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Monday, September 25, 2023
Protestors march during the first Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee on August 23, 2023.

Protestors withstand heat for march outside Fiserv Forum during GOP debate

A coalition of protest groups demonstrated against the first Republican presidential primary debate Wednesday evening in downtown Milwaukee.

MILWAUKEE – A coalition of protest groups demonstrated against the first Republican presidential primary debate Wednesday evening in downtown Milwaukee.

Hundreds of people with the Coalition to March on the 2024 RNC withstood the heat to protest the Republican Party’s debate, walking to chants of “racist, sexist, anti-gay, GOP go away,” “pro life is a lie, they don’t care if people die,” and “get up, get down, Milwaukee is a union town.” 

Starting at 7 p.m., the group marched in a circle from Arrowhead Park to Fiserv Forum and back, finishing around 9 p.m. 

Aurelia Ceja and Omar Flores formed the coalition after it was announced that the Republican National Convention will be held in Milwaukee next July at Fiserv Forum. They “jumped at the opportunity” to hold a counterprogramming event ahead of the debate, Ceja said.

“Wisconsin being a swing state, we're really hoping to show strong and show that this is not just going to be the Republican stomping ground for them to do whatever they want,” Ceja said. “We as the people of Milwaukee and the people of Wisconsin are going to fight back for what is right.”

The coalition is composed of the Milwaukee Anti-war Committee, Milwaukee Area Labor Council, Community Task Force Milwaukee, a Jewish-based group Never Again, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Wisconsin Coalition to Normalize Relations with Cuba, immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera, Reproductive Justice Action Milwaukee, The Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and Students for a Democratic Society-University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

The event’s 13 speakers included Ceja, Chrisley Carpio, Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Tracey Schwerdtfeger, Catie Petralia, Patricia Fish, Lo Cross, AJ Reed, Art Heitzer, Vaun Mayes, Rachel Buff, Sam Charnon and Alan Chavoya. Speakers spoke about restoring reproductive rights, pushing against racism and supporting immagrant, voting and workers’ rights.

Dennis Merritt and Jerry Burns, who met at the protest, bonded over a common elephant theme in their homemade posters. 

“If Trump was gonna be here tonight, I was gonna make a poster with a toilet in the middle and say, ‘Live from Milwaukee, Wisconsin: world's greatest shitshow,’” Merritt said.

Dennis Merritt and Jerry Burns, who met Wednesday evening at the protest against the Republican presidential primary debate, hold up homemade signs on August 23, 2023, in Milwaukee, Wis.

Burns said Trump is a “coward” for not showing up.

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“Obviously, he's a narcissist. It's so smug of him to have so much self-assurance that he doesn't even have to engage in reasonable discourse — not that he's good at reasonable discourse,” Burns said.

“Defending democracy is my biggest concern, because I really think if Trump gets back in, I think our democratic system is gone,” he added. 

Jack Stallions, who grew up in Milwaukee, saw the event on Facebook. At least 1,300 people responded to the original post, titled “March on the GOP Presidential Debate: Fight Against The Republican Agenda!”

“We don't want the GOP in Milwaukee. We don't want the RNC here,” Stallions said. “It brings nothing but bad things here. So I just wanted to come out and support the message.”

Stallions voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election and plans to support him again in 2024. He said the economy and the ability to “keep the United States safe” is what he cares about most in a candidate. 

He expressed concern over Trump’s four criminal indictments and 91 felony charges.

“How can you have a president that’s been indicted? That’s definitely a concern of mine,” Stallions said.

Ceja expressed anger over Republicans choosing to host their convention in Milwaukee despite passing legislation she feels had a negative impact on the city, specifically mentioning local government funding legislation that was passed in June. 

Known as Act 12, the bill boosted funding to help Milwaukee avoid a financial crisis and allowed city and county elected leaders to raise the city’s sales tax. But the legislation also removed the Fire and Police Commission’s ability to set policies for their departments, instead giving the responsibility to department chiefs with the ability for a two-thirds majority of the Common Council to suspend or modify policies. 

Opponents said the move gives too much power to police in the city, and two Milwaukee Fire and Police Commissioners resigned in protest of the plan last month. Ceja said Milwaukee’s “huge public transport issue” and “libraries on the bring of closing” are among other things that tax dollars could be going toward.

“It feels like an ‘f-you’ from Republicans after Act 12 was just passed. That really forced Milwaukee into a position of having to hire on more police and in stating the sales tax, which can really only go towards police,” Ceja said. “It's Republican legislation that has really placed us in a chokehold as a city.”

The coalition said they will plan more events in opposition to the Republican Party ahead of the RNC in Milwaukee next summer.

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