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Madison students, community members discuss economic inequality in U.S., Wisconsin

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Members of local chapters of Our Wisconsin Revolution said in a panel Thursday that messaging needs to improve regarding social and economic inequality.

According to the OWR website, the organization aims to take the Wisconsin government back from elite power, as well as address racial and economic inequality around the state.

Giuliana Chamedes, OWR Dane County member and UW-Madison history professor, said Wisconsin has faced a rise of extreme poverty over the past twenty years.

“Wisconsin used to be a leader when it came to fighting economic inequality,” she said. “We’re now at the top for another reason — we have experienced the biggest dip in the number of middle class households in the whole country.”

According to Chamedes, this issue is not only an economic crisis, but a social and moral emergency as well. She said economic inequality needs to be addressed by all people, regardless of political affiliation.

Members of the two chapters discussed ways to mobilize people from both political parties to address economic inequality.

They all agreed that being conscious of language and telling a meaningful story is important in speaking about economic inequality and making a significant impact on others.

Chamedes said some people may not understand what income inequality means or may feel alienated and uncomfortable by the phrase. OWR members suggested using phrases such as economic opportunity to describe personal experiences instead.

Al Sulzer, an OWR Dane County member, added that citizens are now more focused on race, rather than the gap between the rich and poor.

“During the Great Depression, people at all levels understood the pain and anguish of poverty — the suicides and the deaths,” he said. “We don’t have that today. What we’ve replaced it with is fear of each other and of people who don’t look like us.”

Sulzer said all people should be concerned and made more aware of economic issues. He said that change needs to be made in Wisconsin and around the nation to solve the ongoing problem.

“It’s not enough to just say, ‘I feel sorry for those people,’” he said. “We have to start saying, ‘What the hell are we gonna do about it?’”

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