Angela Nicole Walker is a mom, a grandmother, a bookworm, and a Socialist with no law enforcement experience. But after Kshama Sawant’s City Council win in Seattle, Angela was inspired to run for Sheriff in her hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Her campaign symbolizes struggle in multiple ways: As a Socialist, she is fighting against the deep-rooted stigma surrounding socialism. As a woman running for sheriff, she is challenging gender norms and sexism in a field that has always been predominantly male. And as a person of color running for a high-level law enforcement position, she is battling racial injustice within one of the very systems that propagates it.
I was introduced to Angela by Arianna Norris-Landry, who insisted that she is someone I MUST interview. Naturally, I stalked Angela’s Facebook page to get a feeling for who she is. After learning about her campaign and her background, which includes union experience, anti-war activism and involvement with Occupy the Hood and the Milwaukee Occupy Coalition, all I could think was “Wow. How the hell does she do it?”
Here’s what she said.
LL: Have you ever felt like you were too tired to care?
AW: Lord, yes. I think that with all of the issues we are facing every day, compassion fatigue is a very real thing for a whole lot of people. I was burned out from my transit job, burned out from the work I did for my union, burned out from life, period. So I took some time and hibernated and was ready to come back into the battle again afterward. I think accepting the fact that we are human and that we get tired and sad is important. It’s equally important that we don’t stay tired and sad.
LL: What keeps you going?
AW: I think that knowing what is at stake in this world is what keeps me going. Knowledge of my history, the history of both my family and my people, that is sustaining for me. Being able to stand with my comrades and push back against what is happening to us, that keeps me going.
LL: What advice would you give to other activists and socialists when they feel like giving up?
AW: I would tell them to take some time out of the struggle and take care of self. Go look at beautiful things. Spend time with your family, and do things that nourish your spirit. When you get ready, come back into the fray. It will definitely be here, and we will definitely need you. But we need you whole and present.
LL: Who are three people you admire and why?
AW: What a hard question! There are so many people I admire … if I can only pick three, I would say my grandmother, my mother, and Zora Neale Hurston. My grandmother has always been a light in my life, reminding me that this is a big world and that I have every right, as a Black woman, to get all that it offers. She taught me that I have an obligation to contribute to this world, to help make things better, and to move the history of my people forward. My mother is someone I admire because she has always created beauty and order out of whatever means she has at hand. No matter what, my mom leaves everything better than she found it. Her tenacity is something I am proud to be able to build on in my own life. Zora Neale Hurston is someone I admire because of her ability to explore life, explore possibilities, and respect people where they were and how they were. She was inquisitive and adventurous and never let herself be limited.
LL: How did you arrive at socialism as an answer to some of the greatest challenges people face?
AW: I think I’ve been a socialist for longer than I thought. My mom is an anti-capitalist, she just doesn’t define her outlook that way, but she is. And I think that her way of thinking, and most of my family’s way of thinking made me welcoming to socialism. The belief that human worth is not based on productivity, the concept that everyone should have enough resources to meet their needs and allow them to have a good life, the understanding that the environment is necessary in itself and deserves human respect and preservation, those things I learned very early and at home. I think a lot of the traditional values held by African-Americans are socialist, and are very relevant today.
LL: How do people respond to you when you tell them you’re socialist?
AW: It’s funny. People are either supportive, curious, or silent when I tell them I am a Socialist. I think I’ve seen more support than anything else. It’s refreshing.
LL: Do you see your campaign for sheriff as an extension of a socialist tradition in Milwaukee? Who are your main supporters, and what surprises have you experienced while engaging the public?
AW: I value history, and I see my campaign for sheriff as a continuation of a socialist tradition in Milwaukee that gave this city wonderful things. If I am elected, I will be the fifth socialist sheriff, but the first Black woman socialist sheriff. My main supporters have been people who are completely disillusioned with politics as usual and are ready to see a different approach taken to addressing the problems here in this county. There are a lot of folks who are very enthusiastic about the resurgence of candidates running for office who are outside the two-party system, and that is exciting for me. As for surprises, I haven’t really had any. People have either been very supportive about the campaign, or they have laughed it off. I am humbled by the amount of support that I have received.
LL: I’m not gonna lie, I stalk your Facebook page to see what you’re into. The interview with Tressie McMillan Cottom on Colorlines sticks in my mind. Talk to me about black feminism – what are some main points that feminists often miss or ignore? How does Black feminism relate to issues like mass incarceration and class in Milwaukee and the U.S.?
AW: This is an amazing question, because Black feminism is very close to my heart. I think that mainstream feminism has to understand that for intersectional feminists like me, who understand that the racial history of the Women’s Movement in the United States is very difficult, there are a whole lot of questions. There is a lot of scrutiny. There is a much deeper examination of movements like SlutWalk and others where sexism is the main issue, neglecting the fact that for intersectional feminists, sexism is only one of the ways women are oppressed. The voices and perspectives of women of color have historically been suppressed, and even now are often met with a willful refusal to acknowledge the validity of lived experience and viewpoints. Both Black and Brown feminism have much to say about mass incarceration here in Milwaukee, since it’s our communities that are so adversely impacted by this system. These people who are being locked away and denied the opportunity to be full community members, the people being detained and deported, those are our loved ones. It’s our communities that are the most disproportionately affected by the lack of living wage jobs available, by the lack of access to transit and fully funded public schools, and fresh, affordable food. Black and Brown women are on the front lines of all of these crises. Mass incarceration and all of the evils that allow it to exist are definitely feminist issues.
LL: What are you reading right now?
AW: I am currently rereading When And Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings, and We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America, edited by Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez, Matt Meyer, and Mandy Carter.
LL: What are three movies you think everyone should watch and why?
AW: “Byzantium,” because I love a well-done vampire story; “WattStax,” because Black folks are speaking candidly and truthfully about our experience in this country and celebrating that experience, in all of its complexity. “Battle in Seattle,” because people need to know how powerful we are when we are united, and that we are called on to speak truth to power. We are truly more powerful than we know.
Learn more about Angela Nicole Walker’s Campaign for Sheriff here.