Thunder roars in U.S. Cellular Arena

The Zulu Stick presented to Lois Glover at the beginning of the Rolling Thunder convention on Saturday may not have seemed like a significant gift.

But to the president of WISDOM — a group of about 125 Wisconsin parishes of various faiths — the Zulu Stick represented the success of hard work.

"It is a symbol of the Rolling Thunder campaign that brought down the evil system of apartheid in" South Africa, Glover said to those assembled at the U.S. Cellular Arena, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave.

The stick served as a powerful reminder to WISDOM members that though much work remains, their work on social issues could ultimately achieve success.

"Like the biblical prophets so many of our organizations are named for, we are hear to cry out for justice," Glover said. "We are here because we believe in a God who has given us a job to do."

The Rolling Thunder convention, named after the South African movement of the same name to evoke that movement's success, amassed almost 50 speakers to address WISDOM's four pillar issues: civil rights for immigrants, treatment for imprisoned addicts, funding for public education and voting.

Royal Berg, an immigration lawyer from Chicago, said 20,000 immigrants are being held in county jails nationwide, including some 700 in Wisconsin and Illinois. The price tag on this detainment was $2 million, he said.

"We live in a nation of immigrants," committee member Maria Flores said following Berg's presentation.

WISDOM has been politically active in promoting what it calls "Treatment Instead of Prison," or committing nonviolent drug and alcohol addicts to treatment programs instead of imprisoning them, and the speakers on the topic received resounding applause after their presentations.

"We want nonviolent drug offenders to be sent to supervised treatment centers, not prisons," said Conor Williams, a co-chair on WISDOM's "Treatment Instead of Prisons" committee.

The Rev. Tom Benz of the United Church of Christ followed Williams. He compared Wisconsin's incarceration rates to those of Minnesota. Both states have populations of about five million and similar rates of violent crime. According to Benz, Wisconsin has 22,000 prisoners and spends almost $1 billion on prison costs while Minnesota has 7,000 prisoners and spends $400 million.

"We are not convicts condemned to our addictions," Benz said.

WISDOM advocates a school funding policy called Adequacy, which calls for funding school districts according to their needs, according to speaker Tina Johnson, a member of the Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope, a WISDOM member organization.

"This is about our kids," said the Rev. Kurt Handrich, president of WISDOM affiliate Justice Overcoming Borders. "In the time that my kids have been going to Beloit schools, the library has been cut in half, the shower rooms have been made into classrooms and classes have been made to meet in hallways."

"We demand decent funding for our public schools," said the Rev. Tom Mueller, a WISDOM Education Committee Chair.

Elected officials were among the featured speakers regarding another topic focused on: the importance of voting.

State Sen. Cathy Stepp (R-Sturtevant), of the 21st District, state Senator-elect Lena Taylor and state Sen. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) of the 4th District and Democratic nominee for 4th U.S. Congressional District, were all present, but were upstaged by the arrival of U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).