Peace/justicemakers of the year | Wis.Community

Peace/justicemakers of the year

The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, a statwide network of 170 organizations working for social change, makes its annual peacemaker of the year awards on Saturday.  This year, perhaps for the first time, none of their main focus has been on peace issues, but on justice.

The winners are Ed Steichen, Christine Neumann-Ortiz,  and eleven high school students from Prescott.  The awards will be given at 3:15 pm at the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac, at 105 Ninth St, as part of WNPJ’s Fall Member Assembly.  More on the Assembly can be found online, here.

Christine Neumann-Ortiz is the founding Executive Director of the immigrant-advocacy organization Voces de la Frontera. Among other accomplishments, Neumann-Ortiz is being recognized for her organization's success is winning passage of legislation that allows the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Wisconsin state universities.

Thanks to Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee has developed a national reputation for its active support of immigrant rights. On May 1 of this year, tens of thousands of Milwaukee residents once again marched in support of comprehensive immigration reform. In July, Voces organized a delegation to travel to Arizona to support local protests against Arizona's anti-immigrant SB1070, which permits police to question and detain anyone if they have "a reasonable suspicion" the person may be undocumented. Portions of the Arizona legislation were later struck down by a Federal court as unconstitutional.

Ed Steichen is a longtime advocate for the rights of prisoners and an outspoken critic of the SuperMax prison in Boscobel. Steichen, a resident of Waunakee, started his advocacy for the poor and imprisoned while serving as a priest in Brazil in the 1960's, when the country was ruled by an authoritarian military regime. When he returned to the U.S., he brought ideas inspired by the "liberation theology" movement, which argued that the central mission of the church should be to advocate for the poor and oppressed. In the 1980's, Steichen participated in the New Sanctuary Movement, which offered refuge to people fleeing repressive regimes in Central America that were supported by the U.S. government.

Steichen later helped found the group Money, Education and Prisons to advocate for redirecting Wisconsin's resources away from incarceration and towards education. He also played a founding role in the group MAFAAC, Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Coalition, to advocate for students and families of color in Madison's public schools.

Eleven students at Prescott High -- Zach Simones, Travis Cooper-Novak, Taylor Lubich, Jordan Grabow, Leah Kaufman, Sarah Schanus, Brenna Ryan, Zac Lewis, Jackie Cutler, Madeline Smith and Melinda Mutschler -- first learned in their Wisconsin Indian Studies class about some schools' use of race-based "Indian" mascots. They decided to research efforts to end the use of such mascots.

When schools with race-based mascots came to play at Prescott High, the students pressed leaflets into the hands of fans and players from the opposing team. The Prescott students got a firsthand lesson in "How a bill becomes a law" when they traveled to Madison to give testimony before the Assembly and Senate Education Committees. They testified in favor of legislation to give Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction the authority to resolve complaints about race-based school mascots. The "Prescott 11" later became the subject of a video produced by the Wisconsin Education Communications Board on the use of critical thinking, advocacy and leadership skills, for use by teachers and students across the state.


September 29, 2010 - 4:40pm