman; helped create the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance (MPA) and Urban Anthropology’s Backstreet Tours of Ethnic Milwaukee. He also galvanized support for preservation of the all-denomination Soldiers’ Chapel on the VA grounds, and restoration of historic Milwaukee buildings and homes.
In his bio, current and past civic leaders applaud his activism. He is described as a “skilled roofer who has done sensitive construction work on scores of architecturally and historically significant Milwaukee buildings” and who has mentored younger workers. This has resulted in others making the decision to direct significant talents to the building arts. Others mention his promotion of historic home bed and breakfast tourism and his lead in uniting neighborhood groups.
Milwaukee is blessed with a civil society of rich history and an eye toward renewal and evolution, he says. Site users are a self-selecting audience, people involved in movements. Hits to the site increased from 150 daily in 2007 to 250 this year. People discover it through word-of-mouth but Godsil is well-connected through a variety of groups such as Bay View Matters, the Blueberry Pancake Movement (which meets Sundays at the Riverwest Co-op) and Paths to a Sustainable Future.
He says his involvement with the wiki site is a “labor of love” and not a high-cost operation. People interested in posting on the site can e-mail him at Godsil@milwaukeerenaissance.com. Check out the site – he generously provides the password that allows people to use it and to date has had no problems with “vandals.”
This appeared on page 14 of the Outpost Natural Foods “Exchange”: A food and wellness journal published by Outpost Natural Foods.
M Ren co-editor’s note: If you woule like to be part of a brainstorming team aiming to increase memberships in the Outpost send e-mail to Outpost@milwaukeerenaissance.com